I am wondering
why I never watched “The Hills Have Eyes” before. This falls well within the
sort of movies we liked to watch on campus back in the nineties and a lot of
the storyline was familiar to me, but alas, this was a first viewing for me.
“The Hills Have
Eyes” is an early movie by horror/slasher legend Wes Craven. This is from the
part of his career where his movies were more driven by enthusiasm than budget,
but that is often how the best movies, or at least most watchable movies, are
middle-class family enroute to California is making a detour through the desert
to look up some obscure silver mine. When they make a brief stop at a derelict
tank station they are warned to stay on the main route and make no stop in the
desert, but this sort of people never listens to good advice. Soon they find
themselves lost on a dirt road with a broken car. To be stuck in the desert,
underequipped and with a broken car is bad in itself, but this particular desert
is home to a family of feral cannibals… How will that work out for the stranded
Have Eyes” is a movie in the same vein as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in that
a group of unsuspecting outsiders venture off the main roads and civilization to
enter a depraved and barbaric world. A theme that has been used far outside the
horror genre, but has been particularly embraced by that one. We know something
is wrong out there, but the characters do not, and they usually find out too
late that this is a very dangerous place.
is that the outsiders are particularly obnoxious, with problems or complaints
that are utterly insignificant to the much more serious situation they are
about to find themselves in. You feel like shouting to them to pay attention
and NOT do stupid, silly things, but that is the point, no? Bobby (Robert
Houston) is the first to realize something menacing is out there when he finds
one of his dogs gutted, but nobody is listening to his worries. When Lynne and
Doug (Dee Wallace and Martin Speed) insist on sleeping in the car rather than a
trailer to have a cozy time, Bobby and we know this is a very bad idea, but there
is no getting through to them. The father (and grandfather to the baby) Bob
(Russ Grieve) learns the truth when he hikes back to the gas station for help
but too late. His death is a gruesome one.
family is a counterpoint to the victim family. In many ways a parallel, even.
Except they are the hunters and have shed civilization. Jupiter (James Whitworth)
as the family head is particularly gruesome with his broken face, but it is
Michael Berryman as Pluto with his particular physical appearance and sinister
acting that steals the picture. I learned later that he is a really nice guy
and very intelligent, but his acting skills are excellent, and he is very
convincing as a monster. Berryman had and still has an amazing career.
Had a movie
like this been made today (and they are!) I feel certain that everybody would
die a gruesome death, maybe leaving a testimony as found footage or something,
but the direction of “The Hills Have Eyes” is a little different. The point
here is that only by becoming murderous and feral themselves, like emulating
the desert family, will the Carter family or what is left of it, make it
through. The victims have to become the hunters themselves and shed their
civilization. That is not so unusual a plotline either. It is probably more in line
with the age in which it was made. The “Aliens” movies went is the same
Have Eyes” was made on a low budget and sometimes it shows, but it is actually
not a bad thing. Intentionally or unintentionally, it allows for a dark humor
to sneak in and gives it a cartoonish element that makes this more enjoyable to
watch than the gruesome story would allow. This has probably contributed to its
popularity and its cult standing. Personally, I am too easily startled for
horror movies and does not really have the stomach for slasher movies, but
these qualities make “The Hills Have Eyes” endurable for me and even
entertaining. Dare I say enjoyable?
Have Eyes” is one of the important and defining movies of its genre and it is a
recommendation from me.