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"The Hills Have Eyes" is personally one of my favorite horror films of
the '70s era, I'd say this one is just below Tobe Hooper's "The Texas
Chainsaw Massacre". I love the whole atmosphere the film gives off, and
how brutal the film is. "The Hills Have Eyes" follows a normal American
family on a camping trip who accidentally crash their station wagon and
trailer in the middle of the California desert. The gang consists of
Bob and Ethel, and their teenage children Bobby and Brenda, and their
adult daughter Lynne and her husband and infant. Their father goes out
for help, while the rest of them wait at the trailer, but they are
unknowingly being watched by a family of cannibalistic mountain people
that are hungry for flesh. As night falls, the clan of
mountain-dwelling cannibals close in on the family, attacking their
little safe-haven Airstream trailer, and begin to brutally slaughter
each of them as they fight to save their lives.
One of the more memorable exploitation films from the 1970s, this gruesome little chiller is a nice addition to the list. Wes Craven, writer and director of this movie, does a great job at setting a mood, atmosphere, and having plenty of scary moments throughout. The desert in the film is eerie itself, it's such an empty and genuinely creepy landscape for a horror film to be set in. Along with this is the brutality factor - this is a harrowing little movie. The violence is shocking and strangely realistic, and it makes it more unsettling than it could have been. I can see why Mr. Craven has gone on to direct so many other successful horror films, such as "Scream" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street", because he's good at what he does.
The acting here isn't bad, we have Dee Wallace Stone ("E.T.", "Cujo"), but most of the other actors are unknowns, who give decent performances. Some of the acting was admittedly over the top and a little laughable at times, but what could you expect from a low-budget '70s horror flick? This film comes to a close in a rather odd way, fading out into a red screen. The ending was surely abrupt and I'm sure there were other, better ways to conclude the story. But, again, the rough abruptness is another addition to the movie's raw atmosphere and visceral quality. This isn't a pleasant movie, and I think anyone who has seen it can agree on that.
Bottom line - "The Hills Have Eyes" is one of the best horror/exploitation films to come from the '70s era. Not the best, but it is definitely close to it. It's brutal, raw, unsettling, and it made me uncomfortable. Any movie that has the power to do that must really have something going for it. Definitely worth a watch, it's a classic midnight-movie. One of my many personal favorites. If you like this, I'd also recommend Craven's debut picture, "Last House On The Left", which is also a visceral exploitation B-movie classic. 9/10.
Wes Craven is a director who did a lot to revive interest in the horror
genre, but he also did a lot to ensure that we were unlikely to get our
horror the way we used to. While I personally have nothing against his
mega-successful "Scream" franchise and have enjoyed both films immensely, I
feel sad knowing that Craven will never be able to recapture the awesome
low-budget effectiveness of his earlier works. He has developed his
directorial skills a LOT since then, but any horror fan will tell you that
slicker does not necessarily mean scarier. Now that Craven has successfully
broken free from the genre that has provided him with a living for over a
quarter century (and has moved on to directing inspirational films with
Meryl Steep!), we will never see another film like his "The Hills Have
Eyes", which is raw, intense horror at its best. The film doesn't quite have
the same impact as Craven's earlier "Last House on the Left", but it is a
more skilful piece of work, and is still one of the most frightening genre
flicks ever made.
Like all great horror films, the plot requires very little description. The upper-class, white-bread Carter family are on a road trip to California and decide to take a detour through the desert to check out a silver mine that the parents received as a silver wedding anniversary gift. They ignore the warnings of a crazy old man they encounter at a gas station who warns them to stay on the main road, and end up wishing they'd listened to him after their trailer becomes trapped in the middle of nowhere with a broken axle on the car. It soon becomes apparent that they've stumbled into an area that is populated by a family whom the Carters would never have to worry about encountering back home in Cleveland. The members of this family are named after planets in the solar system (Jupiter, Mars, Pluto etc.) and are able to survive life in the desert by praying on unsuspecting travellers like the Carters. After a night of unbearable hell, the Carter family has lost some of their members and most of their supplies and decide to take revenge once daylight hits. They end up acting more violent and psychotic than the villains.
Not even David Lean has used the desert to better effect. Craven's direction here is top-notch, and does a terrific job at conveying the isolation of his location and the helplessness of the whole situation. He takes his sweet time building up the mutant family's attack on the Carters, so that the tension almost becomes unbearable. By the last act, the film is less concerned about the heroes finding their way out of the desert, but about whether or not they are going to end up stooping to the level of their enemies. Of course, these themes of vengeance and family were covered by Craven before in "Last House on the Left", but this time around, he ensures that they will reach a wider audience by presenting them within the confines of a more straightforward genre film. The main factor that prevents this film from being superior to "Last House" are the villains, who are somewhat cartoonish and not quite as memorable as Krug & Company. However, they still do provide plenty of menace, and like the "Last House" gang, exude a certain likability when they're not acting vicious, especially Michael Berryman, who steals every scene he's in as the dim-witted Pluto. All in all, "The Hills Have Eyes" is an unforgettable experience and one of the best films of its kind. Even though videotape copies of "Hills" have been in the darkest depths of moratorium hell for years, every horror fan should go out of their way to check it out. Especially since we just don't get them like this any more...
Despite being close to thirty years old, Wes Craven's "The Hills Have Eyes" maintains a distinct raw intensity - far surpassing the level of terror seen in horror films today. The plot in a nutshell; a family on vacation ventures from the main road, ends up stranded in the desert, and falls prey to a malevolent clan of inbred cannibals. Though the story idea may be far from original - it is the atmosphere, directorial style, and acting that raise the overall credibility of the film. The low budget and claustrophobic desert setting creates a sense of dread permeating throughout the entire film; while the grainy look of the print adds a sense of realism to the unfolding events. With a brisk running time of only 89 minutes the film doesn't waste a moment in setting the mood - then when all hell breaks loose it is unrelenting until the final scene. The actors portraying the Carter family bring sufficient emotional range to their characterizations, making it clearly evident that this a normal family being tested beyond the boundaries of civilized nature. It is also worth noting the performances by the actors who play Pluto and Mars (two of the baddies) - these characters are portrayed as both sadistic and devoid of any sympathy. Although the DVD print is grainy (as mentioned above), it is THE definitive version of the film and is thousands of times an improvement over the quality of the video release; quite amazing for a low budget film of this nature. Grim, violent, and symbolic; it is an amazing piece of 70's exploitation horror. "The Hills Have Eyes" is a classic in every sense of the word, and receives an 8/10.
The Carter family are travelling through the desert on their way to
California. Head of the family Bob (Russ Grieve), a retired police officer,
decides to visit an inherited silver-mine on the way, and ignoring the
advice of Fred (John Steadman), a local filling station owner, drives off
the main road towards the hills. An accident leaves the family stranded and
easy pickings for a family of cannibals lead by Jupiter (James Whitworth).
Following a savage attack by this family, which leaves a number of the
Carter's dead, the survivors realise that to continue surviving they too
will have to become savages.
Wes Craven followed his controversial debut The Last House on the Left' (1972) with this far greater arranged and compelling tale of family warfare. The Hills Have Eyes' is a movie with a raw brutality that has been unsurpassed in any of Craven's films to date, and is possibly the finest horror movie to be directed by Wes Craven. Despite not being as graphic as one would expect the movie never ceases to unnerve or alarm. The atmosphere, which bears a slight resemblance to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' (1974), maintains an unsettling air from beginning to end as the viewer is sucked into the nightmare that the Carter family is forced to endure. The desolation and hopelessness is portrayed beautifully by Craven, who utilises intelligent camerawork and a haunting soundtrack to fully create the feelings of terror. For everything that the screenplay lacks, Craven's direction more than makes up for and one wonders why Craven is no longer able to make such raw, gripping and emotional movies such as this. During the movie it becomes easy to identify with some of the characters and then feel fulfilled when they exact their retribution.
The acting, while not up to the standard of Craven's more recent offerings such as Scream' (1996), is of a fairly high standard for a low budget 70's horror flick and certainly helps in aiding The Hills Have Eyes' to accomplish a brutal, psychological edge. James Whitworth offers a fantastic performance as the despicable Jupiter and should probably be thought of higher as a horror film villain. His performance demands respect for its power and authority and is accompanied well by Michael Berryman and Lance Gordon. Producer Peter Locke even had a small role as Mercury, the watchdog for this contemptible family of savages. Interestingly the cannibal family come across as deranged hippies, which explains their planetary names. Virginia Vincent was the only performer that I really could not tolerate, but that could be because of the poor scripting for her religious-nut character Ethel. A very special mention has to go to Stryker the Alsatian, who `played' the part of Beast.
I highly recommend this for horror fans. Those people who think that the Nightmare on Elm Street' series is the be all and end all of horror should certainly check this out. The Hills Have Eyes' is, in my opinon, Wes Craven's most thought out and gripping horror film to date which features some good performances, excellent camerawork, enthralling sequences and some first-rate special effects. The Hills Have Eyes' is an excellent example of classic Wes Craven and is one of his most creative movies. My rating for The Hills Have Eyes' 8/10.
Wes Craven's greatest B horror film was this harrowing low-budgeter
that has gained quite a fan base over the years.
Charming, all-American family becomes stranded in the dessert wilderness and are preyed upon by a clan of savage hill-dwellers.
Violent, shocking, gory, and genuinely frightening, it's not hard to see why The Hills Have Eyes gained it's reputation as one of the most ruthless horror films of its decade. Craven's direction is well done, nicely exposing the raw and scenic filming locations. His story is also quite powerful. Craven gives us a taught, merciless tale of fear and survival that dares to break the audience's comfortable expectations! It has plenty of unexpected twists and a steely suspenseful climax. As with Craven's early film, Last House on the Left (1972), The Hills Have Eyes is a film about clean-cut,likable people who must become brutal animals to avenge themselves. It's solidly intense and very poetic.
The cast of unknowns turns in great performances. Lanier, Houston, Speer, Grieve, Wallace, and Vincent all make for a well identifiable American family. While Whitworth, Gordon, and Berryman make for perfectly scary monsters!
A startling and memorable thriller all around, The Hills Have Eyes remains one of Craven's greatest achievements and one truly relentless horror picture! Genre fans should not miss it.
**** out of ****
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Last House on the Left was one of those movies that was unpleasant to
watch because it was so well made. Wes Craven and producer Sean
Cunningham pulled out all the stops and wrote in all of the most
disturbing and cringe-inducing scenes they could think of into Last
House on the Left, and I think that a lot of that depravity seeped over
into Craven's next film, The Hills Have Eyes. My first assumption was
that Craven had a hard time finding work or funding because of the
controversy that resulted from Last House, but in one of the
featurettes on the re-release of The Hills Have Eyes he explains that
the studios wanted another similarly horrible film but he didn't want
to do it again. As he explains, he resisted until he was almost broke,
then made The Hills Have Eyes.
The similarities to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre are fairly extensive, as far as plot. A station wagon full of city folk are driving through the desert and ultimately find themselves struggling for their very lives from some sinister and disturbed people living completely cut off from civilization. And if that is not enough similarities, they are also cannibals. On the one hand I want to say that the acting was sub-par at best, but on the other hand, there were some truly impressive scenes, even from the same actors that turned in some of the most disappointing performances in other scenes.
Of particular interest is the fact that the movie's story is derived from things that Craven learned about Greek mythology, namely, the way that the forces of good and evil sometimes combined, blended, and ultimately became blurred on each side. The evil curved toward good as the good reacted to the evil by becoming it. This is what The Hills Have Eyes does. It's a study of how easily people can turn from good to the very evil that they despise. Notice the end of the film when the character looks down at the blood all over himself and realizes that he has become one of the murderous cannibals that he has been trying to escape for the entire movie.
That such a raw and horrific horror movie is able to explore such a universal aspect of humanity should in itself lift it from the level of campy horror trash that so many people gleefully and immediately condemn it to, without making even the slightest bit of effort to learn what the movie was trying to accomplish. On the one hand, it attempts to delve into a base aspect of the human condition, and on the other hand it tries to scare people out of their wits. And amazingly enough, it succeeds at both.
The Hills Have Eyes was overshadowed the year of its release by Smokey and the Bandit, which was released a week later, but it also shared theater screens with such tripe as Day of the Ants and The Exorcist II. It wasn't the most popular movie in theaters, but it was distantly the best horror film, and deliberately threw caution to the wind as far as breaking taboos and creating a potentially offensive cinematic experience. Indeed, after Last House on the Left, Craven was hardly concerned with maintaining his politically correct reputation.
The movie plays into a favorite Hitchcock theme, that of extraordinary things happening to ordinary people. You have the typical all-American family hunted by a clan of monstrous cannibals and in the middle of the desert. Not only do they have to deal with a broken down car and no mechanic in sight, but the dryness and heat of the desert and now these people trying to kill them. What may be most disturbing about the movie is that it is based on the Sawyer Bean family, who committed similar atrocities along lonely highways outside of London, and whose story inspired Craven to write this film.
It's true that the movie is unpleasant and makes you squirm at many points, but that's because it is a true horror film, it's not the sugarcoated nonsense that Hollywood cranks out these days. This is the kind of raw horror film that Rob Zombie was trying to take us back to with House of 1000 Corpses, and it's exactly the kind of movie that Craven's longest standing and truest fans wish he would go back to. And after watching The Hills Have Eyes and comparing it to just about any contemporary horror film, it's easy to see why.
While traveling in a trailer through the desert to California, the
retired detective Big Bob Carter (Russ Grieve) stops in an isolated gas
station with his family for fueling and rest. Bob is traveling with his
wife Ethel (Virginia Vincent), his son Bobby (Robert Houston), his
daughters Brenda (Susan Lanier) and Lynn (Dee Wallace) and his
son-in-law and Lynn's husband Doug (Martin Speer) and their daughter
baby Katy (Brenda Marinoff). When they leave the gas station, the owner
advises Bob to stay in the main road. However, the stubborn driver
takes a shortcut through a nuclear testing site and wrecks his station
wagon. With the family stranded in the middle of nowhere, Bob and Doug
walk on the road trying to find some help. Bob is captured by an insane
and sadistic member of a deranged evil family that lives nearby the
spot. Doug returns to the trailer, and along the night the Carter
family is attacked by a group of psychotic cannibal criminals.
Absolutely trapped by the murderers, they have to fight to survive.
The 1977 "The Hills Have Eyes" is still an impressive movie thirty years after the release date. I have never had the chance to see this low-budget movie, which has not been released on DVD in Brazil, and the VHS is rare. The violent, crude and claustrophobic story has not been dated; on the contrary, I believe it is more credible in the present days, when we can see violence everyday on the news, than in 1977. This movie is certainly one of the best in the filmography of Wes Craven. The cast is pure emotion and fear on the side of the Carter family, and evilness and sadism on the side of Jupiter's family. Ruby, performed by Janus Blythe, is probably the most interesting and ambiguous character, living with a dysfunctional family but still acting like a human being. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Quadrilha de Sádicos" ("Sadistic Gang")
Note: On 30 December 2014, I saw this movie again.
Wes Craven first directed a film back in 1972 called Last House on the Left. If you haven't seen it...do so...for it is quite an experience. It blends dementia, depravity, cruelty, and blood and guts with values and basic moral and philosophical questions(at a very base level). He next directed The Hills Have Eyes, which many feel might be his best work. It is a horror classic to be sure for a number of reasons. It has the struggle of an innocent typical American family with a gang of cannibalistic subhumans that live in the desert. This struggle is intense, and blurs the boundary between normal and abberant behaviour(just as Craven did in LHOTL). The basic story is one of survival, not just survival of life but a way of life. The cast does a fine job...some of the psychos are quite convincing, as are the "normal" characters rather good in their roles. The story builds rather slowly but crescendos after the first death and we are given one climactic event after another. The real stars of the film, however, are the dogs...which are integral to the plot, and the desert itself, which establishes a mood and atmosphere of bleekness, desolation, and futility. Craven did a fine job with his second feature, and I would have no problem saying it was one of his better films. I would even concede that technically it is vastly superior to Last House on the Left, however, for me at least, not as horrific or chilling. Just as with Last House, much of the subject matter of the film is decidedly outrageous, with an infant possibly being served up for Thanksgiving Dinner its high point(or low point if you prefer). Unlike Last House, Hills is not nearly as graphic in its action, leaving a bit more to the imagination.
Wes Craven's second film is well-crafted and frightening to say the least.
LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT was more realistic (almost too much), but this
perfect drive-in movie leaves you wanting more. It must have been an
unbearable shoot. Check out the 2-disc DVD.
A definite 7 out of 10 with Michael Berryman giving the best performance. Perfect locale in these California mountains that is scarier than the Bates Motel. Great cast with all unknowns. Dee Wallace was quite touching as the young mother and the old Grandpa Fred in the beginning was authentic to the max! Even if you're not a big horror fan, you should check this out late at night. Wes Craven has a good eye and feel for blood relations!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Infamous horror films seldom measure up the hype that surrounds them
and I have yet to come across a worse offender than Wes Craven's The
Hills Have Eyes. Having held back from watching this for years, I was
really pleased when I got it for Christmas and waited for an evening
when my girlfriend was out to settle down and watch it - knowing her
extreme dislike for anything genuinely horrifying. I needn't have
After a promising - if familiar - start, that firmly sets the film in the 'Desolution USA' world of survival horror, things rapidly go to pieces when the protagonists and antagonists meet in the deserted wasteland.
Looking like it was shot on a budget of $5, with the cannibal clan's costumes hired from a dodgy fancy dress shop that specialises in faux caveman and Red Indian attire, the story follows an annoying bunch of unsympathetic WASPs who take a detour on a road trip to California, to look for a silver mine in a nuclear testing zone (!). When they break down they are set upon by the local family of flesh-eaters and have to fight to survive.
While hoping for another Deliverance, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Wrong Turn or Devil's Rejects, I actually realised I'd stumbled across something that should have remained dusty and unwatched in a backstreet video store's bargain bin.
With gallons of tomato ketchup for blood and a couple of gruesome wound close-ups, I can kind of see how an 18 Certificate (in the UK) is justified, but with those close-ups trimmed this wouldn't have looked out of place as a Saturday afternoon thriller on ITV.
The whole silver mine/nuclear test site subplot is just a McGuffin to justify pitching the 'civilised' family against the primitives, but given how easily the savages get their asses whupped it stretches credibility to think that they had survived for a generation preying on passers-by.
And then there's the ending ... or lack thereof. The Hills Have Eyes seems to be missing either a third act or, at the very least, a satisfying denouement. Instead, I was just left wondering: "Yeah, and ... ?"
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