After the release of The Last House On The Left, director Wes Craven had trouble finding work that wasn’t related to horror film. Despite the notoriety of his debut movie, not a lot of faith was put into him to make something outside of the weird-people-viciously-raping-and-killing genre. This was a source of much frustration for Craven, who sought desperately to break out the weird-people-viciously-raping-and-killing genre. However, despite his apprehension in creating another film in the genre-that’s-getting-repetitive-to-type, in 1977, he wrote and directed The Hills Have Eyes, a film that would not only surpass Last House, but would be the first of three franchises that Craven would start.
The Hills Have Eyes deals with the Carter family who, after taking a “detour” while driving through the desert, fights a clan of cannibalistic desert people. These cannibals consist of the leader, Papa Jupiter, (who says one of my favorite lines in movie history: “I’M GONNA EAT THE HEART OF YOUR STINKIN’ MEMORY”), Mama, Ruby, Mars, Mercury, and Pluto. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you’ve probably seen an image of Pluto, played by Michael Berryman, in your life. Berryman was born with a rare skin condition that prevented him from growing hair, sweat glands or fingernails. Thus, for better or for worse, he was perfect for playing the angry man-beast, Pluto. On a side note, Berryman is a really, really nice guy. I met him at a horror convention once and I would put him on my list of Top 5 People Who Wouldn’t Attempt To Murder My Family In The Desert.
The most controversial aspect of the film is the sequence in the middle, which is extremely brutal. Bob, the patriarch of the Carter family, is staked to a tree and burned alive. Pluto and Mars rape the youngest daughter, Brenda. Ethel and Lynne, the older daughter and matriarch of the family, are killed by Mars. This is the point of the movie that usually stops people from watching the second half. While it’s unsurprising that the events were orchestrated by the man who had formerly directed Last House, it is no less horrific.
The film is in the same “rape-revenge” vein as Last House, but turns it into more of an overt fantasy. While it is loosely based off the story of Sawney Bean, the idea of a rogue family, living out in the middle of nowhere and living off those “richer” or “more normal” than they are is a popular one in culture:
The Hills Have Eyes took the romanticized story of a twisted Robin Hood-esque concept and mixed it with the horror that Craven was obviously talented at handling. I think that Hills is a better film than Last House, but it lacks the impact that Last House or Deliverance or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has, because it entrenches itself more in the fantastical. The hill clan is just a little too strange looking to be relatable, the locale is recognizable but foreign, and the story, that of a family fighting against, well, monsters, takes away the “it could happen in YOUR back yard” theme that Last House held so dearly.
That might be my most legitimate stab at film criticism ever. Enjoy that last paragraph. If anything is going on my tombstone, it’s that.
There was an eight-year gap between Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes and Wes Craven’s Horseshit (which you might know in America as Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes Part II). In that amount of time, Craven managed to devise a story that would take everything you loved about the original film and completely not do that again. The Hills Have Eyes Part II is what a train wreck refers to when it’s trying to make a train wreck metaphor. The film is so bad that your Blu-ray player will tell you “It’s not you, it’s me” after you pop the disc in. If you were to cut open Hitler’s stomach, the stench that would hit you would give you flashbacks to Hills Part II, whether you’ve actually seen it or not. Watching Hills Part II is like having a bar mitzvah for pure hate.
The Hills Have Eyes Part II concerns a member of the cannibal clan existing in a fashion that completely contradicts the mythology set up in the first film. Pluto comes back, after obviously dying in the first film. The dog from the first film also returns, and has flashbacks about the first film, showing that even animals can have PTSD when trapped in a movie this awful. Hills Part II concerns some motocross racers whose bus breaks down in the desert around where the Carter trailer broke down before and they end up getting attacked by mutants. I’m not quite sure whether the DVD case I bought had a movie inside or a bomb meant to blow up a film school.
The Verdict: [rating:3.5]
The Hills Have Eyes is an extremely gritty, fun film that displays not only Wes Craven’s growing aptitude for the horror genre, but works as an almost lighter companion to The Last House On The Left. While parts of it can be a struggle to get through for those with weak stomachs, or what do they call them… morals, I would recommend it for anyone who enjoys a good backwoods slasher flick. I wouldn’t, however, recommend The Hills Have Eyes Part II. I haven’t used the term “dookie” in years, but by god, it applies for that one.
- Yell! Rating (x/5 Skulls):
- Year Released:
- 22 July 1977
- Wes Craven
- Suze Lanier-Bramlett, Robert Houston, Janus Blythe, Peter Locke, Suze Lanier-Bramlett, Michael Berryman, and John Steadman
- Horror, Thriller
- Official URL: