Wes Craven followed up his directorial debut, The Last House on the Left, with another disturbing 70s horror classic: The Hills Have Eyes. Like his first feature, Hills deals with nice, normal people who are pushed to the brink by demented, twisted psychos until they are forced to act, to strike back until the question is asked: “who is the monster here?” The Hills Have Eyes also reminds me of another classic horror film from that era, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Like that film, we have a crazy family of hillbilly crazies living out in the middle of nowhere (both films also share the same art director, Robert A. Burns). The film opens on the Carter family, who are lost in the middle of nowhere on a desolate road, trying to find an old silver mine. They stop at an creepy, seemingly abandoned gas station, run by a cranky old coot named Frank (played with zest by John Steadman). The patriarch of the Carter brood is Big Bob (Russ Grieve), who has just retired from the Cleveland Police Force (the family also includes scream queen Dee Wallace, as Big Bob’s daughter Lynne).
Before too long, the Carters are the way to certain death. You see, years ago, Fred spawned a little boy who grew into a nasty little thing who burned down the house, and Fred beat him so bad that he split his face open. That young boy turned into a mean, evil brute named Jupiter (played by James Whitworth, hulking and oozing menace), who lives high in the hills with his brood of cannibalistic children, and his wife (who was a prostitute he kidnapped years before).
As you can imagine, things don’t go well when the Carters’ car breaks down, and two of the men go for help, leaving the women, including frail Mother Carter (Virginia Vincent), teenage Bobby Jr. (Robert Huston) and Lynne’s baby to fend for themselves. Of course, all hell breaks loose.
Probably the creepiest of the cannibal ‘children’ is Michael Berryman as Pluto (that’s him in the picture). You may recognize Berryman from his work in Weird Science, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or The Devil’s Rejects. Anyway, he’s absolutely terrifying in his work here. He reminds me of Frankenstein’s monster, in his walk and stature. Craven has created an important work of horror fiction, and worthy of all the praise. Pretty dang scary.
The Hills Have Eyes. 1977. Dir. Wes Craven. With Russ Grieve, Dee Wallace, James Whitworth, John Steadman, Virginia Vincent, Robert Huston, Michael Berryman. Written by Wes Craven. Cinematography by Eric Saarinen. United States.