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HILLS HAVE EYES, THE(director/writer/editor: Wes Craven; cinematographer: Eric Saarinen; cast: Susan Lanier (Brenda Carter), Robert Houston (Bobby Carter), Virginia Vincent (Ethel Carter), Russ Grieve (Big Bob Carter), Martin Speer (Doug), Michael Berryman (Pluto), Dee Wallace (Lynne), John Steadman (Grandpa Fred), James Whitworth (Jupiter), Lance Gordon (Mars), Cordy Clark (Mama), Janus Blythe (Ruby), Peter Locke (Mercury), Brenda Marinoff (Katy); Runtime: 83; Blood Relations /Vanguard; 1977)
“It has become a cult-status film…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A former professor from England, Wes Craven, in his second feature (“Last House On The Left”), has come up with a stylishly, ironical, scary thriller filled with nauseating gore and some humorous situations. It has become a cult-status film, one that has staying power and has the reputation for being a lyrical horror classic.

The slightly dysfunctional WASP Carter family, consisting of seven vacationers and two ferocious pet dogs, are driving out west to Los Angeles, California, from their Cleveland home, where they take a sidetrip off the main desert road to look at an abandoned silver mine located on a former nuclear Air Force base and upon seeing a rabbit on the road swerve to avoid hitting it. They snap their car/camper axle and are stranded in the desert.

The civilized family has to fight for survival in these harsh surroundings with a parallel family of savages. This opposing family of six, headed by Jupiter (James Whitworth), is a cave-dwelling cannibal one, who want to destroy and eat them.

It’s loosely based on the true story of the Sawney Bean family who cannibalized strangers in 17th century Scotland.

The film opens as the head of the civilized clan, the surly retired city policeman, Bob Carter (Russ Grieve), tells the old geezer gas station attendant Fred (Steadman) to fill it up. The attendant tells them to stay on the main road there are strange creatures around these parts. But, of course, this arrogant family doesn’t pay him no mind and takes a back road.

The mother, Ethel (Virginia Vincent), leads them in prayer after their car mishap, and then the policeman walks for a few hours to get back to the gas station for help. The attendant, Fred, tells him that a long time ago his wife gave birth to a monster called Jupiter, who when he was ten was a full grown devil-man and burned down the house killing his wife and their other little child. He then threw out his monster-child to fend for himself in the wilds of the desert but he managed to not only survive, but grew up strong and found a whore for a wife (Cordy Clark) to raise a family of monsters consisting of one daughter Ruby (Janus Blythe) and his three monster sons Mars (Lance Gordon), Pluto (Berryman-he plays the part of the eldest son), and Mercury (Locke). They live off the desert and attack strangers who get stranded. Jupiter’s daughter Ruby smells like a horse and stands little chance of fitting into civilization, but is tired of eating dog meat and wants Grandpa Fred to help her escape. She will later on rebel against the family to try and save a baby the family wants to feast on.

Warning: spoilers to follow.

While Bob is trying to get help at the gas station his family, back in the desert, is watched by the mutants hiding in the hills; they communicate with each other by CB. The revolting action takes place on two fronts as one of the dogs, Beauty, is slain and gutted by the mutants. When the detective’s son Bobby (Houston) discovers this, he’s too stupid to warn the other family members — his spoiled sister Brenda (Lanier), his brother-in-law Doug (Speer) and his wife Lynne (Dee Wallace), and his religious mother. The young couple also have an infant daughter Katy (Marinoff).

While the family is experiencing danger at the site where they are stranded, Bob and Fred are attacked by Jupiter in the gas station. In the end the Carters lose three family members in horrible deaths. But before things are resolved, the following ugly incidents also take place: there’s a rape, Brenda screams her head off when seeing the ugly mutants in the camper, the camper is looted and blown up, someone is burned alive, the baby is kidnapped and prepared to be served for dinner, the dog called Beast pushes one of Jupiter’s sons to his death off the ledge of a cliff, and a combined rattlesnake poisoning and vicious stabbing death occurs. This last incident is the violent note on how the film abruptly ends.

The two families are hoots. The film plays as an allegory, and has a certain strength in its storytelling. By the film’s end there’s not much difference between the two families, as the fight for survival brings everyone down to the level of a beast. I guess that’s the point of the film.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”