It’s pretty rare for a movie to really scare the shit out of me. In fact, I was thinking about this today and these movies include films like Audition and The Exorcist. Laugh if you will, but I can sincerely add the original version of The Hills Have Eyes to this small list of movies. To modern day horror fans this movie may seem tame, but to true appreciators, this is a horrific tale of one of the worst nights in the history of storytelling.
The Carter family should have listened to the old man at the gas station. Not only are they stranded on a desolate road in the middle of the desert, but are being watched by a family of hill people who stalk and cannibalize any unfortunate people to pass through. As darkness falls, the Carters are beaten, raped, and some killed by these hill people. Come daybreak, the remaining Carters become the hunters, making the hill people wish they never came in contact with one another.
The 70s were a great time for horror movies. The Hills Have Eyes fall into the same brutal category as I Spit on Your Grave, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I even saw some Cannibal Holocaust sprinkled in. It’s gritty without being too graphic with some of the most disturbing scenes being the hill family watching the unsuspecting Carters down below. Wes Craven understands the horror behind be watched, as we can see in Scream, but this movie raises the stakes with the desert locale in an era without cell phones or computers.
What suffers in this movie is most of the acting. The entire Carter clan are pretty typical for horror movies. Some of their dialogue was written really well, including a disturbing scene about the family dog killing another person’s poodle, accompanied by their rambunctious laughter. It really makes them appear to be more than what they seem. The real stars are the Jupiter clan. Michael Berryman and Lance Gordon are a great team as sons Pluto and Mars. Their father, Jupiter, played by James Whitworth is intimidating and scary with some pretty disturbing make up.
The pacing of this movie really keeps the viewer on edge and generally made me feel uncomfortable. Wes Craven understands the importance of suspense, and fully utilizes this to create a tense atmospheres packed with terror. The punch of the actual attack by the Jupiter clan feels more intense because we’ve had to wait about 45 minutes to fully see them and what they are capable of.
The Hills Have Eyes may have a lot of similarities to previous horror/exploitation films of the 70s, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but Wes Craven’s talent in creating memorable scenes of violent terror and his ability to create and sustain tension makes this film a horror classic. Despite some of the stale acting and a few incidents of weird sound, this can easily be put on anyone’s top 10 horror films.