The Hills Have Eyes!

They burned the father, killed the mother, and raped the sister!

THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977)

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A retired Cleveland cop with a bad ticker named “Big” Bob Carter packs up his clan into a trailer and heads out west on the holiday road to California. Along for the ride are Bob’s dimwitted and annoying wife Ethel, their two eternally bickering teenage children Bobby and Brenda, their oldest daughter Lynne, her husband Doug, and Lynne and Doug’s newborn baby, Katie. As if that wasn’t enough, they also bring along their two huge, bloodthirsty Alsatians – Beauty and Beast.

The Carter clan decide to celebrate Bob & Ethel’s silver anniversary in high style by taking a detour deep into the Nevada desert, so they can finally see Aunt Mildred’s old silver mine. They stop for directions and fuel at a rundown gas station on the outskirts of the desert. The station’s shady old proprietor Fred swiftly tries to steer them away from such foolishness, warning them that there’s no silver in those hills anymore, only animals…and the sort of people they wouldn’t want to meet.

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Big Bob doesn’t heed the old man’s warning to stay on the main road to California and instead takes his family for a long drive down Dry Creek Road, which also happens to be a former nuclear test site…and an active Air Force bomb range. The combination of roaring fighter jets and a goddamn wife and her goddamn road maps and her wrong turns and her goddamn hysterical screaming is too much for Bob’s bad heart to handle, and he finally wipes out and snaps an axel, stranding the family up shit creek without a paddle to become human french fries. What began as a vacation ended as a nightmare.

The Carters try to make the best of the bad situation and put their faith in the good lord and a little gunpowder. Big Bob grabs his cannon and makes the long trek back to Fred’s gas station, while Doug hikes north towards a military installation that he notices on a road map. Things then go from bad to worse when Beauty breaks free and runs off into the hills, chasing after something. Bobby runs off after her, and eventually stumbles upon her freshly gutted carcass. Bobby winds up knocking himself unconscious while running away in horror, and then later says nothing to the others about what he found. Doug doesn’t fare much better, as he comes back from his hike that night with only some discarded military surplus. They wanted to see something different, but something different saw them first.

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The Carter’s fates are left in the hands of Big Bob, who eventually makes his way back to Fred’s gas station. Bob is greeted by the smoldering remains of Fred’s pick up truck, and then a gunshot. When Big Bob moves in for the kill he finds the old man with his neck in a makeshift noose. This prompts Bob to ask the immortal question “Do you always try to stop trespassers by hanging yourself?” Old Fred then proceeds to fill Big Bob in about the horrors of his monstrous offspring. This thing Martha gave him back in ’29, was so big it came out sideways and almost tore poor Martha apart. When he was 10 years old he was full grown and hairy as a monkey, running around biting off chicken heads and throwing dogs down wells. After the bestial bastard burnt down their house in ’39 and killed poor Martha and his favorite Daughter in the process, old Fred finally had enough and hit him with a tire iron, splitting his ugly face wide open. Fred then took his mortally wounded monster boy out into the desert and left him in the blazing heat to bleed to death.

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Bob dismisses the old man’s “ghost” story, by saying it was a long time ago. But Fred knows all too well that it was long enough for his savage spawn to steal a drunken whore that nobody would miss, long enough to raise a passel of wild kids, long enough for a devil kid to grow up to be a devil man. Big Bob learns this the hard way when Papa Jupiter suddenly comes crashing through a window, tire iron in hand, looking for revenge! Old Fred is quickly dispatched. The lucky ones died first. Big Bob is not so lucky and winds up running for his life, which is a bad thing for a fat pig with a heart condition to do. Bob’s flabby heart finally explodes, and he is then crucified on a large cactus and roasted alive. However, this is only a momentary, explosive distraction that allows the REAL horrors of the night to take place!

As Big Bob screams in agony while being becoming human barbecue, most of the Carter clan runs outside of their trailer to try to help him. This allows Papa Jupiter’s passel of wild kids to descend upon the trailer. The savage Mars and mutated Pluto then take turns violating poor Brenda, who was left sleeping inside during the confusion. They then proceed to ransack the trailer, taking every scrap of food they can find, including the blood of a freshly decapitated parakeet, and incredibly – the fat and juicy baby Karen! When Ethel and Lynne attempt to intervene they are both blasted with gunfire for their efforts. This rampage leaves Doug a widower on a desperate mission to save his baby from becoming the pack’s Sunday dinner, and Bobby and Brenda as orphans who have to use their mother’s corpse to defend themselves against the fury of Papa Jupiter. A nice American family. They lost everything except the will to survive. Murdered, raped, burned, but not beaten. They didn’t want to kill. But they didn’t want to die.

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THE HILLS HAVE EYES was director Wes Craven’s highly successful follow up to his eternally controversial 1972 clas-sick “The Last House On The Left.” Much like “Last House,” “The Hills Have Eyes” was a graphically violent, shock filled endurance test for audiences. The producers even went as far as recycling the “it’s only a film” tagline. “Hills” doesn’t compare in terms of sexual sadism though, the emphasis here is raw, violent horror, and the blood relations between families – civilized and savage.

The inspiration for this one was the legendary Sawney Beane clan from 14th century Scotland. A morbid tale of rampaging marauders waylaying and devouring transients, moved forward into the 20th century isolation of the barren Nevada desert. Serious comparisons can also be made to the immortal “Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” “Hills” has a similar sort of sunburnt homemade horror vibe, and the sets and costumes are full of leftover bones and carnivorous trinkets created by TCM’s legendary madman Robert A. Burns.

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The highlight of the entire movie for me is the incredible, ass kicking performance of James Whitworth as Papa Jupiter. There’s an old movie cliche called “chewing the scenery,” and Papa Jupe pretty much devours everything in sight. The incredible fireside monologue where Papa Jupe munches on some dog and gets face to face with the freshly roasted remains of Big Bob always gives me chills. “I’m gonna watch your goddamn car rust out, yes I will. I’ll see the wind blow your dried up seeds away. I’ll eat the heart of your stinking memory. I’LL EAT THE BRAINS OF YOUR KIDS KIDS! I’M IN! YOU’RE OUT!”

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No discussion of THE HILLS HAVE EYES can be had without mentioning the immortal Michael Berryman as the deformed desert dweller Pluto. His creepy looking face is the single most memorable thing about the entire film, the posters, the VHS covers, etc. Michael had already memorably appeared in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” but this was the film that made him an all time icon of horror. It was truly lucky and inspired casting to find an actor with a truly unusual appearance caused by a rare medical condition, instead of relying on makeup or prosthetics. It’s much scarier knowing you’re looking at a real face, rather than a mask.

This one ranks as one of the nastiest horror/revenge flicks of the late 70’s. There’s no shortage of gritty intensity as we watch an all American family massacred and finally forced to retaliate. The desert setting immediately inspires unease, and the music creates a great sense of dread. I’ve watched this one more times over the years than I can count and it still manages to deliver a gut-punch every time. Killer performances, memorable dialogue, perfect pacing, and packed with animal attacks, runaway whores, stabbings, shootings, explosions, violent vengeance and red meat, just an all around perfect genre flick.

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THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) is now available on blu-ray from Arrow Video. This limited edition release features a brand new 4K restoration and is unquestionably the best the film has ever looked on home video, or otherwise. Most of the special features were ported over from the previous Anchor Bay dvd release, including the excellent “Looking Back On The Hills Have Eyes” documentary and a very entertaining commentary track with producer Peter Locke and writer/director Wes Craven. There’s also a brand new interview with the film’s composer Don Peake, as well as six collectible postcards and a fold out poster. All in all, an excellent package and a film that no respectable horror fan’s collection should be missing. See it before it sees you!

KEEP THE BLOOD FLOWING!!! 

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