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The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

Starring Robert Houston, John Steadman and Michael Berryman. Directed by Wes Craven.

The Carter family are travelling through the desert on their way to California. Retired police officer and head of the family Bob (Russ Grieve) decides to visit an inherited silver mine on the way. Ignoring the advice of Fred (John Steadman), the local filling station owner he drives off the main road towards the hills. An accident leaves the family stranded and easy pickings for a family of deranged hippy-like cannibals led by Jupiter (James Whitworth). Following a savage attack by this family, which leaves a number of Carter’s dead, the survivors realise that to continue surviving they too will have to become savages.

The Hills Have Eyes 1977 C. John Archer

Wes Craven followed his controversial and now-notorious directorial debut film ‘The Last House on the Left’ (1972) with this often overlooked little gem of exploitation cinema based on the Scottish legend of Sawney Bean. With the foundations of a budding career already laid, Craven’s artistic and creative talents truly began to establish themselves with this production, taking the successful elements of ‘The Last House on the Left’ and complimenting them with new stylistic choices to much greater effect.

The Hills Have Eyes 1977 C. John Archer

‘The Hills Have Eyes’ is a movie with a raw brutality that has been unsurpassed in any of Craven’s films to date and is arguably one of Craven’s finest hours in the directorial chair. Whilst lacking depictions of graphic violence like many contemporary films of the era, ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ is still markedly nasty and unsettling. There are atmospheric tones shared with the likes of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974) and the movie maintains an unsettling air from beginning to end as the viewer is sucked into the nightmare that the Carter family is forced to endure.

The Hills Have Eyes (1977) C. John Archer

The desolation and hopelessness is portrayed beautifully by Craven, who showcases intelligent camera-work combined with an understated, haunting soundtrack to fully develop such a disconcerting environment. The weak-points of the film, such as character dialogue seeming at times forced and at other times unbelievable are generally quite easily overlooked due to how gripping the sum of all the parts is.

The Hills Have Eyes 1977 C. John Archer

James Whitworth offers a fantastic performance as the despicable Jupiter, somewhat oddly forgotten as one of the more unpleasant of horror movie villains. His performance demands respect for its power and authority and is accompanied well by Michael Berryman and Lance Gordon. The movie’s producer Peter Locke features in a small cameo role as Mercury, the watchdog for this contemptible family of savages. Virginia Vincent’s performance was the only one that really stood out as irksome but this may possibly be due to the relatively poor scripting and dialogue of her character, Ethel.

The Hills Have Eyes 1977 C. John Archer

The Hills Have Eyes lacks the polish of Wes Craven’s later efforts such as ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ (1984) and ‘Scream’ (1996) but is one of those occasions, like ‘The Last House on the Left’ and ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ where the low-budget and raw production values only heighten the atmosphere and tension, glossing the movie with an almost realistic quality that would easily have been lost with too much slickness. As a piece of horror-film history, ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ is a worthy movie to watch and though some aspects of the film may have aged a little poorly, there’s little about ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ that doesn’t stand-up as one of low-budget cinema’s best and most overlooked additions.

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