The late horror master Wes Craven unleashed this unrelenting look at survival that was influenced by a notorious 15th century Scottish family and a classic horror film made just three years prior to this film.
Heading to California, the extended Carter family plan to celebrate the 25th anniversary of retired cop Bob and his wife Ethel. Bob and Ethel’s kids Bobby and Brenda are riding along with their parents, older sister Lynne, her husband Doug, and their daughter Katy. When they stop for gas and ask for directions, gas attendant Fred warns the family to stay on the main road. However, the find themselves veering off the road into the desert and crash, yet everyone is okay. However, they soon won’t be okay.
The desert is run by a deadly family led by Papa Jupiter. The family consists of Mama, sons Pluto, Mars, and Mercury; and daughter Ruby, who rebels against the family because of their nature. When Bob makes his way to Fred’s station for help, Fred warns him of the deadly family because Jupiter is Fred’s son, who murdered his sister as a kid. Jupiter arrives and kills his father and kidnaps Bob, staking him and burning him alive. When the others soon learn what they are in store for, some of the members meet their fate and it is now up to the remaining members to stand up and fight the deadly family before it’s too late.
This is a definitive cult classic from Wes Craven, who admitted to being influenced by the 1974 horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the notorious Sawney Bean family of Scotland, a horrific clan who resorted to cannibalism in order to survive, much like the maruading desert family of this film. Craven made this not only about the deadly family, but brings us a story about survival and the lengths the Carter family must go in order to stay alive, although it’s apparent that some of these members won’t survive.
Perhaps what stands out is how survival plays out between both sides in the desert. The Carter family, stranded in the desert, soon realize what they are up against and while there are the required casualties, the survivors must resort to becoming aggressive where as the deadly desert family use cannibalism and murder to survive as they are shunned from society. What stands out here is that one member of each family changes their tune, going from one extreme to another. In the case of the desert family, youngest Ruby, played by Janus Blythe, has rebelled against the family and longs to live a normal life, resulting in her being abused by her mother and ridiculed by the other members. Whereas the Carter family son-in-law Doug, played by Martin Speer, goes from mild-mannered to having more of an aggressive and yet brutal style in hopes to survive the deadly night.
That goes without saying that the performances in this film are what to expect in this brand of horror film. The breakout star is truly Michael Berryman, who gets his big role as Pluto, the youngest yet not too smart of the desert clan. In a very pivotal scene, he is ridiculed by his own brother when he attempts to rape Brenda and acts out in aggression. He’s more of a follower but he tends to be a smartaleck now and again. It is clear why he would return for the very abysmal sequel that Craven ultimately disowned in 1984. While James Whitworth really does well as Papa Jupiter, Lance Gordon shows a bit more aggression as eldest brother Mars, who does things his way when it comes to hurting the family. It kind of can be said to be quite funny when the family dog gets in on the action as well.
The Hills Have Eyes is truly a classic cult horror film. Not only is it a very exploitative film, but it is a film about survival and what lengths some must endure in order to survive.
WFG RATING: A-
A Blood Relations Inc. production. Director: Wes Craven. Producer: Peter Locke. Writer: Wes Craven. Cinematography: Eric Saarinen. Editing: Wes Craven.
Cast: Robert Houston, Susan Lanier, Martin Speer, Dee Wallace, Virginia Vincent, Russ Grieve, James Whitworth, Michael Berryman, Lance Gordon, Janus Blythe, Arthur King, Cordy Clark, John Steadman.