Halloween Havoc!: THE HILLS HAVE EYES (Vanguard 1977)

Wes Craven (1939-2015) left us with many nightmares: LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, SCREAM. But you haven’t lived until you’ve met Papa Jupiter and his feral family of cannibals in Craven’s THE HILLS HAVE EYES, as outlandish and frightening a horror film as there ever was. HILLS was so shocking the censor board gave it an X rating until it was cut enough to qualify for an R. It still packed enough violence and brutality to make even the heartiest exploitation enthusiast squeamish.

The Carter clan has travelled from Cleveland to the Nevada desert on their way to California. They stop at a gas station where an old geezer is about to leave. The geezer warns them about his son, born mutated and mean as the devil, living somewhere in the hills. While driving down the long. lonesome highway, fighter jets from a nearby airbase cause the Carter’s stationwagon and trailer to run off the road, breaking an axle. Stranded in the desert, miles from nowhere, with buzzards circling overhead, Big Bob heads in one direction looking for help, while son-in-law Doug goes in the other, leaving Ethel, Lynne, Bobby, Brenda, baby Katie, and their two dogs behind. Unbeknownst to them all, they’re being watched…

There’s some truly sick shit going on in this movie. Craven, who also wrote the film, pulls out all the stops, piling on the horrors as thick as blood.  Among the gruesomeness is the attack on Big Bob, who’s nailed to a cross and set aflame; the brutal rape of Brenda inside the trailer, followed by the murders of Ethel and Lynne; and the kidnapping of baby Katie for Jupiter and his brood to  cook and eat! Sick shit, indeed! Survivors Doug, Bobby, and Brenda fight back, however, and what they do to Jupiter and his cannibalistic clan (Pluto, Mars, and Mercury) turns the suburbanites as savage as their attackers. Even German shepherd Beast gets into the act, chewing up Pluto (Michael Berryman). Doug gets his vengeance with the assist of feral Ruby, smashing Mars’ head in with a rock over and over and over, until… the screen turns blood red, abruptly ending the film.

THE HILLS HAVE EYES was the second screen appearance of Dee Wallace, who made her debut in 1975’s THE STEPFORD WIVES, and became a latter-day Scream Queen. Her resume of horror includes THE HOWLING, CUJO, CRITTERS, SHADOW PLAY, and THE FRIGHTENERS, not to mention playing the mom in Spielberg’s ET THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL. Miss Wallace is slated to appear in the upcoming DEATH HOUSE, an all-star horror show written by the late Gunnar “Leatherface” Hanson , which all fans of 80’s slasher flicks are eagerly awaiting!

Violent and unnerving as hell, THE HILLS HAVE EYES will not be for everyone. But it’s a near perfect example of unrelenting Grindhouse horror for those with strong stomachs. It’s not as stylized as Craven’s later work, much closer in spirit to his early exploitation shocker LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT than, say, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET or SCREAM. If you’re CRAVEN some un-PC horror this Halloween, THE HILLS HAVE EYES will be right up your dark alley.


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