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Overall Rating

Awesome: 25.64%
Worth A Look56.41%
Average: 5.13%
Pretty Bad: 5.13%
Total Crap: 7.69%

2 reviews, 27 user ratings

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Hills Have Eyes, The (1978)
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Craven repeats himself, but it's still an intense ride."
4 stars

In the summer of 1977, George Lucas gave us a galaxy of weird faces in the cantina scene in "Star Wars." But none of them quite matched the formidable mug of Michael Berryman as Pluto, a member of the savage cannibal family in Wes Craven's "The Hills Have Eyes."

Born with an illness called hydrochotic-extodermaldysplasia, Berryman has parlayed his distinctive features into a long and profitable cult-movie career. You could take a photo of him without make-up, put it on a movie poster, and scare the hell out of everyone, and that's exactly what Vanguard did in the marketing for The Hills Have Eyes. Unlike his debut Last House on the Left, Craven's second film needed no lurid tag line ("It's only a movie"); it just needed Berryman.

Aside from that, Hills does play a lot like Last House, with a side order of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Here, a nuclear family meets a literal nuclear family -- that of a deformed child abandoned out in the desert, who grew up and begat a clan of vicious scavengers. The "normal" family is headed by a retired cop (and racist) and his enabling wife, taking a road trip to California with their three grown kids, a son-in-law, a baby, and two dogs named Beauty and the Beast. Their car wipes out, as cars so often do in such movies, and they're left stranded amid the godforsaken rocks and snakes. Which would be enough of a predicament without the hungry family, led by Jupiter (James Whitworth), who zero in on that fat little baby.

On some level, this is a rehash of Craven's earlier effort, with urban/rural tensions replacing generational tensions. But Craven obviously had some demons to let loose, some need to subject the family unit to disintegration and terror. His goal in these early films is to show how easily civilization can lurch into brutality, how fragile the social compact is in the crunch. While Lucas was faffing about in a galaxy far, far away, Craven was probing the difference between human and monster, and not finding much difference.

As in Last House, the pack of raving scum has someone with a conscience: Ruby (Janus Blythe), who tries to escape the clan early on. In neither family are women really taken seriously except as childbearers (Dee Wallace, a mere five years before E.T., is the perky young mother whose baby becomes the film's MacGuffin) or servants. Craven sets up a contest between the two clans, which the "civilized" family can only hope to win by becoming as savage as their attackers. At what price comes triumph? Order may be restored, but by the terms of chaos.

For all that, I'd have to consider The Hills Have Eyes a minor chapter in the Craven portfolio: There's a difference between reiterating a theme and repeating what worked before, and you feel the line drawn here. Last House on the Left provoked controversy, banning, and an excellent book about its making; Hills hasn't inspired nearly as much loathing or devotion. It's simply a well-executed revenge horror movie, and though I take no particular offense at the baby being imperilled -- anything's fair game in horror -- Craven almost seems to be reaching to shell-shock the audience, to top his previous assault on good taste. More disturbing is the idea of an Air Force-ravaged desert where people are left to fend for themselves among the scorpions.

If the movie had taken the point of view of the desert family -- who do what they have to do to survive and don't take kindly to whitebread families tootling through their turf en route to California -- "Hills" may yet have been as shocking as it wants to be. As it is, it's a film best looked back on fondly, for its moments of intensity and suspense under Craven's merciless hand, and for Michael Berryman's imposing and incomparable presence.

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originally posted: 12/26/06 05:24:37
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User Comments

2/21/17 morris campbell it sucks but the remake is actually good IMO 1 stars
4/01/16 Aj wales Remake was better. This was slow. 4 stars
1/01/10 art THE 2006 REMAKE GIVE"S IT A RUN FOR IT"S MONEY! 3 stars
11/22/08 Shaun Wallner Scary Film! 4 stars
6/28/08 Joey Am absolute must-see for any horror/suspense fan. 5 stars
12/01/06 David Pollastrini needs more gore! But still great 5 stars
8/26/06 Nanni It was the grossed movie i've ever seen!! I'm sorry i ever watched it!! 1 stars
2/27/06 Steven Lewis One of the best Craven films from back in the day 4 stars
10/16/05 Darren O An absolutely terrifying trip that almost pars the ultimate classic TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 5 stars
10/11/05 Tom Burns A really good movie. loved it. 5 stars
9/02/05 Eden Good horror - its not TCM but its very suspenseful 4 stars
3/07/05 Danny Low budget - yes. But, it's still a horror classic with plenty of suspense. 4 stars
7/04/04 Samuel great movie, great ending. definitely see this, you won't regret it. 5 stars
5/02/04 American Slasher Goddess Not as intense as Chainsaw, but very well done and scary. 4 stars
2/23/04 Naturezrevenge The dog was the only intelligent character in the movie. Yay Beast! 3 stars
7/04/03 T3 Kick ass. Yea, don't leave the paved road baby. 5 stars
6/27/03 Jimmy Yearwood A must see for drive-in freaks...this before Wes started making crap like Scream. 5 stars
6/14/03 Alice Shocking? What a disappointment ! Bad acting, stupid lines...Just Crap. 1 stars
1/25/03 Shark2th It's worth the watch.You'll remember it forever. 4 stars
12/07/02 the shoe this is one of the best "horror" films ever made.. 5 stars
11/25/02 Charles Tatum The family was so annoying, I wanted to kill them too 2 stars
5/14/02 Judith Latham FABULOUS!!! SCARY!!! GRABS YOU! 5 stars
11/18/01 SLIM jim ockerland like a modern sawney beane clan... 4 stars
8/06/01 E-Funk I dug it...Very intense and frightening for awhile until the imbreds start using CB's 4 stars
4/17/00 John Linton Roberson A true horror film, the sort we're too "cool" to make these days. Sigh... 4 stars
3/10/00 Aaron Goldberg Real 'horror' not camp dreck 5 stars
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  02-Jul-1978 (R)
  DVD: 23-Sep-2003



Directed by
  Wes Craven

Written by
  Wes Craven

  Susan Lanier
  Robert Houston
  Martin Speer
  Dee Wallace-Stone
  Michael Berryman
  Russ Grieve

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