Hills Have Eyes
Writer and director Wes Craven has the esteemed position in cinematic
history as having set the bar for American horror films for three decades.
The "Nightmare on Elm Street" series defined supernatural
horror for the eighties and a runaway box-office success. In the nineties,
Craven's "Scream" trilogy took a post-modern, winking look
at the glut of slasher films of the eighties (for which he was partially
responsible). Despite his financial and critical successes, it was Craven's
1970's films that are his most challenging and arguably his greatest
contributions to cinema.
Craven and future "Friday the 13th" director Sean S. Cunningham
collaborated on "The Last House on the Left." An update of
"The Virgin Spring," the film's violence coupled with its
technical brilliance made it possibly the most infamous and influential
grindhouse film of the decade. Craven was absent from the world of horror
for the five years following, only briefly returning to his roots as
a porn director for "Angela, the Fireworks Woman" in '75.
return to the horror genre in 1977 would make as lasting a mark as his
first foray. "The Hills Have Eyes" is a compelling and atmospheric
horror film. The Carter family is blissfully traveling cross-country
in their mobile home. Straying from the main road, they damage their
RV too much to continue. As the men in family split up to search for
help and supplies, it becomes evident they are not alone in the desert.
A clan of violent hill people soon begins to prey on the family. They
attempt to destroy the serene perfect of the family's life, ultimately
leading the Carter's to make a stand to defend themselves, even if it
masterful ability to tap into the social unconsciousness and bring forth
what truly frightens people is clearly evident here. "The Hills
Have Eyes" has an inexplicable familiarity to the viewer even at
first viewing. It is due to the fact that the film follows closely the
templates of the fairy tales that we hear in our youth. The Carters
(the innocents) are on a journey to a far off place. Despite earlier
warning not to, they stray from the path, a common element in many fairy
tales. Once lost, they are easy prey for the hill people, the "big
bad wolf" element of the story. The film is able to skillfully
weave this imagery subtly; the clues are there but not overwhelming.
The best clue can be found in the names of the family pets: Beauty &
The other primary symbolism in the film is the dichotomy between the
Carters and the hill family. The Carters represent goodness and wholesomeness.
In direct contrast is Jupiter's brood. The image of odd featured character
actor Michael Berryman as Pluto is striking. He appears less than human.
Father Jupiter himself is a sort of mythical monster. The uniqueness
and horror of the tale of his birth serves to plant the seed in the
viewer's mind that these people truly are monsters. The fairy tale/morality
play image is reinforced by this assertion that these "monsters"
live just on the outskirts of human society, waiting to pick off those
who stray from the fold.
Though less graphic than "The Last House on the Left", "The
Hills Have Eyes" is easily one of the scariest horror films of
all time. Craven's film rivals "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"
as one of the most frightening and original films of the decade. Interesting
to note, like "Chainsaw.." "The Hills Have Eyes"
has some basis in fact. Jupiter's clan shares many similarities with
the Sawney Beane family from early 1400's Scotland. They too roamed
the hills, attacking and eating any that entered into their domain.
If you are a fan of any of Craven's later works, you need to see this
film. You'll probably find it vastly superior to some of his more popular
The Hills Have
Written & Directed by Wes Craven
Review by David Carter