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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Day 159: The Hills Have Eyes

The Hills Have Eyes
And what beautiful eyes they are

One of the main reasons why I started 365 Days of Horror is to see classic horror movies that I've always wanted to see, but never had the chance to. A lot of the classics just never make it to television, and if they do, they are edited, cut down for time, and stretched out over hours. You can't properly watch The Exorcist over 4 hours with commercials for Burger King and CSI: Whatever interrupting. You need the theatrical or uncut versions without interruption so you can fully enjoy and appreciate what the movies offer. Doing this blog has allowed me to see some of these classics (along with a lot of shit), so I'm grateful for the opportunity to watch another movie I've been meaning to see for a long time.

The Hills Have Eyes is a 1977 horror movie written and directed by Wes Craven (A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Serpent And The Rainbow). A suburban family is driving through the desert on the way to California when they stop to get gas. The old-timer working at the station, Fred, warns them to stay on the main road, but they ignore him, heading off on a different road in search of a silver mine to explore. The patriarch of the family, Big Bob (Russ Grieve, Foxy Brown, Charlie's Angels) is distracted by an Air Force plane flying overhead and the car skids off the road and crashes. With the car disabled, Bob makes it back to Fred's gas station by nightfall. There, Fred tells him about the people that live in the hills. Fred's wife was killed giving birth to a bizarre child, now known as Papa Jupiter, that grew up to be a psychopath, killing livestock and later murdering his sister. Fred tried to kill him, but he survived in the desert, taking a prostitute for a wife, and having three sons, Mars, Pluto, and Mercury, and a daughter named Ruby. They are cannibals that survive by stealing and eating people foolish enough to come into the hills. Papa Jupiter arrives, killing Fred and capturing Bob. Jupiter crucifies Bob on a stake and sets him on fire. His son Bobby, his wife Ethel, his daughter Lynne, and her husband Doug hear Bob's screams, and rush to him, leaving the youngest daughter Brenda and Lynne's baby behind. Pluto (Michael Berryman, Weird Science, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest) and Mars ransack the family's trailer and rape Brenda. Mars shoots Ethel and Lynne when they return while Pluto steals the baby. Will Bobby, Doug, and Brenda be able to get the baby back and stop Jupiter's insane family?

"My mustache will stop them!"

Even though The Hills Have Eyes is over thirty years old, it is still a gripping and disturbing piece of cinema. The story itself is pretty simple and straightforward, but preys upon our some of our basic fears. All of us our worried about breaking down in an unknown place, far from civilization, without any way to get help. The desert atmosphere is the perfect bleak, sparse backdrop for such fears. It also doesn't hurt that it's cheap to shoot there. The Jupiter clan, with the exception of Ruby are all evil and sadistic with no hint of a conscience or remorse. Giving them the names of planets (or Roman Gods) is a good way of dehumanizing them. Despite being human, they are less than human, acting only upon base instincts and perversions, making them truly scary villains. It also makes the revenge plot against them all the more enjoyable because you want to see Doug, Bobby, and Brenda get revenge. You want to see them hurt the cannibals and save the baby.

When the movie was originally released, it received an X rating from the MPAA and several graphic scenes had to be cut. Nowadays, the violence in the movie seems rather tame. I was actually expecting to be far more shocked than I actually was. That's probably because the movie has been built up over so many years as being extreme. Don't get me wrong, the movie is plenty violent with multiple disturbing scenes. Wes Craven shot the movie really well, eliciting emotions not only from the actors, but from the audience as well. The acting is very good from everyone involved. The version I watched was a bit grainy, most likely transferred from a VHS copy, so I can't fault the movie itself for being difficult to see certain scenes. The movie ends a bit abruptly, but I actually liked it.

The hills have fashion

The Hills Have Eyes is a grim and gritty tale that may shock and disturb some viewers. Though tame in comparison to more modern horror movies, it still has plenty of violence and a dark atmosphere that is not easily matched. The audience is taken on an emotional roller coaster, fearing for the family and then cheering for them as they try to get their baby back. The acting is solid with great direction from Wes Craven. While I enjoyed the movie, I felt at least a little bit disappointed. There isn't a specific reason for why, but perhaps because it has been built up so much over the years that I truly expected to be shocked. Regardless, The Hills Have Eyes is a good movie and a classic for a reason.


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