The Hills Have Eyes (1977) was a film that was just a few years before my time. I have seen the 2006 remake, but the original by Horror maestro Wes Craven was never one that really popped up on my radar. Even if you’ve kept up on the current crop of horror, and seen the remake, you should watch the original if you haven’t.
You will likely be familiar with the basic premise of the story. The Carter family is traveling through a barren landscape and suddenly becomes stranded. There is no help for miles around. In fact, the only ones for miles around are a family of twisted, feral cannibals, and they’re already sizing the Carters up as their next several meals.
The family isn’t completely helpless though. They do come with a few guns, and a pair of dogs, Beauty and Beast. Unfortunately, Beauty, is the first to go, as the cannibals know how dangerous the dogs are.
Then the terror begins. The Carters separate to look for help, and while the men are away, the monsters strike the women, killing two of them, and leaving you with one scene that heavily implies rape. They then steal the family’s infant and disappear back into the hills.
Beast steps up while the cannibals are returning, pushing one of them off a cliff in a moment that almost had me cheering. Then the dog returns to the family, before heading out with the lone man to take back the infant.
In the final confrontations, Beast manages to first maim and then kill a second of the bloodthirsty hill-dwellers, making him the most heroic character in the movie, taking revenge for the death of his partner in the beginning.
The ending is abrupt, rolling the credits while the audience is still holding their breath. There’s a sense of finality, but not one of closure, instead allowing the viewers to simmer in the horror of what they just watched, giving the film a final punch to the gut you can’t just walk away from.
While The Hills Have Eyes is not gory in any real sense of the term (and certainly not compared to today’s movies), it makes sure you know what’s happening in scenes that remain brutal even without blood splashed across the camera lens.
In the age of found footage and torture porn, it’s hard for old movies to stay relevant. This one may not have the shock value it once had, but it still stands as a strong entry in the list of the best horror films ever made.
Check in next week for a look back at The Dead Zone by our own Kelly McNeely.