Trick Or Treat! THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) [Two Cents]

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

Trick Or Treat!

Happy Halloween! Welcome to the final installment of this year’s TRICK OR TREAT event here at Two Cents! It’s our genuine pleasure to program some horror madness and we hope you’ve enjoyed our mix of old and new picks.

The Pick

We’re gonna be french fries! Human french fries!

Yeah, I know we just did Scream a little while back but I really wanted to sneak in one more helping of Wes Craven, this time drawing from the earlier part of his career. As an influence on the horror genre, I don’t think his contribution can be overstated. In the squalorous 1977 nail-biter The Hills Have Eyes, a family gets stranded in a remote desert, where a clan of monstrous hillbillies roams the rocky hills, killing for both food and sport. The film was Craven’s first collaboration with actor Michael Berryman (besides the sequel, they would also work again on the strange Amish-tinged thriller Deadly Blessing), and would turn out to be that actor’s signature role in a long career.

Did you get a chance to watch along with us this week? Want to recommend a great (or not so great) film for the whole gang to cover? Comment below or post on our Facebook or hit us up on Twitter!

Next Week’s Pick:

It would have been difficult to predict even just a few years ago that Netflix would make a transition from content distributor into one of the world’s leading content creators, but here we are. After a successful string of TV-series style programming with both commercial and critical success, Netflix’s latest offering Beasts Of No Nation is the company’s big move into major “awards buzz” type filmmaking. The story is centered on the experiences of a West African child soldier, and also features the inimitable Idris Elba as the boy’s commandant. Watch it on Netflix!

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at)!

The Team


Michael Berryman. That’s really all this film is about for me. The role I automatically associate with him is not this one, but rather is the mutated biker in Weird Science (due to my adolescent love for the film… ok, it was really just about Kelly Le Brock, but I digress).

Outside of Berryman, whom I will love in everything I ever see him in, I really couldn’t care much less about this film. And, with all due respect to the late King of Nightmares, I really don’t care much for pre-Elm Street Craven. I know, I know, it’s blasphemy not to love Last House On The Left, but even admitting that it’s an important film doesn’t mean I ever want to watch it again.

Hills is not as brutal a watch as the ’72 rape-revenge “classic”, but it’s certainly still a sleazy exploitation flick nonetheless. The Ruby character is an interesting one and the family dynamics of Papa Jupiter’s clan are worth exploring, but I leave such examinations to the rest of you, as this was my second and last viewing of the film.

Verdict: To each their own, but I choose TRICK. (@thepaintedman)


Only recently experiencing Wes Craven’s cautionary commentary on the unexpected side-effects of America’s atomic experiments meant that The Hills Have Eyes’ attempts to scare and/or disgustify fell on seen-it-all-before eyes.

And yet I was quite taken with its brutal, gritty charms. The desolate Californian desert setting is put to great use as our hapless, all-American family are isolated, then mercilessly stalked/slaughtered by their cannibalistic polar-opposites. As Craven ratchets up tension, there’s a palpable sense of no-escape, and portraying the vacationing Carters/Woods as a relatively normal family (as opposed to a group of tedious, sex-obsessed teens — who ever feels sorry for those douches?) makes their eventual fate all the more disturbing.

The Hills Have Eyes may be lauded for Craven’s clever ability to mix exploitation with smarts, but it’s probably best remembered for the brilliantly cast (now iconic) Michael Berryman. Like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, there’s a chilling, matter-of-factness to all the violence alongside a satisfyingly nasty, sadistic streak. But the true horror lies in the plausibility of seeing supposedly civilized folk forced to embrace their own savagery in a desperate bid to survive. Craven may be saying it’s inevitable that, when push comes to shove, we all become savages.

Verdict: Treat (@jconthagrid)


Though it may not highlight Man’s barbaric nature in the same shocking way that The Last House on the Left does, The Hills Have Eyes is still a film which is equally terrifying and fascinating in its vision. I love how Craven pits these two distinct societies against each other in such a vivid way to highlight Man’s natural instinct for hunting and killing.

The film was made during the early part of the director’s career when he had no qualms about the level of onscreen gore he chose to tell his stories with. Though with The Hills Have Eyes is packed with literal terror, it isn’t so much the blood factor that gets to you, it’s the violent acts themselves, and their significance, which really horrify. For me, Craven and I both point to the same scene as the most shocking, which is the killing of the two mothers in the caravan. Watching these two individuals, who symbolize warmth and humanity more than anybody else, die horribly is excruciating to watch, but more than anything, it drives home the motif of the animalistic nature of survival that Craven’s film represented.

Verdict: Treat (@frankfilmgeek)


For the first chunk of The Hills Have Eyes, my primary feeling was regret that we weren’t just watching the remake. Alexandre Aja’s adrenalized redo blew me away when I saw it years back, and Craven’s original seemed all the more stilted and slow by comparison. Not helping things was the sub-porn level production values (and that’s not me being mean or anything. The filming equipment was bought, used, from porn people) and awkward acting.

And then the camper gets attacked and Craven delivers what feels like ten minutes of beautifully pitched and timed nightmare madness. That sequence alone would be enough to elevate the film, but the raw ugliness of the film’s aesthetic really pays off as it progresses, accumulating power and dread as the central family devolves further into savagery to survive.

Craven’s other masterstroke was in the rival group, which he imagined as a functional, if psychotic, family. There are bleak, jet-black laughs to be had from this class warfare, and Craven takes visible delight in crafting a perverted version of the nuclear (natch) American family and siccing it on the cookie-cutter version.

This is dark shit, this, but it’s horror as piercing social screed. Great stuff.

Verdict: Treat (@TheTrueBrendanF)


For years I’ve heard that The Hills Have Eyes is utterly gut-wrenching to the point of being difficult to take in. That expectation kind of mythologized the film to me, making me unsure if I wanted to experience something so grueling.

In that sense, the film’s a letdown — perhaps fortunately so. Ironically, the fear I had of watching this film was greater than that of actually experiencing it. Maybe I’m desensitized.

That’s not to knock it, though. It’s very effective in creating both a setting and vulnerable situation that earns its illustrative title. I also really love the soft, gritty appearance of the film that unmistakably announces its vintage and places it, visually speaking, in the company of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

But in truth I just felt more of a family survival thriller vibe from it than horror, in part no doubt because I already love Michael Berryman and the shock of his appearance is not as impactful as it would doubtless have been to audiences meeting him for the first time in 1977. But if I think back to years ago before I knew who he was, his deformed face peered at me from video shelves, instilling me with a sense of unsettledness and dread at what horrors awaited within.

Verdict: Treat (@VforVashaw)

The Verdict

Trick: 1 | Treat: 4
 Verdict: Treat

Did you all get a chance to watch along with us? Share your thoughts with us here in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook!

Get it at Amazon:
 The Hills Have Eyes — [Blu-ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]
 The Hills Have Eyes 2 — [Blu-ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]

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