The Hills Have Eyes is a 1977 American exploitation-horror film directed by Wes Craven and starring Susan Lanier, Michael Berryman and Dee Wallace. It is about a family on a road trip stranded in the Nevada desert who become hunted by a clan of deformed cannibals in the surrounding hills.
The film was released in cinemas on 22 July 1977, and has since become a cult classic.
An old man named Fred is packing his truck. A ragged and somewhat feral teenage girl approaches. Annoyed, Fred addresses her as Ruby. She offers to trade what she has in her bag for food, but the old man refuses. They walk into a small cabin and Fred scolds her for what she and "they" have done. Ruby says that her family ambushed a nearby airfield because they were hungry and no one passes by their home anymore. She pleads with Fred to take her with him. He tells Ruby that if "the pack", in particular someone named Jupiter, learns what she is doing, she could be in danger. A noise distracts them, and Ruby hides.
The Carter family is traveling on vacation. Parents Bob and Ethel are driving, accompanied by their teenage children Bobby and Brenda, eldest daughter Lynn, along with Lynn's husband Doug, baby daughter Katie, and their dogs, Beauty and Beast. They stop at Fred's Oasis for fuel. Fred tells them to stay on the main road. Later, they skid off a desert road and crash, owing to what is later revealed to be a booby trap. Bob walks back to Fred's Oasis to get help. Fred's son and his son's family of deranged cannibals dwell in the wilderness through which the Carters are traveling. They are commanded by Papa Jupiter, patriarch of the clan. He killed his mother, Fred's wife, during childbirth. As a child, he killed the livestock on his father's farm and later murdered his sister. Fred attacked his son with a tire iron and left him in the wilderness to die. Jupiter survived, and mated with a depraved, alcoholic prostitute known as Mama. Together, they had three sons, Mars, Pluto and Mercury, and their abused daughter Ruby. They survive by stealing from and cannibalizing travelers.
As night falls, Bob reaches the gas station, where Fred tells him the origin of the hill people. Papa Jupiter arrives, kills Fred with a tire iron and takes Bob prisoner. Doug and Lynne are sleeping in the car while everyone else stays in the trailer. Bobby gets locked out of the trailer and asks Doug for his keys. Bobby does not know the trailer is locked because Pluto is looking through their valuables, while Ethel and Brenda sleep in the next room. As Bobby enters the trailer, Papa Jupiter sets Bob ablaze on a stake in the distance. Ethel, Lynne, Doug and Bobby rush to Bob, while Brenda stays in the trailer with the baby. Everyone tries extinguishing the fire, while Pluto and Mars rape Brenda. The Carters extinguish the fire, but Bob dies shortly after. When Ethel and Lynne return to the trailer, Pluto runs away. Lynne finds Mars taking her baby. She attacks Mars as Ethel hits him with a broom. Mars shoots Ethel and Lynne. Pluto abducts the baby and flees with Mars. Doug rushes in to find Lynne dead; Ethel dies shortly after.
Doug sets out to find his baby while Bobby and Brenda remain behind. Beauty has been savaged by the clan, and Ruby is forced to eat it as punishment. She is chained outside the cave where the clan live, with Mama tormenting her. The men of the clan return to the cave, but Mercury is ambushed and pushed to his death off a hilltop by Beast. Papa Jupiter and Pluto return to the trailer to kill the survivors. Pluto is incapacitated by Beast, and Papa Jupiter is killed by a trap set by Brenda and Bobby. Doug sees Ruby knock out Mama and escape with Katie into the hills, followed by Mars.
Doug catches up with Ruby and the baby. Mars follows them into the hills, but as he tries to kill Doug, Ruby interferes by putting a rattlesnake against Mars' neck, enabling Doug to overpower his assailant. The film ends with a closeup of Doug frantically stabbing Mars to death while Ruby weeps over her brother's body.
- Susan Lanier as Brenda Carter
- Michael Berryman as Pluto
- Dee Wallace as Lynne Wood
- John Steadman as Fred
- Robert Houston as Bobby Carter
- Martin Speer as Doug Wood
- Russ Grieve as Bob Carter
- James Whitworth as Papa Jupiter
- Virginia Vincent as Ethel Carter
- Lance Gordon as Mars
- Janus Blythe as Ruby
- Cordy Clark as Mama
- Arthur King as Mercury
The film was conceived as a modern retelling of the Sawney Bean story. In the script, titled Blood Relations: The Sun War, the clan consisted of dozens of incestuous family members, similar to the Sawney Bean family that inspired the story. In addition, the film was set in 1994, took place in a forest, rather than a desert, and most of the major cannibals (such as Mars, Pluto and Mercury) were adolescents. The baby was stolen not for food, but for a perverted religious ritual.
The film was given an X rating by the MPAA and several of the most graphic moments were edited for an "R" rating. The deleted footage is believed to be lost, though the alternate ending turned up on the 2003 Anchor Bay DVD.
The film did reasonably well in its initial release and today enjoys a large cult following. The film currently has an approval rating of 64% on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 22 reviews, and is certified "fresh". Austin Chronicle wrote, "Inventive story ideas and humorous touches give this horror picture an enduring relevancy and stylistic flourish."
The Hills Have Eyes was ranked No. 41 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments. The film was nominated for AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills.
The Hills Have Eyes started a series of intertextual references between horror film directors. In the scene where the protagonists return to the looted trailer, a poster of the 1975 movie Jaws ripped in half is visible on one wall. Commenting on this Sam Raimi placed a poster of The Hills Have Eyes ripped in half in his 1981 movie The Evil Dead. Wes Craven then portrayed his characters watching Evil Dead on television in his 1984 movie A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Raimi explained the intertextuality in the 1989 documentary Stephen King's This is Horror:
- One of the things they see is a picture of a Jaws poster, the monster, that's been like ripped in half. So I took it to mean that Wes Craven, the director of the movie, was saying: "Jaws was just pop horror. What I have here is real horror. It's rip that baby in half."
- So as a joke and as an homage to Wes Craven I took a Hills Have Eyes poster and in Evil Dead I put it in the cellar in one of the sets. And I ripped it in half, to say "No Wes, your picture is pop horror, this is real horror." But just as a joke of course.
- Now, Wes Craven has responded in his picture by putting a clip of Evil Dead 1 as a horror movie in a scene that a character is watching in his movie Nightmare on Elm Street. I guess it's to say: "No, your movie Evil Dead is just a horror movie. Nightmare on Elm Street is the real horror".