Why 17 days? Because 17 is my favorite number.
To make matters worse, The Hills Have Eyes had a pretty freak radio spot, I think. Not that I remember all that much of it. The one thing I do remember is the announcer flatly stating that this film was “from the director of Last House On the Left,” and that was when all hell broke loose in my head. No, I had not seen Last House On the Left--I was only 14 in the summer of ’77--but I had heard that radio spot five years prior, when I was still young enough to believe in Santa Claus, and it had tormented me for a good many nights. Last House's radio spot, if you remember, had the announcer who warned us to keep repeating “It is only a movie … only a movie … only a movie …” (this marketing campaign made such an impact that I reference this radio spot frequently in my novel Strays and its sequel Jackal).
What does this all tell us?
It tells us that the imagination, that beautiful DVD extra of the human mind, is far more powerful than anything you can process with your own two eyes. At the end of The Decameron, the pupil of Giotto gazes at the fresco he has just painted and laments, “Why create a work of art when to dream it is so much sweeter?” As a writer and one-time filmmaker, I get it. Nothing I commit to paper has ever matched my sweet imagination, and many classic movies I sat down to watch after considerable buildup--from Citizen Kane to Casablanca--failed to impress the first time, and only on repeated viewings did I come to appreciate their beauty and genius.
So it was for The Hills Have Eyes.
The Carters, a family of six adults, one baby, and two dogs, are taking a trip to California, most of the family riding in a luxury camper being pulled behind a truck driven by patriarch Bob (Russ Grieve). After suffering a flat in the desert, the Carters soon find themselves being stalked by another family, this one composed of deranged cannibals who live in the hills, led by the demented Papa Jupiter (James Whitworth). As night falls, and the Carter’s desperation increases, the crazed hill people make their move …
Those previous paragraphs may suggest that I think The Hills Have Eyes is a bad movie. Nothing could be further from the truth--I wouldn’t purchase the DVD if I thought it was bad. In fact, it’s a very good movie, and some scenes are quite frightening. What I’m saying in those paragraphs that the anticipation of this film, constructed upon the foundation of my childhood imagination, was far greater than anything Craven could have shown me. I actually had to steel myself for this movie when I watched it in college, expecting to be so terrified that I might have to pause the VCR and walk outside for some fresh air.
None of that, of course, happened. Still, I did enjoy the ride.
The Hills Have Eyes is not only a great little horror film, it’s a solid action film as well. After a freaky first two acts which claims the lives of Bob, his wife Ethel (Virginia Vincent), and his eldest daughter Lynne (Dee Wallace), the film’s denouement is devoted to the survivors of the Carter clan taking a stand against the cannibal family. This involves the two teenage children, Bobby (Robert Houston) and Brenda (Susan Lanier) creating an elaborate booby trap to take out Papa Jupiter (booby traps played a role in most of Craven’s early films), and a daring journey into the desert by Lynne’s widowed husband Doug (Martin Speer) to rescue his baby daughter Katie after she has been abducted by the clan. After some of the nightmarish scenes we have witnessed, this final battle is almost rousing, and you will cheer as Bobby, Brenda, and Doug turn the tables on the cannibals.
Still, let us not forget that this is a horror movie, and in the film’s early scenes, when the cannibals have the upper hand, there are plenty of horrors to go around. I love when the Carters stop at a service station on the edge of the desert, and as they get directions from the owner, we see the creepy cannibal clan, decked out in surreal biker attire, darting about the premises in the background. Later, Bob runs through the night to find help, and the cannibals taunt him from the darkness, their voices echoing across the desert--this scene will send tingles down your spine. In addition to these traditional chills, there are more than a few atrocities to make you squirm in your seat: Brenda’s rape, Bob’s torturous death, and a scene where the cannibals abduct the baby and are arguing over walkie-talkies about who gets to eat it.
I can personally attest that he is not. In 2012, I got to meet Mr. Berryman (“Call me Michael,” he said) and he even posed in a photo with me. The man is intelligent, articulate, and charming, the kind of personality people are naturally drawn toward.
Later, I discussed with my best friend how sad it was that Berryman never won a major acting award other than the EyeGore Award for Career Contribution in the Horror Genre. While it is so easy for the Academy to focus on its golden stars every year, perhaps its time someone like Michael Berryman got a little Oscar love. After all, he’s done nothing but show up, do his job well, and give us a filmography full of worthy performances. Perhaps his appearance limits the roles he is given, but so what? He does what no other actor could do in the same position.
And let’s face it: The Hills Have Eyes would certainly not be the same without him.
Previous Days of Halloween:
Day 1 – Baby’s Breath
Day 2 – Phantom of the Paradise
Day 3 – The Shining (miniseries)
Day 4 – 28 Days Later
Day 5 – 28 Weeks Later
Day 6 – Dawn of the Dead (original)
Day 7 – Dawn of the Dead (remake)
Day 8 – The Howling
Day 9 – Saló or the 120 Days of Sodom
Day 10 – Romper Stomper
Day 11 – The Valley of Gwangi
Day 12 – Kolchak: The Night Stalker (entire series)