The Hills Have Eyes (1977) – WTF Really Happened to This Horror Movie?

The new episode of the WTF Really Happened to This Horror Movie video series looks at the story behind Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes

The episode of WTF Really Happened to This Horror Movie covering The Hills Have Eyes was Written and Narrated by Andrew Hatfield, Edited by Mike Conway, Produced by Lance Vlcek and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

“We’re gonna be French fries! Human French fries!”

We’ve talked about the loose definition of based on a true story but what happen when what the movie is based on may not even be entirely factual. This is can happen with movies like The Possession which was based on an internet article that someone fleshed out into a story when they thought the thing they bought was cool. Other times a movie can be merely inspired by an event even when they don’t credit that event in the film’s credits. Think A Nightmare On Elm Street. Wes Craven read articles about a bunch of people dying in their sleep and even being afraid to go to sleep and he expanded on that with Freddy Kruger and the rest of the story. In fact, speaking of Wes Craven, that wasn’t the first time something inspired one of his movies. The Hills Have Eyes (watch it HERE) was made after he read about proposed famous Scottish cannibal Sawney Bean and how civilized people could become savages. Just a heads up, while I personally prefer the 2006 remake, we will be discussing the 1977 original as it was the one originally inspired by the famous cannibal whereas the remake blames nuclear testing.

Make sure you don’t get lost in the desert as we find out what REALLY happened to The Hills Have Eyes.

Wes Craven got his start with the famous, and infamous, The Last House on the Left. It would be derided for it’s violence and brutality and 50 years later is still an uncomfortable watch. Sean S. Cunningham would make the movie with him and the two would go on to separately create two of the most endearing slasher villains of all time with Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger. After Last House, however, Craven would go a few years without making anything and when he did, it would be an adult movie that he directed under the name Abe Snake. That sounds like an adult film actor even more than it sounds like an adult film director if were being honest. 2 years later and we would get The Hills Have Eyes. Peter Locke, one of the producers on Last House, was interested in another horror movie as they could be quite profitable and inexpensive to make. Sure enough, it was made for around 700,000 but would pull in 25 million at the box office and become a certified hit.

The Hills Have Eyes WTF Really Happened

It would spawn a sequel that has the greatest flashback sequence of all time. It’s the dog. A freaking dog has a flashback. And years later would get the remake treatment with that remake also getting a sequel. Written and directed by Craven, he would base the script on Scottish cannibal Sawney Bean while taking his celluloid influences from The Grapes of Wrath and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. They filmed in the Mojave desert and the crew had quite the pedigree. Many of them were veterans of Roger Corman movies and knew how to make a movie on a low budget and the production designer was the same man that did production design for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was extremely hot and nobody was particularly happy at the beginning of the shoot but Craven hyped everyone up and they eventually believed in him and the project.

The two most recognizable stars are Dee Wallace and Michael Berryman. Dee Wallace began acting in 1974 and 50 years later has never really slowed down. She has 274 credits to her name but genre standouts like Critters, Cujo, E.T., and The Howling trump anything else on her resume. This was early on in her career but she already had what fans appreciated her bringing to the table role after role and she doesn’t seem likely to slow down anytime soon. Berryman had already appeared in the Jack Nicholson juggernaut One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest but was thrilled to be in a horror movie because he fell in love with them after watching The Mummy’s Curse from 1944 as well as all of the old Universal classics. First time I saw him was Weird Science and he has made a career of leaning into his unique looks rather than shying away or being embarrassed by them. Kudos to you, sir. He has also appeared in things ranging from The Devil’s Rejects to Star Trek 4 to a voice in a Scooby-Doo cartoon movie. By all accounts he seems like a sweetheart and continues to work today. Most of the rest of the cast didn’t do a ton, or at least a ton that genre fans know, but Janus Blythe and John Steadman were both recognizable in many genre flicks while active.

The movie opens with a wild woman Ruby trading with local man Fred, but Fred says that the little she is getting is all she will get now and they won’t be trading anymore. The local authorities and even the Air Force have been snooping around. Fred is leaving and Ruby wants him to take her with him. They discuss a family of sorts that seems less than normal when a family interrupts them to get directions and supplies on their way to Los Angeles. The family is the patriarch and matriarch Ethel and Big Bob, Brenda, Bobby, Lynn, Doug, their two dogs, and Katy. Bob is a recently retired police officer and Fred warns them not to go deeper into the desert but they ignore them and head off anyway, even when Doug overhears a strange conversation with Ruby and an unnamed man.

(FACTOMETER: 25%) Ok, so this will mostly be an exercise in what supposedly happened in 16th century and how it inspired the movie. Craven didn’t go about to make a historically accurate account of what Sawney Bean was, he wanted to tell a story involving people that went crazy in isolation and did terrible things. The family at the heart of Hills Have Eyes is an almost devolved set of cannibals who trap people and eat them while stealing supplies. Sawney Bean left his job as a ditch digger, something his father was too and married a woman who was by all accounts vicious and by some accounts a witch. They went away together and found an isolated cave, somewhat like the family in our movie, and built a family together while discovering the apparent joys of cannibalism.

The family continues their drive but is startled by a jet and veers off the main road to become stranded. Bob decides to go back to the place they stopped for help and see if Fred can do anything for them while the mysterious mountain family looks to make traps and capture them. one of the family dogs, Beauty, runs off after something with Bobby in pursuit. Beauty catches up to one of the family members but unfortunately, she is killed, and Bobby makes it back to the rest of the family at nightfall. Big Bob makes it back to Fred’s place to find him hanging by his belt. Fred explains that Bob and his family are far from safe as there is something out there. Fred and his wife lived out here when it was booming but when they had their second child, a son, there was something wrong with him. He burned the house down with his sister in it and then after he left him out in the desert, he took a wife from a prostitute and started a family. Fred is killed by his son and Bob flees only to get captured by who we now know as Papa Jupiter.

(FACTOMETER: 25%) The movie does allude here to a son running off and marrying a woman of ill repute like the legend goes so I guess that’s something. They also started their own family together which is also part of the Sawney Bean story. Where it diverges though is how deep it went. While both parties fled to a cave, Sawney and Agnes produced a much larger family through incest with 6 daughters, 8 sons, 14 granddaughters, and 18 grandsons. Much like the murderous cannibals in the movie, the Bean family would wait for the evening and capture victims who strayed to far at night. They would eat most of their victims but also pickle the leftovers in barrels while discarding other parts that wound up washing up on various beaches, though nobody could identify them.

The Hills Have Eyes WTF Really Happened

We get to see the feral family’s home and them eating the rest of the dog and Bob is crucified by Papa Jupiter. They then light him on fire to distract the rest of the family while the cannibals look for supplies inside the RV. They take their meat from the refrigerator and eat a bird before assaulting Brenda and taking the baby. Ethel and Lynne get back to the RV to try and stop it but Ethel is shot first followed quickly by Lynne after injuring one of the cannibals. They flee with the baby into the night just as Bobby and Doug make it back to find their loved ones dead. they decide to go after the family as the baby was taken and Beast, the remaining dog, kills one of the cannibals by knocking them off a cliff.

(FACTOMETER: 25%) Nothing here really resembles anything from the tale of the Bean family except for them attacking and taking people back to their cave to eat. They actually went years without being found out as there were no survivors to tell the authorities about the horrible cave family. Surrounding townspeople actually hung many innocent people in the search for justice and suspected inn keepers as they were usually the last humans to see many of the travelers that went missing. How the family was eventually stopped was going after a couple where the husband was able to fight free and tell someone about them. To that end it is similar to our story as the cave people finally messed with the wrong family.

Finding out there are survivors still, Papa Jupiter decides its time to kill them once and for all before enjoying their infant meal. Beast comes back to the family, and they also have a radio now to intercept communications between the family members. The cannibals find this out and we get a cool speech from Papa Jupe. It’s daylight now so Doug takes Beast and heads towards the cave while some of the cannibal’s head to the RV to go after Bobby and Brenda. Ruby gets a conscience and takes baby katy to run away and giver her to Doug. Brenda and Bobby use Ethels body as a trap while Beast takes out Pluto, don’t worry though, Berryman makes it to the sequel. Bobby and Brenda are able to spring their trap on Papa Jupe and blow him up with the RV before finishing him off with bullets and Doug is able to save Katy and kill off Mars as the movie ends on a quick stop and a red screen.

The Hills Have Eyes WTF Really Happened

(FACTOMETER: 25%) The Bean family finally had their deeds catch up with them when they went after a couple on horseback. While they unfortunately were able to capture and kill the wife, the husband was trained and wily and was able to escape their clutches with the help of a large group who heard the ruckus and scared the bean family off. Authorities sent a group to go get the family and they found their cave with bodies or parts of bodies hanging, in barrels, or just strewn on the ground. Depending on what version of the story you hear, the family either gave up willingly to their punishment or were buried alive in a collapse caused by the group that went after them. If they were captured, they were executed via having their hands and feet cut off and allowed to bleed out for the men while the women and children were burned. Another rumored story is that one of the daughters escaped, similar to Ruby in the story, but was hanged when it was found out she was part of the group.

The movie is based merely on the idea of the tale that Craven read but even 46 years later, it’s an effective little film. Dark, violent, mean, and unrelenting, it is still very much worth a watch. Really all of them are worthy of viewing and if you are curious about more of this tale, you can read Jack Ketchum’s The Offseason which is based on both the Bean family and Craven’s film. While there aren’t really any similarities between the Bean family and The Hills Have Eyes, its always interesting to deep dive on the horrors that come from real life.

A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Really Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To check out the other shows we have on the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel, head over to the channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.