I expect to get a small amount of flack about his review from friends and readers alike as I didn’t like this movie. At best it was a way to spend 89 minutes while moving images did their best to entertain me, at worst The Hills Have Eyes was boring and tame. I can see its appeal as a cult classic, and how at the time of its release The Hills Have Eyes could have passed as shocking, as they had to tone the film down to get an R rating. But since the original directors cut’s thought forever lost. So, I’ll never get to know exactly what Craven had in mind when making this film. Out of the 89 minutes of footage only one scene stuck me as even remotely scary, this is in all likely hood me being super jaded. The acting is campy and over the top, which is how this film was able to keep me watching it, other than needing to for this review. The Hills Have Eyes might just be my least favorite Wes Craven film.
The Hills Have Eyes follows the Carter family consisting of Big Bob (Russ Grieve), Ethel (Virginia Vincent), their children, Brenda (Suze Lanier-Bramlett), Bobby (Robert Houston), and Lynn (Dee Wallace) along with Lynn’s husband Doug Wood (Martin Speer) and their daughter Katie (Maisie Camilleri Preziosi) as they travel to California. On their way they stop at a small gas station run by old man Fred (John Steadman) and while filling up ask him for directions to an old silver mine that Ethel inherited. Fred informs the family that the silvers been gone for years and there’s nothing back there, but open desert, a military base and worse. The Carters leave never knowing that Fred had his grand-daughter Ruby (Janus Blythe), who’s trying to escape her cannibalistic family in the back, as he was trying to leave the area when they arrived. Soon after their departure, Fred notices Ruby is gone, having returned to her family or taken by them and his truck is destroyed leaving Fred stranded. The Carters get lost trying to find the silver mine and crash their car, breaking the axle evading a rabbit. Big Bob decides to head back to Fred’s Store on foot, while Doug heads off ahead to see if help is closer that way, leaving Bobby behind with the women and dogs at the car and trailer. While night falls Bobby follows one of the dogs, Beauty out in the desert when she runs off. He finds her mangled remains and tries to run back, but trips and knocks himself out. Big Bob arrives back at Fred’s and find him trying to hang himself. After rescuing him, Fred informs Big Bob that his family is in danger, as Fred’s son Papa Jupiter (James Whitworth), who Fred tried to kill with a tire iron after Jupiter murdered his sister and left for dead in the desert, still lives out there with his wife known only as Mama (Cordy Clark) and their maladjusted children. Fred is then attacked by Jupiter and dragged out into the night, while Big Bob looks on in terror. Big Bob races outside and finds Fred dead with his throat slit, prompting him to race back to his family. On his way Big Bob collapses due to his weak heart and being both older and out of shape. After which he’s taken by Jupiter and his family. Bobby wakes up and heads back to the camper, but doesn’t tell anyone about Beauty not wanting to scare them. Soon after Doug returns saying he found the army base, but it was empty, and long since deserted. A while later Big Bob is set on fire in the desert and when the Carters come to save him, Pluto (Micheal Berryman) and Mars (Lance Gordon) ransack the trailer, during which Mars rapes Brenda, who was left sleeping. Ethel and Lynn arrive back at the trailer, and discover what’s happening as Mars tries to steal the baby. Lynn and Ethel try to stop him, but are killed. In the fight Mars is wounded badly by Lynn with the aid of Brenda. Bobby and Doug return to late too help, but once the sun rises Doug sets out to save his daughter…
I’m not all that sure what my grievances are with this film, other than that it’s… tame? But that’s just a mark of the time, and maybe the 2006 remake will hold up better to my more modern sensibilities. But, mostly I think it’s because at the end of the day I just don’t care about the characters. The characters are tame, not the situation they find themselves in. The characters take being stranded in the desert with no help incredibly well, given that from the looks of what they had when they were looted they were in no way prepared for it. I know that’s supposed to be their appeal, the normal American family. Well Big Bob states he’s recently retired from a lifelong career on the police force and has survived a number of deadly situations. But once things start to go south, he certainly doesn’t give off the impression of a man who can handle himself in a dangerous situation.
My other issue is with Jupiter’s family as they too are tame. While yes, they do eat people, set people on fire, steal babies… they do all of this while at the same time being goofy and kind of comical. They never come off as the deadly backwoods menace, especially once the sun comes up. Once the advantage of nightfall and surprise are gone, they kind of suck at being deadly cannibals.
Final thoughts, I’m not sure what else I can say about The Hills Have Eyes as most things have been said. Once I get beyond the blandness of the characters, I just don’t see a lot here. the setting is beautiful. But the same can be said for any film, shot in the desert or out-door local. The acting is memorable just due to the camp elements that do give the film a timelessness. All in all, The Hills Have Eyes just didn’t move me one way or another. It’s simply a film that is. 5/10