Continuing my look at horror films that have been re-made, I set myself quite the challenge with this one. Unlike most of the films I’m going to be looking at in this series, I have not previously seen either the original 1977 film, or the re-make. So I am coming into both films completely fresh.
My horror loving friend Chris kindly leant me the original 1977 movie by horror master Wes Craven, and if I am honest, I don’t know how I’d never watched it before. Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street series of films was an integral part of my horror loving childhood so I really should have sought out his other movies long before now.
But as I say, for whatever reason I hadn’t, and recently one of the podcasts I have started listening to had mentioned The Hills Have Eyes which put it back on my radar.
The original opens with a young girl approaching a drunken old dude in the desert with some goods to trade for travel out of dodge. He somewhat questionably squirrels her away when the Carter family turns up looking for fuel for their car and the trailer they’re towing on their trip to California. Turns out this guy’s little shack in the desert is actually a gas station. Not that you can really tell until these folks show up looking for fuel. The old codger, Fred, ominously tells the family as they drive off that they should “stay on the main road!” Do they listen? Like hell they do. Wouldn’t be a horror movie if they did though would it?
Daddy knows best, and decides to take the family off the beaten track as he looks for a silver mine thats supposed to be around here somewhere. Somewhat unsurprisingly he crashes the car and breaks the axle. So now the family are stuck out in the desert with prying eyes watching their every move. Lucky for them that Daddy got a nice gun as a retirement gift from the force. I wonder if that is a foreshadow of a moment later in the film when he might need a gun?
Dad Bob goes back to the gas station to get help, while son-in-law Doug, who I mistakenly thought had gone with him, goes in the opposite direction to “see what he can find”. Silly of me to think it would make sense for them to go together as it’s getting dark and this is a horror movie, so of course they have split up. *rolls eyes* But lucky for them they are a two gun family, so Bob leaves son Bobby with the other gun, to protect the fam while he’s gone.
It’s here when dog 1 of 2 – Beauty – runs off into the very hills of the title, which are more rocks and cliffs I’d say than hills, but anyway, Bobby goes after the dog and then finds it’s remains a short while after. He falls trying to run away from the grisly scene and we assume from the nature of the film that he’ll never be seen again.
Meanwhile back at camp, eldest daughter Lynn and mother Ethel are trying to radio for help, when they hear strange heavy breathing on the other end. It quickly becomes apparent that the watchers are quite well equipped, with radios at least, and if they’ve got radios, who knows what other items they may have come across over the years?
Brenda takes the family’s other dog Beast to go and look for Bobby and Beauty, although I only realised this after they find him, as it’s not made clear at all before this, and Lynn even shouts after Brenda when she realises her sister’s not at camp anymore. This is about the third mistake the family have made up to this point. It’s like they don’t even know the rules of horror movies? Sigh.
Brenda gets the scare of her life when she finds Bobby, against all odds alive and well. It turns out he’d just been knocked unconscious from his fall earlier and had seemingly been having a nice nap until Brenda came along. When you see what’s to come it really is a wonder he didn’t die.
Remarkably dad Bob also makes it back to the gas station which is where he finds a phone that instantly goes dead, and then poor old Fred tries to die too, by hanging himself. Bob manages to get him down before any damage is done, but it’s here things start to get really freaky.
Back at camp Bobby tells no-one of his discovery up in the hills, or his suspicions of who might have killed his beloved pet. I mean why would you bother telling your family something like that? It’s not like it might be important or anything…
We finally get to the crux of the story when Fred explains to Bob about that one time when his wife gave birth to a 20lb hairy baby boy that came out sideways, and yet somehow she survived! If it wasn’t obvious that the baby wasn’t normal, Fred soon discovered that things weren’t right when he began finding partially eaten live animals, and then a house fire was started that claimed the life of his daughter. He understandably took a tire iron to his son and abandoned him in the hills where he presumed he had died. As you would.
But the boy miraculously lived and grew up to be a cannibal with a family of his own, a lovely cannibal wife and four gorgeous cannibal kids. One of which was the girl we met at the beginning. It’s all falling into place now.
Sadly poor Fred meets his maker by way of his son murdering him seconds after this exposition takes place. Leaving poor Bob fighting off a cannibal maniac in the middle of the desert alone. But wait, he has a gun remember? Some cop he must have been because he manages not to shoot the guy and he gets away. D’oh!
Back at the trailer Beast breaks free of his chain, or does he? Maybe he’s been eaten! Dad Bob doesn’t fair much better when he has a heart attack as he’s running back to warn his family of what’s out there in them there hills. And finally Doug comes back with some mysterious supplies even though he claims not to have found any people on his walkabout, and more importantly a dead end road.
Beast however, who it turns out has not been eaten (yay!), HAS found something. He has found the remains of his pal Beauty. Meanwhile, mommy cannibal and daughter Ruby are sitting down to dinner of dog, when Ruby, who you’ll recall we met at the start of this nightmare movie, hears Beast’s cries, and thinks it’s the ghost of the dog she’s chowing down on. It seems Ruby might not be as mad as the rest of her weird ass family after all.
Ruby’s paw paw on the other hand is clearly batshit crazy and next we see him gagging and crucifying poor Bob. What did Bob ever do to him? Thankfully, Bobby has noted the fact that his dad has not yet returned, and he’s started to worry. He tells his concerns (finally) to Doug and Lynn, but tbh they are far more concerned with getting some alone time in the car. You know how hard it is to get some good lovin’ in when you have a baby and then go on holiday with your entire family and some cannibals? What do you mean no?
While Lynn and Doug get busy, one of the cannibals syphons the gas from their car. I guess they couldn’t hear or feel it because the car was rocking too much? Who knows. Meanwhile Bobby thinks he can hear Beast outside the trailer and goes to investigate. It’s actually just one of those clever cannibals luring him away so that his brother can sneak into the trailer and take a bunch of their supplies. Those wily cannibals.
When Bobby gets back he thinks he’s locked himself out of the trailer, even though he left the door wide open, and has to interrupt his sister and brother in law for the key, as they are STILL going at it. I mean more power to Doug for lasting that long whilst having sex in a car where cannibals are roaming outside, but seriously it’s been ages at this point and quite frankly they deserve to die for breaking Rule Numero Uno of the horror movie handbook. Never have sex!
I mean how many more things can this family do that you ABSOLUTELY should not do in a horror film? *rolls eyes again* This has to be one of the first horror films where sex really does spell doom. Everything that could go wrong for this family all happens after the sex scene. Dad Bob is still alive at this point, and maybe, just maybe, if Doug and Lynn had refrained from getting it on the whole family would have survived the night. But that ain’t gonna happen.
Whilst all this is going on outside, poor Mom and Brenda are stuck in the trailer with one of the crazy cannibals. Although honestly, their complete lack of awareness when one of the cannibals is literally on top of Brenda and talking loudly on his walkie talkie leaves me with little sympathy for either of them. Talk about heavy sleepers these two.
It’s only when Bob gets set on fire that mom Evelyn eventually wakes up, and she and the other kids all rush to put him out. Leaving Brenda to fend for herself in the trailer. Again with the lack of awareness guys. Yeah it’s dark, yes she’s pre-occupied, but I mean Evelyn is LITERALLY in the same tiny room as a cannibal who lives in the desert. Are you seriously telling me she can’t smell him if nothing else?
Suspending my disbelief I continued to watch as the cannibals have their way with poor Brenda, eat the family’s pet canary and steal all their supplies. A little light relief came when Evelyn, who is clearly in shock at the events unfolding before her repeats, “it’s not my Bob” over and over. It was funnier than it sounds. I was waiting for someone to slap her out of it but sadly that never happened.
With dad lying crispy on the desert floor, and mom in hysterics, Lynn takes Evelyn back to the trailer where shit is kicking OFF. One of the cannibals is making off with their stuff, while the other is finishing off with Brenda and attempting to steal Lynn and Doug’s baby! Lynn’s protective mother instincts kick in and she starts to fight the cannibal who is stealing her baby. And even Evelyn finally comes out of her hysterics long enough to grab a broom and join in the fight.
Sadly the cannibal has Bob’s gun, I knew that foreshadowing would come in somewhere, and he makes swift work of Evelyn and Lynn. Finally the boys realise something is going on at the trailer (what gave it away guys? The screaming? The shooting? *eyes have rolled into the back of my head now*) and they head back just in time to stop one of the cannibals from abducting Brenda and making her his personal sex slave. But don’t worry he’ll be back for her later he tells her. *shudder*
Finding his wife dead in the trailer, Doug finally steps up and starts taking charge of this ridiculous situation. Realising Evelyn is still alive, he goes to patch her up as best he can when he discovers the baby is missing. He quickly tells Bobby to get his sister back inside and see to his mother while he goes in search of baby Katy.
The cannibals are long gone though, and they’re clearly feeling smug about their haul and the fresh baby meat they’ve gathered, so they get on the radio to tell their brother to ready himself for a feast. What the brother doesn’t realise is he’s being watched himself, by Beast, who promptly gets his revenge by pushing the brother cannibal off the cliff edge. Nice work Beast!
Back at the cannibals homestead, father cannibal tells his daughter that grandpa Fred has been fixed good. They not so hot with words this lot.
A deflated Doug arrives back at the trailer and clearly something in him has changed. Bobby asks what they are going to do, and you can see that Doug is forming a plan. Meanwhile the cannibals are forming a plan of their own, for baby being the centrepiece of their thanksgiving dinner. Papa cannibal asks if his sons have finished off the rest of the family like he asked, and when it becomes clear they have disobeyed him, they are sent to finish the job. But this time the Carter family aren’t going to be so easy to overcome.
When the power goes out in the trailer and Brenda hears a noise outside, she immediately fears the worst – the cannibals have come back for her. Sadly Bobby is still rather useless with his gun and decides that shooting blindly through the closed trailer door will certainly result in the death of at least one of the cannibals. Luckily for the Carters it’s actually just Beast returning, and he’s brought with him the radio of the cannibal he killed. Beast is a fucking legend at this point as he’s the only member of the Carter family who has even slightly evened the score.
Now that the Carters have the cannibals radio, they have a slight upper hand, although they still have no weapons, and the gun they do have is almost out of bullets, the cannibals having taken their unused shells.
As morning breaks, Doug and Beast go into the hills for some recon on the cannibals. Meanwhile back at the trailer Bobby again tries to radio for help, and Brenda goes into hysterical mode as Evelyn finally passes. Bobby stupidly thinks he’s got through to air force rescue and reveals to them that they only have two bullets left in the only gun they have, and that they are sitting ducks, before he realises that he’s actually speaking to the cannibals. *face palm*
Knowing the trailer is easy pickings, the cannibal dad and one of the sons goes a huntin’ and Doug is forced to send Beast after them to try and offer Bobby and Brenda some protection, while he continues the search for his daughter.
It’s at this point that I kinda just want one of the cannibals to put Bobby out of his misery. His next bright idea is to set a tire on fire in the hopes that the Air Force, who we already established he was not talking to, might see it and come and rescue them. Sure Bobby, whatever helps you get through this I suppose.
Lucky for Bobby, sister Brenda finally comes into her own. She’s tired of the useless men around her coming up with stupid plans and actually comes up with a pretty good scheme to capture at least one of the cannibals. Unbeknownst to her, Beast is also hot on the heels of the cannibals, literally, and is ready to take care of one of the others.
With his son gruesomely incapacitated, dad cannibal is done playing games and heads back to base to dispatch the baby. But daughter Ruby has other ideas. She steals baby Katy and returns her to Doug. Meanwhile, Brenda and Bobby use their dead mom as bait for the cannibals so they can capture and hopefully kill one of them with their remaining bullets.
It’s pretty damn dark at this point but there are only 10 minutes of the movie left, and I need to know how the hell they are going to wrap this up in 10 minutes, so I persist. Beast gets his second kill, leaving three cannibals (I’m not counting Ruby on their team any more as she’s made it clear where her allegiances lie), and three Carters, plus Beast. We’re making solid progress.
Brenda’s plan to capture papa cannibal works like a charm right up until their car runs out of gas, because the cannibal syphoned it remember? But obvs Brenda and Bobby didn’t know about that.
No mind because they have rigged the trailer to blow if the cannibals try to get inside, but that wily cannibal dad smells the gas and somehow sets off the mechanism without being caught in the blaze. Either that or he’s just impervious to flames from when he set the fire as a kiddy? Bobby wants to make sure the guy is dead, which is totes fair considering what they’ve been through in 24 hours, and when they find him unaffected by the explosion, Brenda finally loses her shit and goes ape with an axe! YES BRENDA!
With papa cannibal taken care of that leaves the son and the mother. Mummy cannibal is lying at home with a nasty gash on her head which presumably was dealt by daughter Ruby who had just had enough, and the son goes after Ruby, Doug and the baby.
Doug gives the baby to Ruby and tells her to go, while he tackles the brother, a chase ensues and somehow Doug ends up hiding in a nest of rattlesnakes. Ruby leaves the baby to help Doug finally put an end to her brother. This is where I got confused as you hear the baby crying and Ruby shouts “Ma” a couple of times but you never see the mother cannibal again and Katy seems to be alone when you see her crying?
Doug manages to overpower the brother with Ruby’s help and the film ends on a visage of Doug looking quite feral as he stabs the brother with his own knife.
Yes you read that right. The film just ends there. It certainly leaves you with a lot of questions that’s for sure. What happens to Ma cannibal? Is she still alive? Does she have Katy? Do they get Katy back, re-attach the tire to the car and put their syphoned petrol back in to drive off into the sunset with new pal Ruby?
I don’t know if test screenings were a thing back in 1977, I’m guessing not, because I don’t really know how this film ever found distributors without having a proper ending. I mean, I get wanting to leave your audience in suspense, but it literally just ENDS, with no explanation of what happens to any of them. It’s definitely left me disappointed. It was finally all wrapping up and then boom, it just ends. It’s also made me incredibly curious as to how the re-make wraps things up. Read on to find out…
The re-make shakes things up from the off by suggesting that the cannibals are a result of nuclear testing in the area of the said Hills of the title. Interesting take.
Another interesting thing I didn’t know is that this re-make was co-produced by Wes Craven who wrote and directed the original. Surely that can only be a good thing in terms of being faithful to the original whilst bringing it up to date right? We shall see.
The re-make is instantly more gory than the original when some poor unsuspecting scientist folks (who are taking readings of the area) are then attacked by the cannibals and dragged off to become supper. All in the opening five minutes.
The next scene is pretty similar to the start of the original at Fred’s gas station, except that this one clearly is a gas station, and small shop/diner, although somewhat run down. Updated Fred was clearly doing well for himself at some point. Ruby is definitely hanging around although we don’t actually see her, and then before you know it the Carters are here again. This time rather than telling the good folks to “stay on the main road”, Fred actually encourages them to take the dirt road for a short cut, which feels very sinister considering Fred knows exactly what awaits them out in the desert.
Here the cannibals are even more wily than the ones in the original movie. They throw a set of spikes into the road to puncture the tires of the car, therefore ensuring the car will need to stop and be fixed up. Again Bob’s superb driving skills break the axle on the car, and he and Doug go their separate ways again. Doug to the open road, Bob back to the gas station. This is all familiar territory if you’ve seen the original, even down to Bob getting his guns out, the family having a prayer, and Bobby talking about Freud at the dinner table, which is an even more unlikely topic in 2006 for a teenage boy than it was in 1977.
At this point in the proceedings, about the only thing different is the opening sequence and the amount of jump scares, which obviously weren’t as heavily relied on in 70s horror films. The gore factor is definitely up several notches in this version too, but that was to be expected. Oh and obviously this one has more exposed flesh. Of course it does.
As with the original, Beauty gets loose and is chased after by Bobby, who promptly finds her dead shortly after. Unlike in the ’77 version though, you can very much see her injuries this time and they’re incredibly gory. Horrified Bobby runs off and this time falls quite a long way down a ravine, and is tended to by Ruby as one of her brothers sits on a rock above them munching on one of Beauty’s appendages. Nice.
In this version we get to see what Doug finds at the end of the road. A massive crater filled with abandoned vehicles. This scene definitely adds a much more creepy tone to the movie as it’s clear this is something the cannibals get up to on a regular basis. A set of railroad tracks lead from this crater into a mine, presumably the silver mine much touted in the original but never actually shown.
From here we find Bob who has made it back to Fred’s gas station but finds it abandoned. What he does see though are a bunch of paper clippings regarding the nuclear testing, lots of pictures of deformed babies and children, and reports of people going missing in the area. Why Fred would have all of this stuff up on his wall is beyond me, but it creeps Bob the hell out and he gets out of there quick smart. He finds Fred’s car outside, but as soon as he turns the engine on he finds where Fred’s been hiding all this time, in the can with a shotgun.
Drunken Fred then proceeds to blow his brains out, apparently the clippings were all the exposition needed for the re-make and instead of a backstory we just get a very graphic shot of the inside of Fred’s head. Glad I haven’t just eaten.
Straight away we can hear someone saying “Daaaaaaaaaddddddyyyyyy” in a really creepy way, and rather than get straight back in the car, Bob looks around a lot, shoots at the bushes a bunch and then gets in the car without checking the backseat. I mean this is 2006 now, he really has no excuse for not checking the backseat. Of course daddy cannibal is sitting in the car waiting for Bob and promptly attacks him.
Cut to Brenda who has only now gone to look for Bobby, alone in the dark. Honestly, this family. It’s like they want to be killed! She must find him because next you know he’s being patched up by his mom and they’re talking about how they tried the radio but just got someone heavy breathing on the other end. Sound familiar?
Beast somehow gets free of his chain and runs off into the hills, and just as Bobby is about to go and get him, Doug comes back with some lovely games and fishing rods. Understandably wife Lynn is not best pleased with his haul, at least original Doug came back with useful things from his jaunt into the desert.
The scenes that follow are pretty close to the original, Doug and Lynn go to spend the night in the car, although this time we don’t get to see their awkward sex, and in fact it’s not even really implied that that’s the reason they are going to sleep in the car at all, it’s merely an issue of the trailer being too small for six people and a baby. Which is fair enough.
Bobby again thinks he hears Beast outside but it’s just a cannibal waiting to pounce on his sister. And again dad Bob gets set on fire. This time it is more realistic that no-one knows the cannibal has snuck in with Brenda as her bed is in a separate compartment of the trailer.
The cannibals though are even more disturbing this time around, both in looks and behaviour. I’m not going to go into details as both the rape of Brenda and the shooting of Evelyn and Lynn are so much more graphic in this version, and to be honest, the other stuff that goes on during these scenes was just plain gross. Yes they upped the stakes I guess but is it a better film for having disgusting imagery? I somehow don’t think so.
All they needed to do really was update some of the dialogue (which they most definitely did NOT do, case and point the mention of Freud and the obscene caller reference, who says obscene caller anymore?), the make up and special effects would automatically be better for the film being made in 2006, and they needed to clear up the ending. The original was gory enough. That’s not what they needed more of in the re-make.
Furthermore, this time around I somehow felt that Lynn was even less capable of defending herself and her baby against an attack. Yes she was handy with a frying pan, but once the cannibal had twisted her arm so that she dropped the pan, she seemed to forget entirely that she had another arm, or two legs. Sigh.
Also, how she managed to regain consciousness at all when she got shot IN THE HEAD still baffles me. At least the original didn’t have that to contend with.
This time around we lose the scene where Doug goes after his baby in the middle of the night, which I don’t really think is the way to make this version more realistic. Your baby is out in the wilderness with cannibals who just killed two members of your family and seriously injured another. She is defenceless because she is a baby. Yet you don’t go after her? Sure.
We also, thankfully, miss out on the scene of Brenda and Bobby radioing for help. The tyre fire is a go this time but in this version it’s started by Brenda, while Bobby booby traps the camp site. He’s actually pretty sound this time around and is the one telling Brenda that radioing for help again is pointless and that no-one is going to see the fire. Bit harsh seeing as she was just raped by a cannibal, give the girl a bit of hope, but non-the-less he’s got a hell of a lot more backbone in this version.
For some reason Doug goes on a pointless jaunt to the crater, and into the mine, finding nothing at either place. He then finds a “town” which has clearly had some nuclear tests done on it. I think it’s the same set they used in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull from the looks of it. Here is where he finds the cannibals and his child. So they’re not really living in the “hills” in this one? So why is it even called The Hills Have Eyes? *rolls eyes again* 🙄
To be fair though, why would you live outside in the hills if you could have a house and a TV?
Speaking of which, in front of the TV is where we first meet momma cannibal. And she is a lot more feisty second time around. She attacks Doug just as he’s escaping with the baby and locks him in a box with lots of body parts they were saving for later. Yummy.
Doug manages to get out of the box and finds a cannibal who never existed last time who is in a wheelchair. This dude alone is testament to how much fun they had with prosthetics on this film. To cut a long story short he battles a whole bunch of cannibals because this film needed to be bigger in every way.
Thankfully one thing is still true in this film, and that’s Ruby’s unwavering desire to get baby Katherine away from the rest of her family. She makes off with her up into the hills, with Doug in hot pursuit.
Back at camp Bobby and Brenda are fooled by a tumbleweed on their booby trapped perimeter, and then they manage to capture one of the cannibals by using the same trailer explosion technique as the last set of siblings did. And true to form, Brenda finishes him off good and proper with his own axe.
This version wraps up by having Ruby sacrifice herself to save Doug and his daughter. She does this by hurtling towards the last surviving cannibal, which forces them both over a cliff edge to the rocks below. Doug then makes his way back to Bobby and Brenda, with both Beast and the baby in tow.
The re-make definitely feels like it has more of an ending than the original. And as with most horror films of the last 30 or so years it ends with a sign that there is more to come, as the camera pans out on the family members re-united to reveal they are actually still being looked upon by someone in the hills.
I don’t think I would ever wantonly watch this film again, and while the original idea is a good one for a horror movie premise, the execution, and especially the lack of an ending mean that it left me more annoyed than thrilled. If only some combination of the original and re-make could be made, taking the best bits from each, I think you’d have a great movie on your hands. But as that is not the case, and certainly not what I have witnessed this week, both versions of The Hills Have Eyes get a thumbs down from me. 👎🏼👎🏼
Interestingly, whilst reading up on the original (and re-make) I did discover this little tid-bit of information which I found fascinating. Sleep well folks, don’t have nightmares!