It’s one of the most iconic titles in horror history, and every installment has horror master Wes Craven’s name on it, but does the series live up to its reputation?
THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977)
Much of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes laid the groundwork for future inbred, cannibal, mutant, and backwoods horror movies. And it is for sure more my type of horror film than his rape/revenge flick The Last House on the Left. Despite not being a fan of that subgenre, I always felt the movie dated terribly fast and paled in comparison to I Spit On Your Grave.
Watching The Hills Have Eyes almost forty years later, there are parts I still think remain classic horror, but overall, I find some seriously disappointing aspects to the film. Most glaringly…the cannibals talk too fucking much! Other than them looking like they haven’t showered or brushed their teeth in a while, they’re not all that grotesque and are pretty much everyday hillbillies in caveman costumes.
We even meet the lone wolf nice cannibal at the very beginning, and she looks damn normal. She wants out of the cannibal clan, but there’s not much the old dude who runs a gas station in the middle of the desert can do for her.
A family driving through with a camper is warned away by the old man…but they continue on. I’ll never understand why anyone even leaves their house, let alone goes driving through a fucking desert.
In a ridiculous scene, they get into an accident due to…a loud plane overhead and a rabbit in the road? This scene is absolutely laughable.
Several members of the group stay behind while some go out to get help. My favorite scene involves one guy going back to the gas station at night and encountering the cannibals. This scene really holds up.
Meanwhile, the cannibals terrorize the group back at the camper. Another intense scene involves an implied rape followed by the women in the group trying to fight off the cannibal men. A young Dee Wallace gets in some good rehearsal for her role in Cujo as she fights to save her baby, but her talent is totally underutilized.
Overutilized are…guns! The entire camper invasion scene is ruined when the cannibals start shooting everyone. Ugh. But it’s a good transition to the final segment, when the family strikes back. Cue the horrible 1970s action flick music and the feeling that you’re watching Charlie’s Angels or Starsky and Hutch, not a disturbing horror movie.
Even the family dog gets in on taking down the cannibals, with a taste for Michael Berryman. I’d credit Berryman’s natural look for making this film as revered as it is, because even his character is not very scary.
THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART 2 (1984)
The intro narrative of Wes Craven’s sequel reveals that the first film was based on fact (something the first film didn’t), and dramatically drops the line “The hills still have eyes!” Should’ve been the name of the sequel.
The sequel was initially not completed, but after Wes’s Elm Street became a hit, he was ordered by the studio to complete it…without filming any other scenes. So…two of the characters from the first film return and have plenty of flashbacks to extend the film to 90 minutes. If you ask me, Wes would have been better off just skipping the flashbacks and making it an 80-minute flick.
One character is a young dude from the original camper encounter, the other is the cannibal girl who wanted out and is now his domesticated friend. They also bring along the dog from the first movie when they go motocross riding in the desert with a bunch of friends, including Kevin Spirtas of Friday the 13th Part VII and Subspecies 2 & 3, and T-bird Peter Frechette of Grease 2.
Honestly, aside from the absence of Dee Wallace, I prefer this film because it is soooo 80s. Just look at this group.
The movie follows a typical 80s slasher template, with music that sounds stolen from Friday the 13th Part 3, jerks in the group pulling scare pranks, couples going off to have sex after they crash in an old mine, and chase scenes and body reveals.
Michael Berryman is the only returning cannibal, and his new cannibal clan is determined to reclaim their defector. He and the dog also pick up right where they left off as frenemies. Berryman and the other cannibals even ride motorcycles this time! This shit feels like Mad Max half the time.
The main hero from the first film is tired of doing all the work, so hands the duties off to Spirtas. I like the slasher elements, but the final battle with him and the cannibals is just as hokey as the conclusion of the first film.
If you’re a completist and are curious about the bogus third film in the series, see my blog about Mind Ripper here.
THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006)
Very little in terms of plot is changed here other than the overall explanation for the freaks this time—the very new millennium horror theme of nuclear testing in the desert. And man, are the freaks deformed. We’re talking cashing in on the success of the freaks in Wrong Turn deformed.
Add to that some gruesome gore in the unrated version and much more intensely disturbing upgrades of the major scenes from the original, and there’s no way this wouldn’t be a better movie.
it also features familiar faces, including Kathleen Quinlan, Vinessa Shaw (Home Sweet Home, Hocus Pocus, Stag Night), and Dan Byrd (Mortuary, Salem’s Lot remake), who is a shamefully overlooked actor.
There is only one major addition here, and it’s a goodie. One guy stumbles upon an old facsimile town used for nuclear testing and has an incredible, super brutal battle with a few freaks, complete with chasing and jump scares.
The scene and the house in which it takes place are undeniably a nod to Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And this character is made to be the “pussy democrat” who turns out to be tougher than the gun-loving members of his family. Leave it to the Bush Jr. era to leave its divisive tone on horror.
If there’s one complaint I have about the unrated cut is that it’s 108 minutes long. There is a terrible lull between the cannibal attack segment of the film and the victims strike back part that definitely could have been trimmed down while retaining the graphic additions of the extended cut.
THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2 (2007)
The director of Grimm Love takes over directing for the sequel to the remake, while Wes Craven actually wrote the screenplay—perhaps his way of apologizing for the original sequel, which he hated.
Unlike the remake closely following the storyline of the original, the sequel has nothing in common with the original sequel other than the group—an army team that has come to the desert for training—ending up in a mine.
Just like the sequel(s) to Wrong Turn, this sequel goes for the more slice n’ dice approach. The kills of the cannibals and their glee in slaughtering are the point of the film, while the characters are simply around to be dismembered for our entertainment. Ironically, one of the actresses is in the sequels of both series, released the same year!
My initial reaction was the usual disappointment when a film focuses on well-armed military. However, this is definitely a fun splatter fest as the military members, who are incredibly incompetent, are easily taken down despite being the ones with an arsenal of heavily artillery. These fuckers kill each other half the time and it takes like three of them to kill one damn cannibal.
The cannibals aren’t so much out to eat them this time; they want to abduct the females in the group for the purpose of procreation.
Yes, violent rape and gruesome pregnancy moments make this heavy on the exploitation as well. But it manages to stay mostly in the realm of over-the-top hack n’ slash territory, so the more disturbing moments are somewhat watered down. There’s even an absolutely ridiculous moment when a cannibal deep throats a woman with an insanely long, slithery tongue that brings to mind a demon more than a mutant cannibal.
If the franchise had continued, it definitely would have fallen into the rinse and repeat formula, and the Wrong Turn movies handled that just fine. Although…I would have totally been up for a crossover movie.