Let the record state that I’m not the biggest Wes Craven fan. Outside of Nightmare On Elm Street, I can’t say I’ve particularly enjoyed anything the guy has done. But given The Hills Have Eyes‘ status as a cult classic, I figured I’d give it a shot and see if maybe Craven had something to impress me with. Nope. He didn’t.
Most people are more familiar with the 2006 remake of the film, which I remember liking a decent amount. Granted, I was 15 then and my taste in movies was still pretty shitty, but my memories of the remake are fond. The plot deals with a family on vacation in their RV getting stranded in the Nevada desert, where they find themselves preyed upon by a group of cannibalistic inbreds. The movie’s major flaw is its portrayal of this inbred family. The film tries too hard to show us the family dynamics, their lifestyle habits, their tortured pasts and upbringing, etc. Every interaction just seems goofy and forced, and takes away from the terror that this pack of mutants should instill in the viewer. I much prefer horror films where next to nothing is known about the antagonist(s). It adds to the terror factor when little is known about motives or backgrounds. Also, the actors sometimes use a wacky hillbilly accent. Which would be fine, but the key word there is “sometimes”. The actors lapse in and out of it, and it only makes them less threatening as the bad guys. My other problem with the freaks is that they’re just not…freaky enough. I mean, the bald baddie on the cover is weird looking, and one guy has bad teeth, but they’re just dirty looking. Not particularly menacing. Also, these are supposed to be a bunch of inbreds, but the youngest girl is just some hot chick with dirt on her face and messy hair. Seriously? Couldn’t the casting director have found some gnargoyle to play the role? I felt like the remake did a much better job of portraying the family as a bunch of creepy mutants.
The delightfully bad writing and acting that you can find in all of Craven’s films is present here, which has its own certain charm. The first half of the film is full of terribly awesome one-liners and crying fits, but it’s never ridiculous enough that you can enjoy the film on an absurd level. The characters are all really stupid and really, really annoying. Really. All of their performances improve once the shit hits the fan, but they’re all absolutely unbearable for the first half of the film. The blonde girl in particular is completely worthless, seeing as how all she does is scream. We’re not talking convincing screams of horror. We’re talking 14-year-old girls screaming in the streets at night trying to be funny kinds of screams. They’re bloodcurdling in the bad way. I wasn’t particularly sad to see them get murdered.
Now, to the actual horror. The film is most effective in building tension when the camera just pans or focuses on the hills. You’re constantly scanning the hillsides looking for some sign of bad things to come, and it works well. Unfortunately, nearly all of the scares are cheap in nature and don’t offer any build-up. Somebody just pops out around a corner or breaks through a window. The music is nothing special, but it serves its purpose. Lots of droning organs and violins in discord. The music is very minimal for the majority of the movie, which I normally like, but the silence doesn’t serve as a tension builder. Scenes just sort of fall flat in silence. As far as the violence goes…pretty disappointing. I expected a lot more from a film and director with such a reputation. Most of the scenes are easy on the gore, and the only bit that really made me squirm was when a dog bites a chunk out of beautiful baldie’s heel. The death scenes are not brutal enough for all you torture porn fanatics out there, but also not gory and ridiculous enough to be over-the-top fun.
I’m going to close with my biggest gripe with the movie: the fucking dog. The stranded family have two dogs with them, Beauty and Beast (hardy har har). Beauty runs off and gets killed like a dumbass, and Beast breaks his chain and runs off into the hills. There are six members of the freakazoid family. One is the mother, whose fate is never revealed to us, and another is the young girl who ends up helping the main protagonist. That leaves only four bad guys who can actually do some shit. The fucking dog kills TWO of them. And not only that, but the dog is smart enough to pick up one of their walkie-talkies and bring it back to his owners. AND, the dog is smart enough to wait around a corner for two of the bad guys to pass, and then run silently behind them, not barking, waiting until the opportune moment to strike. Really dude? Maybe have the dog wound one of the guys and then get blasted in the face, not murder two of them.
While the movie was somewhat enjoyable and wasn’t completely devoid of scares, I found myself disappointed. The remake is probably in actuality a total shitfest, but as of right now I can say I like it more than the original. I really can’t explain the film’s cult status, other than by saying that people just like shitty movies, I guess.
Score: 2/5 bald heads