CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy


The Hills Have Eyes Wes Craven 1977

... and They're Glazing Over

I’m ready to drop trou and bend over a table for the ass-lashing that will no doubt come my way after publishing this review, but here it is: Wes Craven’s horror classic The Hills Have Eyes is a pretty damned boring way to spend 89 minutes. Cheap-looking, limited in scale and scope, and surprisingly goofy for a movie about a family that is “terrorized” by a group of “savages” (I’d substitute “out-acted” for “terrorized” and “failed commercial actors” for “savages”). Sadly lacking a likeable hero (most of the “good” family is either vaguely rude or outright annoying) and boasting one of the most spectacularly bland settings in history (everything beige!), The Hills unfortunately is more successful in concept than in reality, and those who revisit this little curiosity might find themselves sadly disappointed that the film has aged about as gracefully as Phyllis Diller.

The whiter-than-thou Carter Family (featuring the ever-bliss-inducing Dee Wallace-cum-Stone and about 6 random people) takes a shortcut of some sort through the desert and stops for gas at a ramshackle junkheap run by an old drunk who apparently has beef with some of the ‘locals’. Before you can pluck a simple yet eerie tune on a banjo, we’re in Deliverance country, with a group of candy-assed City Folk being set upon by a group of dirty, inbred Country Folk. A battle ensues for… well, I’m not exactly sure what for… I guess for the baby, whom the rock folk want to eat and whom the white people probably want to make into a child model or pageant baby. So I guess it’s up to you to decide which fate would be worse.

Yes, there are some very creepy moments. For one, Craven is able to capture the surreal quality of the night desert (and there have been times when I’ve been in the desert at night while not on hallucinogens, so I can testify to how eerie it can be), and there are a few scenes that mine this for all it’s worth. Having established in the opening scene that there’s a clan of killer weirdos in leftover costumes from When Women Had Tails bopping around the canyon waiting for fresh meat to drive through (that they don’t move to a more populated area rather than starve to death in the middle of nowhere isn’t exactly a testament to their adaptability or intelligence), we suffer through some “family drama” while waiting for rocks to start falling on the Carters. Or should I say, hoping for the rocks to start falling on them.

See, besides the luminous Dee (who spends most of the film with a baby latched to her tit), these people are just hateful. The father, "Big Bob Carter" (groan...), is a grouchy, sexist bastard who you're just begging to be crucified to a cactus and set on fire. Luckily, this is exactly what happens. And while it's somewhat distressing to see the rest of the family deal with seeing their patriarch meet such an undignified demise, the moment is instantly ruined by some hammy acting on the part of Ethel (the excellently-named Virginia Vincent), who quickly became my archnemesis. She's snivelly, stupid, and weak. In fact, with a wife like her, I can't blame Big Bob for being such a dicknose -- I'd likely have either killed her or myself by that point.

But Big Ethel isn't half as annoying as her godawful harpy of a daughter, Brenda (Susan Lanier). Brenda screeches her way through almost every scene, basically begging someone to kill her by the end of the film. But for some reason, no one does. No, in some sick bait-and-switch, the glorious Dee Wallace is put down by two bullets in her chest (in the film's only truly disturbing moment), and Banshee Brenda is left to course, siren-like, through the rest of the film. Maybe the filmmakers couldn't wanted the audio intensity of a chainsaw but couldn't afford one. Maybe they couldn't get any Lithium out in the middle of the desert. Whatever the cause, Brenda's continued existence is the sole explanation for the film's tagline: "The Lucky Ones Died First". Indeed.

After Dee is unceremoniously executed, the film is basically over for me. So what if Papa Jupiter and his band of hairy men (and Ruby) have kidnapped the baby and are planning on baking it in a pie -- I couldn't care less, and am actually rooting for Mars, Mercury, Saturn, and the rest of the astrologically-named inbreeds to roast the brat on a spit and force-feed it to Brenda. Again, the cannibals themselves are all pretty lame (insert your own Uranus joke HERE) and aren't actually all that threatening -- even the interesting-looking Michael Berryman (best known for his turn as the biker/teacher in Weird Science) is pretty goofy, and is killed by a fucking dog, of all things (as is another of the clan). Speaking of the dogs, the ickiest part of the film is easily when the pet dog Beauty disappears into the rocks, her eviscerated corpse only to be discovered later by Bobby, the flaming homosexual son.

Oh -- didn't I mention that the Carter son is a homo? Well, that's because technically, he isn't -- no reference is made to Bobby's sexuality at all. But with his short-shorts, blow-waved hair, and somewhat fey disposition, the hot-legged little bronzeboy is certainly a good candidate for the faghood (he seriously looks like something out of an early Falcon video). While Bobby (Robert Houston, who would go on to be a director with an interesting body of work, including a documentary about an HIV+ boating crew) is certainly the only reason to keep watching after Dee gets it, even he isn't really interesting enough to hold your attention once he puts jeans on. It's telling that if you look on that newfangled "Internet" for comments by people who have seen this film, virtually no one mentions Bobby, Brenda, or Dee's husband, Doug (Martin Speer): this is because they're so poorly characterized that they're essentially irrelevant. All that you'll walk away from The Hills Have Eyes remembering are the baby, Dee getting a gutful of lead, and the loony Captain Caveman people overacting.

It's interesting that this flick (which also boasts one of the least popular sequels in history) is currently being remade, as it's one of the few recently-announced remakes that I think actually makes sense -- there's lots to be improved on here (and as much as I hated Alexandre Aja's Haute Tension, it was because of an inexcusable script choice, not clumsy direction -- he might surprise us). I do admire the effort here, but I can't help but feel that Craven's heart wasn't in this one. If you're in the mood for a good Craven flick, check out his far better-directed Summer of Fear or white-hot campfest Invitation to Hell (both made-for-TV) instead.

Rating (out of 5):