As another film on my list of good remakes, The Hills Have Eyes is pretty much scene for scene, word for word from the original, which is pretty rare these days, but also which should not come as a surprise, since Wes Craven had his hand in both of them. This can go very well as we see here, or very wrong, as we saw in the shit-ass remake of Last House, but we won’t go there right now. As with many films, the idea behind them is usually better than the execution of the movie itself, which is more or less the way I feel about the original Hills. Though I do love it, don’t get me wrong, I felt this version was surprisingly superior to its predecessor, and good thing, too, because I can only take so many shitty remakes before my brain goes haywire. When my friend said I ought to give this a chance back in 2006, I honestly didn’t want to, but I am sure glad I did. Not only is it worthy, it’s visually appealing, the characters have personalities, and the music rocks.
We begin in the New Mexico desert, as some scientists are collecting fish, and observing ground magnetism or something. Suddenly, they are all killed, one in a particularly gruesome fashion, and they are tied to the back of a truck and driven away. After a fantastic (and one of my favorite) opening credit sequence, we are introduced to some old man (Tom Bower) with barely any teeth. He hears noises, and asks if it’s Ruby, and yells to whomever’s out there that they’re on their own now. He goes wandering around with a shotgun, and hollers at someone named Jupiter that he’s got some buckshot for him. He goes back to his gas station/convenience store, and there is a duffel bag awaiting him. The old man opens it, and finds a severed, bloody ear, and a wallet containing a picture of one of the victims whose ear had been cut off. Upon hearing a car horn honk, the man goes back outside to service their vehicle.
Now, we are introduced to the Carter family, “Big” Bob (the fantastic Ted Levine), his wife Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan), and their children, Brenda (Emilie de Raven), Bobby (Dan Byrd), Lynn (Vinessa Shaw), Lynn’s husband, Doug (Aaron Stanford), and their baby girl Catherine. Its the Carter’s silver anniversary, and they are driving cross-country to San Diego to celebrate, and just happened to take the scenic, desert route. Doug is in telecommunications, and hates driving across the desert, thinking they should have flown. He’s also bitching about the air conditioner not working in the trailer home they’ve hitched to their truck, which I understand, and that there’s no cell phone reception. It’s clear that Big Bob and Doug don’t really get along, and Lynn always tries to keep the peace between them. Brenda is also pissed because she would rather be with her friends than her large family. Big Bob is a former cop, looking to start his own security firm, and carries two guns in the truck. Ethel would rather pray a situation away than deal with it as Bob would. The family has two lovely German Shepards, Beauty and Beast, who keep running away from the truck. Brenda hangs out with a little pig that lives at the gas station for some reason, and Bobby goes to pee. Meanwhile, an unknown figure reaches in an open window, and takes Bobby’s red hoodie. The old man verifies their route, and upon thinking about it for a minute, tells them about a “shortcut” they can take to cut miles off their drive.
So, off they go, and the kids are forced to listen to their parents singing “My Bonnie”. Brenda curses, and her mother chastises her, to which she comes back with “Didn’t you grow up in the 60s? Why are you so uptight?” Big Bob says she was a little hippie chick, thoroughly grossing out the kids. Anyway, family gushing aside, they run across some kind of spiky thing on the road, placed there on purpose by those goons in the hills, and they wreck the vehicle. Bob realizes it’s totaled, and Doug asks if they can fix it. Clearly, he has no automobile expertise, and Bob replies with a “What?” that will go down as one of my favorite parts of the movie. I don’t know why I like it so much, it’s just hilarious the way he says it. They get the guns out, despite protests from Ethel, and set up camp. Brenda decides to sunbathe, while her brother-in-law looks at her a little longer than a brother-in-law should. The dogs run away, and Bobby is forced to go find them. Lynn notices a strange reflective light off in the distance, but thinks nothing of it. Bob decides to walk the long way back to the gas station, and tells Doug to walk the opposite direction, hoping one of them will be able to find help. Before they leave, Ethel forces them to huddle like a football team to pray.
After some witty conversation between the family about Freud, phallic symbols, scorpions, and chronic, Brenda inadvertently lets the dogs out yet again. Bobby chases after them, but can’t find them. Beast is long gone, but Bobby comes upon Beauty’s mangled, mutilated body (noooo!!), and it’s clear that it was done by human hands. Bobby freaks and runs, but falls down a small cliff, and is knocked unconscious. The small girl with his red hoodie, Ruby, comes over to see if he’s okay, and it’s obvious she’s just curious and means him no harm. Up above, another hill person sits, chewing on one of Beauty’s legs. Meanwhile, Doug finds nothing but a big car graveyard in the middle of a crater, and decides to grab a small teddy bear for his little girl, and some other items. This car “cemetery” reminds me of something similar in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003).
Later that evening, Big Bob has finally made it to the gas station. He can’t find old dude, so he goes in, gets a bottle of water, and snoops around. He comes across a bunch of old newspaper clippings, discussing nuclear testing, that residents won’t evacuate, and there are families vanishing in the area. He’s very spooked, and runs outside. He goes to get in the man’s car, when he hears him talking and moaning. Gun drawn, he goes over to the outhouse, where the man is sitting inside, repeating, “What kind of a place is that?!” He’s clearly having a freak attack, and Bob sees a shotgun. The old man mumbles something about how he’s sorry, but he can’t do it anymore. He puts the barrel of the gun to his head and pulls the trigger. Boom. No more old guy. I always thought that part was kind of sad, because you don’t really know what he’s seen, done, or been through. Suddenly, a gravely voice calls out, “Daadddyyy”, several times, over and over. Bob is scared, and honestly, this was the part that freaked me out the most. He begins pointing the gun in all directions, as he cannot tell where it’s coming from, and he runs back to the car. As he closes the door, he hears “Daddy” once more, and realizes it’s coming from the backseat. He glances in the rear-view mirror and sees Papa Jupiter (Billy Drago). Jupiter proceeds to bash poor Bob’s head against the inside of the car, gushing blood everywhere. He is placed on a pallet, and taken into the mines by the clan. Funny story – I scared the shit out of my mom once by coming in the bathroom while she was in the shower, and saying, “Daaadddyy”, haha, okay, end of funny story.
Brenda goes to find Bobby, and when he gets back to the trailer and cleaned up a bit, he’s panicked, but won’t tell the girls that he found Beauty murdered. Doug finally comes back with a baseball bat, a toy, a fishing pole, and a teddy bear from his excursion to the vehicle dumpsite. He and Lynn go to bed, but Doug tells Bobby if his dad isn’t back by midnight that they’ll go look for him. Everyone goes to sleep, except uber-freaked Bobby, who stays up, waiting for midnight. He finally can’t take it and goes to wake up Doug and Lynn. He tells them about Beauty, and that there’s someone in the hills. While he’s talking to them, creepy-looking Pluto enters the trailer, and begins to touch sleeping Brenda’s hair. She awakens, and tries to scream, but he places his hand over her mouth. As Bobby and Doug walk towards the trailer, Pluto screams, “Now” into a walkie-talkie, and far off in the distance, Big Bob begins screaming. He is tied to a tree and has been set on fire. Everyone but Brenda run out to see what’s going on, while Lizard, the fantastic, methodical Robert Joy, joins Pluto in the cabin.
Pluto is straddling Brenda, but Lizard tells him he’s “gotta be a man to do that”, and forces him to get in the floor at gunpoint. Gross. Brenda struggles to get away, screaming the whole time, but she is punched hard in the face. Lizard proceeds to rape her as she cries out for help, and tries to get her family’s attention. They’re too busy trying to extinguish Bob, and crying themselves to even know what’s going on in the trailer. . Soon after, Lynn walks in, and is shocked to find the creep holding her baby. She grabs a frying pan, and whacks him in the head. He puts the baby down, and aims his gun at little Catherine. Brenda is still screaming and being held back by Pluto. Lizard rips Lynn’s dress, and pulls down her bra strap, and presumably begins to nurse her. She complies momentarily, but only for her baby’s safety. Ethel runs back to the trailer, and is shot by Lizard, giving Lynn a moment of reprieve, as she grabs a knife and plunges it into his leg. He screams in pain, and puts his gun to her head, and pulls the trigger. Brenda screams in horror, and is dragged from the trailer. Bobby and Doug rush back, and save Brenda. Doug enters and is horrified to find his mother-in-law shot, his wife nearly dead, and his baby girl kidnapped. This really is one of the most intense scenes in a horror movie, of the past few years, or anytime, really, and is especially more intense than its predecessor.
Doug cradles his wife’s head, as she gasps for one final breath. He recoils back against the cabinet, in utter shock. Outside, Beast has come upon the fuckhead that killed Beauty, and proceeds to bite his neck open. Ethel, as she dies, awakens slightly, and asks Doug for a blanket, and tells him she understands why Lynn loves him so much. Awe! She slowly passes away, as Bobby places a blanket over Lynn’s corpse. Bobby’s determined to go after the killers, but Doug tells him to calm down. Bobby calls him a pussy, and they begin arguing. A noise is heard from outside, and it turns out that it’s coming from the killer’s walkie-talkie. Someone is looking for Goggle, and discussing their plans to kill the rest of them. Baby Catherine’s voice is also heard. Doug now takes the reigns and goes from pussy to badass (a very remarkable transformation for his character, me thinks), and sets out the next morning to hunt them all down with a baseball bat, and trusted pal, Beast.
He crosses the mountains and hills, and enters the mines. Though pitch black, he can see enough to view a mini graveyard, and newspaper clippings, and photos of those killed in the nuclear testing that caused so much havoc and turned everyone into vengeful, bloodthirsty mutants. Upon exiting the mine, Doug ventures into one of the nuclear testing villages, where it’s assumed that most of these goobers live. Burned, old mannequins are strewn about, giving the ghost town an even creepier feel. Back at the trailer, Brenda and Bobby rig a wire around their perimeter so they will know if anyone shows up, and Brenda lights a tire fire. In the village, Doug notices another creeper, with a huge brace on his head and back, carrying an anonymous dead woman. He urges Beast to be quiet, and goes into a house. Inside, he finds baby Catherine just lying alone on a bed. But, in the next room is a very large, scary, bald woman watching Divorce Court. Strange, right? That’s what makes this movie so fantastic! He grabs Catherine, and thinks he’s home free, but that scary woman comes out of nowhere and knocks him unconscious.
Brenda and Bobby move the bodies of their mother and sister to the truck from the trailer. Doug wakes up in a freezer full of bloody body parts, and though it is locked, he manages to break free. He walks into the kitchen, and sees the burnt, crispy body of poor Big Bob, with an American flag sticking out of his skull. He hears someone singing, horribly I might add, The Star Spangled Banner, and goes to investigate, baseball bat raised. He encounters a chair-bound man with an enormous skull, whose head is so massive he can’t even sit up. He tells Doug that it’s their fault that their homes and towns were blown up, and “turned everything to ashes”. He asks where Catherine is, but he doesn’t know, and if he does, he refuses to tell him. The big-headed man begins laughing, and says, “It’s breakfast time!” Pluto suddenly bursts through the door, and attacks Doug, chasing him from room to room, beating the hell out of him all along the way.
Doug is brutally beaten and bloodied, but is determined to survive his ordeal, and rescue his infant daughter. He stabs Pluto in the stomach with the now-broken end of his baseball bat, but it does not faze Pluto. Pluto chases him with an ax, nearly hitting him several times. Eventually, the ax does make contact with two of Doug’s fingers, severing them. His glasses are knocked off, and just as he is on his knees in apparent surrender, he stabs Pluto in the foot. This gives him a chance to get up, and when he does, he grabs the flag from Bob’s head, and rams it into the back of his neck, through his throat. As Pluto is bleeding, Doug grabs the ax, and bashes it into his skull. Doug has won….for now. He is pissed off, and wants his daughter. I was expecting nothing less from him by the end of the film! Afterwards, he picks up his broken glasses, and puts them back on as some interesting, patriotic-sounding music plays in the background.
Doug goes outside, and kills that mutant with the neck brace by breaking his kneecap with an ax, driving said ax into his back, and finally, putting out his eye with the pointy end of it (this would be second to the eye death in A Serbian Film, of course). Back inside the house, Beast kills the big-headed guy. Ruby, the nice little girl, decides to take the baby and replace it with a pig, so Lizard can’t kill her. She makes her way up the cliff with both Doug and Lizard chasing her. Brenda and Bobby notice something rustling the fishing line they rigged, so they get scared until they realize it was just a tumbleweed. But it wasn’t just a tumbleweed, because someone has taken Ethel’s body from the truck, prompting Brenda to cry and panic. Bobby takes the gun, and goes in search of the assailant. He finds Jupiter sitting on a rock, eating his mother’s heart, as her corpse lays broken open. Bobby shoots and Jupiter gives chase.
Bobby lures him back to the trailer, where the siblings have set a trap. They open gas containers, filling up the space in the trailer, and rig matches to the door of the trailer, so when Jupiter opens it, it will explode. After a struggle, it works, and the trailer is blown to smithereens. Back on the mountain, Doug fights off Lizard, while Ruby holds and protects little Catherine. Doug bashes Lizard in the face with a shotgun several times, which looked very painful. Lizard slams Doug’s face into the earth multiple times. I swear, Doug has been beaten so terribly, I really don’t see how he could still be alive. But Doug shoots him three or four times, and he falls to the ground. Ruby hands Doug his child, and he kisses her. Behind him, Lizard somehow manages to get up again, and Ruby notices this. She runs towards him, and tosses him, along with herself, over the cliff, killing them both. I felt really bad for Ruby, she was so nice, and not like any of the rest of her psycho family. She was selfless, and likely put herself out of her misery. As Bobby and Brenda walk around the destruction, taking in all that they’ve been through, Pape Jupiter is still alive, so Brenda puts a pick-ax in his skull. Man, I guess if these people had survived the nuclear destruction of their towns and family’s gene pool, it would definitely take a lot to kill them. Bobby and Brenda surely think Doug is dead, but then he stumbles, bleeding heavily, back to the campsite, where they all embrace. Happy ending…..except a pair of binoculars is watching them from above as the film closes.
So, yeah, it’s pretty rad, especially for a remake. Brutal as hell, great acting, excellent make-up, swell music, and even sad in some places. To me, that’s a really good movie. Sure, there was a lot of blood, but with how awesome the rest of the film is, it doesn’t take away from anything. I loved that Ted Levine played Big Bob, because, let’s face it, there’s no one like Ted Levine. He has that great voice that makes me think that Buffalo Bill went on vacation to New Mexico. I hated that the dog died, but hey, we have to stick to the original story, and at least it didn’t happen on-screen. Plus, I think when Doug, Bobby, and Brenda were kicking ass, they were doing it for the Beauty’s sake, too. Call me sentimental. The score was pretty menacing and hardcore at times, and the use of “In the Valley of the Sun” over the end credits was brilliant, not to mention, “Leave the Broken Hearts”. I felt, like I mentioned before, that the opening title sequence was one of the best I’ve ever seen, showcasing the effects and results of nuclear weapons and testing, and that they used the song “More and More” over the beginning credits was sheer genius. This movie really had the tone of the original one, just with better effects, and better acting.