Since I recently wrote about how awesome the remake is, I figured it would only be right to give the original its due. When I was very young, I liked it, but I did not quite understand the sheer campy genius of it. So I recently rewatched it, and I enjoyed it more than I remember. I still think the remake is better in terms of imagery, gore, acting, effects, et cetera, but no one can underestimate the power of its predecessor. Though the 2006 version is practically a mirror image of the original, there are significant differences, so I thought I’d take some time to point them out! Since most of you already know the plot of the film, I won’t go through all of it.
- The old man who runs the gas station has a name (Fred), is coherent and has teeth, and communicates and trades with Ruby.
- Ruby appears to be in her late teens to early twenties, unlike the preteen-looking girl in the remake.
- Fred is the father of the leader of the hooligans in the hills, and actually tells his back story to Big Bob (that his son, now known as Papa Jupiter, was born evil, killed his little sister, and that Fred banished him to the desert after clobbering his face with a tire iron).
- There is a mother figure (there is a female figure in the remake, but she only appears in one scene, has no lines, and seemingly, no connection to the others).
- Except for Pluto (Michael Berryman), none of the villains appear to have any real deformities. In fact, they all appear quite normal looking.
- Big Bob is not only taking his wife on vacation for their anniversary, but they are also on the trail of silver mines.
- Doug’s character is actually really nice in the original, and seems to get along with everyone, as opposed to being very off-putting in the remake, at least until he begins to kick ass.
- The family is not run off the road by anything suspicious; instead, they are spooked by the Air Force’s planes overhead.
- Fred, the old man, attempts suicide by hanging but is stopped by Big Bob, whereas in the remake, he blows his head off with a shotgun. Additionally, Fred is killed by his own son in this film.
- Ethel Carter’s dead body is used as bait by her children to lure Jupiter to the trailer in order to kill him. In the remake, Bobby and Brenda removed the bodies from the car, but did not intend them as any kind of bait.
- Not that it matters, but there is more of a sex scene in the original than in the remake.
- Pluto (pretty much the character of Lizard in 2006) is killed by Beast, whereas Ruby kills him in the remake.
- Brenda is a lot more whiny and weak than she is in the 2006 version.
- The old man, Fred, actually warns the family to stay on the main road, and not go off looking in places they don’t belong, unlike in the remake, where the old man gives them directions, then rethinks it, and tells them of a “shortcut”.
- Big Bob is, well, kind of racist, referring to the “niggers” he had to avoid as a police officer – ouch, Bob, wasn’t expecting that! Ted Levine would NEVER!
- The hill folk wear bones around their necks and heads like some sort of primitive tribe, instead of a group of unfortunate souls who refused to abandon their homes during military testing who wear pretty regular clothing.
- Lynn is shot in the chest and stomach, instead of simply in the head.
- Beauty and Beast, the Carter family’s German Shepards
- New Mexico Desert
- Camper trailer
- All the characters’ names, save for the character of Mercury, and the changing of the name Mars to Lizard in the remake
- Reference to nuclear testing by the military
- Sadistic, cannibalistic brutality
- The murder of Beauty
- Beast being one hell of a dog when it comes to protecting his family
- The same distance from the gas station to the next rest stop (200 miles)
- Doug comes across a slew of perfectly usable goods out in the desert.
- Much of the dialogue, including the Freudian reference at the picnic table
- Ruby saves baby Catherine, including where she replaces the baby in the blanket with a little piglet
- The same characters die, and the same characters live
The acting in the original was okay, some actors and scenes being better than others. Dee Wallace as Lynn was pretty perfect, as she usually is in anything, and the rest of the cast held their own most of the time. Though I must say, by the end, Brenda’s constant whining and screaming really got on my nerves, and was almost hoping Bobby would knock her out til the credits rolled. I really dug the style of the 70s that is ever-present throughout the film, and the music was twingey and metallic, which can be annoying at times, but really fit the storyline and scenery.
Wes Craven’s storyline was pure brilliance, as it usually is when it has his name on it. He really captures the isolation of the desert, and I’m sure we all know the feeling of being somewhere that doesn’t feel quite right. Even though there are more rocks than hills per say, the environment is very treacherous, ominous, and foreboding. Obviously, nothing good can come from their little excursion to find Bob’s precious silver mines. Craven always had a thing for putting ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, and seeing how they’d react (Last House, Elm Street, etc.), and this is no exception.
From my list, it would seem that there are more differences than similarities, and technically, there probably are. But, at the same time, those differences don’t really detract from the viewer getting the jist of the story, which is why I say that despite these discrepancies, the two are remarkably alike, and in some instances, an exact mirror of one another. I did enjoy the back story of this one, how the old man dropped his evil child off in the desert, hoping he’d just die, but instead began a murderous clan of his own. However, I also like the vengeful motive exhibited in the remake, and the loyalty those people had to their town that they refused to abandon, even in the face of the government and nuclear weapons. They’re both centered around governmental activities, but the original just seems to use this as another detail, instead of the motivation behind the gang.
I also liked that Ruby was so nice, and really wanted to escape, as she asks the old man to help her do in the beginning of the film. She knows what her family does is wrong, and wants to leave, but where the hell is she going to go? Her only chance really died with Fred, and though Doug was grateful for her saving his daughter, I doubt he’s going to want to take her back into civilization with the surviving members of his own family. Michael Berryman’s interpretation of Pluto was genius, and he is a well-recognized staple of the horror community, this likely being his most famous role. I found it a little strange though, that his teeth were almost perfect, while Mars’ teeth were nasty and sharpened almost to points, and Ruby’s were filthy and filled with blackened cavities. Just something I noticed, no big deal, it just always made me curious.
The effects and makeup were not nearly as impressive as in the remake, but hey, this was 1977! We’ll take what we can get, right? Bob and Lynn’s death scenes were also not as dramatic or sad as in 2006, but that’s okay, too! There was a lot more focus on Beast, particularly in the interactions between him and the hill people. They think he is a devil dog, and he is out to avenge his family, which is interesting considering the origin of the clan. The rape scene is not nearly as graphic (though I don’t think it is in the remake either), and it is mostly just implied. Nothing is ever actually shown. Furthermore, the level of gore was not what would be expected of a movie that has been banned in some countries, and was reviled by most critics. There was a lot of unedited footage, but it’s been said that most of it has been lost over the years. Additionally, the story was loosely based on the Sawney Bean clan from 15th century Scotland; a group that terrorized villagers for years, and lived in a cave near the ocean, cannibalizing travelers and passersby.
Overall, the original The Hills Have Eyes is a bit cheesy and campy, but don’t we all love those movies? Why does the word ‘cheesy’, or the word ‘campy’ have to necessarily mean it’s bad? It doesn’t! This film has become a cult classic all on its own, and is one of Wes Craven’s best works. In terms of effects, “beautiful” actors, and gore, the remake would obviously rank higher, but that does not mean it’s better. They’re equally good – in their own ways, in their own terms, and both have earned a well-respected place in the horror genre. If you want to give it a watch, check out the 2-Disc DVD, jam-packed with special features, and enhanced for quality, but don’t fret – it still retains that good ol’ drive-in movie look and feel!