Let's cut to the chase, The Hills Have Eyes isn't the most thought-provoking horror flick out there. We've all heard the story before. A group of people take the wrong turn, either by accident or are lead there on purpose and hair-raising fun ensues. There are a dizzying number of clichés such as the abandoned gas station that looks nothing like this century's nicely stocked, roadside groceries. There's the obvious bad guy, with his scratchy throat and filthy coveralls along with his equally appalling accomplices. From there, you can probably figure out the rest.
Meet the Carters
The Carter family (the film’s protagonists) consists of Bob (Ted Levine) who is a retired police detective, his wife Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan), their daughter Lynn (Vinessa Shaw), her husband (Aaron Stanford) and their baby. Lynn has two other siblings named Bobby (Dan Byrd) and Brenda (Emilie de Ravin) as well. Finally, there are the dogs, Beauty and Beast. It's a full cast of characters which have contrasting personalities and plenty of screams to offer the audience as they explore a couple of relaxing, nuclear test sites.
Pretty Predictable Setup, Surprisingly Good Delivery
On one hand, this movie is a stack of film clichés piled on top of each other. On the other hand, it does have a number of things going for it is. One is its masterful pacing. There's a balanced combination of suspenseful moments and gross, barf-inducing scenes. The production values are pretty decent, with believable makeup and utterly gruesome antagonists. While their radiated skin and mutations are not quite at the level of Fallout baddies, they do look believable enough to catch a bit of sympathy.
What sets the antagonists of The Hills Have Eyes apart from the rest, is their back story. No, they're not survivors who simply crawled out of the wood work, they're actually descendants of the miners who have refused to abandon their homes after the land has been declared a nuclear testing zone. The residents took refuge in the mines, surviving on radioactive waste and water. The women got pregnant, delivered mutant babies and these grow up to be among the most depressing horror villains in modern times. That sounds like a bad thing but we actually mean that in the best way possible. Different is good in a genre filled with run-in-the-mill monsters and generic things that go bump in the night.
To pull of their con, they make use of a slovenly, relatively normal looking front man to mislead poor tourists. Once the unsuspecting families end up in the graveyard of abandoned vehicles and creepy wax residents, it's dinner time for the cannibalistic creatures. Just like the members of the Carter family, the mutants do have different personalities. Though they're no less ugly, this does make a few of them a bit more prominent than the rest.
The Biggest Problem With Horror Movie Protagonists
As with many horror films, the events in the story are driven by the family's penchant for seeking out danger; aside from putting themselves in just the right spot to be preyed upon by the baddies, they also do things like splitting up and following their dogs into trouble. To make matters worse, they also go back to ask help from the creep who lead them to the hellish place. It boggles the mind how a detective, even a retired one, would not have the sense to stay on major roads.
The Hills Have Eyes may not be the perfect remake but in some ways it does improve upon the original. With modern-day prosthetics, the baddies are genuinely terrifying and highlights the movie's prevailing darkness. The acting is decent, with the cast is stronger compared to a majority of those found in the genre. Although cannibals aren't exactly a new thing in horror and sci-fi films, the back story for the movie's villains is undoubtedly unique. On the other hand, The Hills Have Eyes could have pushed the envelope a little bit more, perhaps with a few less clichés to keep things class. Overall, it's good but not quite there yet. If you're hoping for a satisfying resolution, you'll be sorely disappointed. The ending does leave a bitter aftertaste regardless who you sympathize with.