TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE HILLS HAVE EYES part 2 (1985)

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THE HILLS HAVE EYES part 2 (1985)

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One of Craven’s worst films, unnecessary sequel is most notable for being the first film released on VHS and into theaters on the same day. I myself was working at a Palmer Video at the time and remember it coming in for rent on the same day it opened at the Paramus Century Twin theater.

The story, written by Craven, takes place 8 years later with survivor Bobby (again Robert Houston) in a relationship with reformed cannibal clan member Ruby (a returning Janus Blythe) who is now called Rachel and the two have a motocross bike team and have invented a new fuel to race with. As fate would have it, there is a race they are participating in right in the area of Bobby’s ordeal with the cannibals. He refuses to go there, but Ruby takes the team on a bus and proceeds. It’s no surprise that they take a shortcut through the desert, the bus breaks down and now the bike team and Ruby/Rachel are trapped in an area stalked by the surviving Pluto (Michael Berryman) and his massive uncle Reaper (7’4″ actor John Bloom) who, one by one, slaughter the team and take their bodies into their underground slaughterhouse to make into happy meals.

Craven himself, is not proud of this film. It was a paycheck job and he was not given enough money to complete it and had to use a lot of flashbacks from the first film to get the film to feature length…and it is evident, especially in the first third. The film plays out more like a routine 80s slasher with Pluto and Reaper, one by one, killing off members of the biker team in various gory ways in an abandoned mining camp. The slasher vibe is strengthened by the presence of Henry Manfredini’s score which is very similar to his work on the Friday The 13th series. As for the proceedings, the story makes no sense, as Papa Jupiter’s father, in the first film, never mentions a second son, and why you would leave out a seven foot sibling in the telling, is silly. That and if Bobby is still traumatized by the events of the first flick, then why is he dating an ex-cannibal clan member? The film follows the generic slasher formula, quite closely and has little suspense, as it is obvious by the scene set-ups who’s getting it next. At least there is some effective gore when they do get it and if anything, the film moves quickly. Having a blind girl as our main heroine (Tamara Stafford) has little impact on the story, as her more acute hearing only works when the plot needs it to. The inclusion of Ruby doesn’t add much either, although she does have some fun fight scenes with her former clan members.

Cast are not really all that memorable aside for the iconic Berryman back as Pluto. At over seven feet, John Bloom certainly is physically impressive, but doesn’t really give Reaper the personality needed to put him anywhere near the slasher hall of fame. Tamara Stafford makes a fine enough heroine as Cass and she is pretty, likable and shows resilience like a good final girl should, especially with the character’s handicap. A returning Janus Blythe is almost unrecognizable as the now civilized Ruby, but she has some fun scenes with her former family members. They should have focused more on her physical scraps with Pluto and Reaper as they were one of the more entertaining aspects of the film and one which they wasted overall, as Ruby becomes a second tier character behind Cass. Supporting players are fine as generic slaughter fodder and are just stereotypical characters in a slasher flick, nothing more.

This is a bad movie. There is some entertainment value from the slasher aspects, if you are a fan of 80s slashers, but overall, it is every bit the paycheck job it’s said to be. The Hills Have Eyes is a cult classic horror and it’s sequel is a sad example of what happens when a filmmaker makes a film he doesn’t want to, in order to pay the bills…and a film he was barely given the resources to finish. If you are a completest of either Craven or 80s slashers, sure, give it a watch, but don’t expect much at all.

-MonsterZero NJ

1 and 1/2 (out of 4) Plutos.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977)

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THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Five years after The Last House On The Left, Wes Craven returned with this, his sophomore effort…and begat another cult classic. The film also continues his exploration of the theme of good people driven to violence in self-defense or revenge. Here, a vacationing family passing through the desert, takes a turn off the main road to do some sightseeing and encounters a clan of vicious, feral cannibals that target them for their next meal. As the savages, one by one, reduce the Carter family’s numbers, the surviving members must turn savage themselves in order to survive.

Once again Craven wrote and directed and with a somewhat larger budget, the film is less crude than Last House and the director is starting to show his visual style with the desolate desert setting. The film also has some brutal violence and an offbeat sense of humor, though here, Craven mixes the humor and violence much better than in Last House where the humorous bits stuck out. In Hills it’s mostly relegated to the oddball behavior of the feral clan and while it lessens their threat level a bit, it makes sense for those raised outside civilization. It also gives us a breather from the brutality, rape and violence that comes quite frequently. And there are some brutal moments and some suspenseful ones too and Craven shows definite growth as a filmmaker in both his style and his technique. It’s interesting to watch the wholesome Carter family revert to some of their own viciousness when faced with extermination. It’s an offbeat horror flick with a bit of a Chainsaw Massacre slant, but despite the story similarities, is quite it’s own movie and has become a cult classic in it’s own right.

The cast of mostly unknowns are all fine with only Dee Wallace and Michael Berryman having gone on to become genre favorites and horror icons. Wallace plays the older Carter daughter Lynne whose baby is abducted by the cannibal family during one of their raids on their RV. Berryman, of course, plays one of the mutant cannibals named Pluto and it is a role that started him on a cult icon career. He is certainly fitting in the role and provides much of the odd humor the film mixes with the more brutal moments. Some may recognize James Whitworth, who plays the clan patriarch Jupiter, from the cult classic monster movie Planet Of Dinosaurs. His Jupiter is fierce and threatening and far less ‘goofy’ than son Pluto. There is also prolific character actor John Steadman, who is the old gas station owner, Fred and father to clan leader Jupiter. The rest of the cast perform their roles as either Carter or clan family members appropriately, with standouts being Russ Grieve as ex-cop and family patriarch Bob Carter, pretty Susan Lanier as the younger Carter daughter Brenda, Janus Blythe as the sympathetic clan daughter Ruby and future filmmaker Robert Houston as Carter son Bobby.

Overall, this is both a mean and yet sometimes darkly funny flick. There are some very brutal moments offset by some oddball humor, especially from our villainous cannibals. It’s a cult classic and another example of Wes Craven’s versatility and the potential he would live up to with his future works. There was a remake (click here to see my review) in 2006 by Alexandre Aja, which is actually quite brutal and removes the oddball humor for a very intense take on Craven’s story.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 propane tanks…which come in handy battling cannibals.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006)

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THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006)

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The original The Hills Have Eyes (1977) is not among my favorite Wes Craven films, but it certainly is an enjoyable, and now a touch nostalgic, survivalist horror that pitted a vacationing family against a clan of mutant cannibals in the middle of the desert. This remake basically follows the same story, but with a larger budget and cranking the intensity and brutality up to 11 by handing the writing/directing reigns to Haute Tension writer/director Alexandre Aja.

The screenplay is credited to Aja and frequent collaborator Grégory Levasseur, but it follows Craven’s original film very closely except it focuses heavier on the vicious clan being the genetic mutation result of atomic testing decades earlier and obviously, cranks up the violence and intensity which is Aja’s style. The story still follows the family of ex-cop Bob Carter (Ted Levine) who is heading out to California with his wife Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan), daughters Lynn (Vinessa Shaw) and Brenda (Emilie de Ravin), son Bobby (Dan Byrd), Lynn’s meek husband Doug (Aaron Stanford) and their infant daughter (Maisie Camilleri Preziosi). They are led astray by a gas station attendant (Tom Bower) who, unbeknownst to them, is in league with a vicious clan of cannibalistic mutants led by patriarch Jupiter (Billy Drago). Soon they find themselves stranded and their car disabled and under attack by a hungry and brutal clan that wants them all for dinner. Will this family perish in the middle of nowhere, or will they find it within themselves to meet brutal violence with brutal violence?

We all know the answer to that question and Alexandre Aja has a gory, brutal blast not only putting this average American family through a vicious ringer, but administering payback with equally violent, blood-spattering efficiency. The film is far more intense than the moderately placed original and it’s larger budget enables it to really crank up the gruesome carnage which reaches a fever pitch in the blood soaked last act. The effects by K.N.B. Effects are very well executed and now the cannibalistic clan look far more like the mutant creatures they are than the original ‘dirty hobo’ look of the 1977 version. The Craven film had some violent moments, but Aja plays it very hard-core and his backwoods mutants are far more threatening and the carnage on both sides far more graphic and with more impact. This film is a really rough ride and has a far darker edge than the original, which was quite brutal in it’s own right back in it’s time, but also had some unsettling humorous moments as well. Aja’s visual eye combined with Maxime Alexandre cinematography give the film a gritty and grungy look that serves to make one uncomfortable even when nothing is going on and when you add in the pulse pounding score from Tomandandy and François-Eudes Chanfrault, you have one intense and brutal 106 minutes that expands and improves on an original that is, in itself, considered a cult classic.

The cast all do well and play their parts very effectively from Levine’s macho ex-cop to Stanford’s mild mannered yuppie phone salesman, who slowly transforms into a man who will do anything to protect his own. Ravin and Byrd also gives strong performances as the frightened teen siblings who find not only the will to survive, but the ability to kill to do so. Drago and company all give us some truly frightening and detestable villains though, none really stand out and make an impression like fan legend Michael Berryman did in the original film that made him a horror icon. Overall, a good cast with solid performances that help add to the film’s effectiveness.

I really like this movie, if ‘like’ is the proper word to use in reference to such a brutally intense blood-bath that Aja transforms Craven’s original film into. It’s got some nail-biting action, some really intense gore, and characters that we like enough to not want to see harmed…and some we want to see get it real good! It’s one of the few remakes that improves upon the original and stands on it’s own as a horror achievement. A really good and really brutally effective horror that honors the original film it’s based on, yet makes it’s own statement. A really good horror.

3 and 1/2 axes.

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: DEADLY BLESSING (1981)

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DEADLY BLESSING (1981)

While I wouldn’t say Wes Craven’s Deadly Blessing is one of my all time Halloween Favorites, I would say it’s a film that holds sentimental value being one of the films seen at my beloved Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. and if you’ve been coming to this site for a while you know that was a special place for the movie geek in me and holds a lot of equally special memories. Having recently revisited this creepy thriller thanks to Scream Factory’s gorgeous blu-ray, I found that not only was it still very enjoyable, but has some really nice 80s nostalgia attached to it now, too!

Deadly Blessing tells the story of young couple Martha (Battlestar Galactica hottie Maren Jensen) and Jim (Douglas Barr) who live on a farm near the rustic and religious Hittites of whom Jim is family, but was exiled for marrying a woman not of their clan. Tragedy strikes, as a horrible accident…or was it…leaves Martha a widow and soon she is joined by loyal friends Lana (Sharon Stone) and Vicky (Susan Buckner) who come to console her. Someone or something is watching the young women and soon Jim isn’t the only body turning up on Martha’s land. The Hittites, lead by the strict Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine), say that it is the work of the Incubus, a seductive demon come to temp all to sin and damnation, while Martha and her friends believe it is the work of someone far more down to earth…but who and why?

While Craven…who co-wrote the screenplay with story writers Glenn M. Benest and Matthew Barr…would really hit his stride with A Nightmare On Elm Street three years later, he still delivers a solid little horror thriller here that is actually an entertaining and well made film. It has some spooky sequences and keeps you guessing while presenting us with some likable characters to fear for and some other characters to be suspicious of. Craven gives the film some nice atmosphere, accented by some beautiful cinematography by Robert Jessup and a nice score from James Horner.

The cast are fine. Jensen is a bit wooden, but not enough to sink things. Stone is good as the emotionally troubled Lana and Buckner makes a crush-worthy and perky Vicky…and a big crush on her Vicky I had upon seeing this flick in 1981. Borgnine is perfectly menacing and just over-the-top enough as clan leader Isaiah and genre favorite Michael Berryman is equally effective as a Hittite man with an eye for his pretty neighbor. Also good are Lisa Hartman as Faith and Lois Nettleton as her mother Louisa, who live near Martha and who appear nice enough, if not a little odd.

There is a body count, but not a large one, as this is more a mystery thriller then a slasher. The bloodshed is moderate, as is the violence and Craven has his usual fun with dream sequences…one involving Sharon Stone and a spider is still goose-bump inducing even today. There are also a few scenes and lines that almost seem to foreshadow Mr. Krueger’s appearance a few years later, now that we are familiar with that classic and it’s legendary boogeyman.

The film isn’t perfect. As said, Jensen is a bit wooden and there are some weak bits of dialogue throughout. And while it is enjoyable, the last act, including the film’s big reveal, does skirt very close to going over-the-top and becoming silly. The final scene is an unnecessary shock ending that does come across as more silly than scary. It almost appears like it’s tacked on from another movie.

Overall though, Deadly Blessing is a nostalgic and fun early 80s horror that may seem tame by today’s standards and even the standards of Craven’s later work, but it shows the director of the brutal and shocking Last House On The Left, the vicious The Hills Have Eyes and the comic book-ish Swamp Thing (which came after Blessing) was continuing to show his versatility and could handle something on a more subtle level that didn’t require the heavy violence or over the top theatrics of his previous films. A very entertaining and delightfully 80s horror from one of the genre’s greats.

As said, this cult classic is now available from Scream Factory including a beautifully restored print along with some nice extra’s including fun interviews with genre favorite Michael Berryman and sassy lead Susan Buckner who both have amusingly different versions of how well…or not…the three leading ladies got along. Fun stuff!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Borgnines!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES and THE DEVIL’S REJECTS

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HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES (2003)

After directing his own horror influenced music videos, rocker Rob Zombie finally directed his first feature film, House Of 1000 Corpses in 2003. Zombie’s first film is, no surprise, a horror film that is a throwback to the grind-house/drive-in style horror flicks of the 70s like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the 1980 Mother’s Day. It tells the gruesome tale of four friends, Denise (Erin Daniels), Jerry (Chris Hardwick), Bill (Rainn Wilson) and Mary (Jennifer Jostyn) who happen upon a roadside freak show run by redneck clown Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig)…who we already have witnessed slaughter a couple of would be robbers. They go on his ‘murder ride’ which features a local serial killer named Dr. Satan. Soon the inquisitive teens are off investigating this local urban legend which, through some circumstances that are far from happenstance, leads them to the Firefly house. Inside they become prisoners of the disturbed and twisted Mother (Karen Black), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), Otis (Bill Moseley), R.J. (Robert Mukes), Grandpa (Dennis Fimple) and Tiny (Matthew McGrory) who treat them to a nightmare of murder and torment, all on Halloween night.

House is a faithful homage to the gritty, gory low budget horrors of the 70s and Zombie shows some real potential, but the film, while deviously entertaining to a degree, is never really scary, suspenseful or shocking enough to truly emulate the films it’s inspired by. The film also has a somewhat uneven tone as it plays it straight for the most part, but then can be borderline goofy at times. The humor doesn’t come across as disturbing as it should, as say in the dinner scene in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Zombie gives us some interesting characters amongst the Firefly family, though the four teens are fairly generic and only heroine Daniels shows some spunk, and there are some shocking and brutal moments along with some quotable dialogue. It only starts to get really interesting when a hard nosed cop (Tom Towles) shows up looking for the kids and then shows us some twisted originality during the surreal final act when it turns into a sort of dark, nightmarish Alice in Wonderland. The ghoulish visuals here are Zombie’s strong point and while the whole film is visually interesting, it’s here that things get truly bizarre and grabs our attention, when the film takes the traumatized Erin into the underground lair of ‘guess who’. Then it’s over with a shock ending that’s not all that much of a shock. Still Corpses is a fun tribute to a type of exploitation horror they don’t make anymore, nothing groundbreaking though and I don’t think it was meant to be. What it does most is show Zombie’s potential and that he has a passion for this type of horror flick and the film really shines when Zombie forgets his influences and does his own thing.

The cast are fine with veterans like Black, Haig, Fimple and Towles standing out. Moseley is fine too as Otis, but gets some of the movie’s more stilted dialogue and Zombie’s wife does a nice job in her first feature as the sweet and twisted Baby. Erin Daniels is the only one of the four protagonists, sadly, that really shows a bit of spark in her performance.

Despite it’s flaws I like House as I like the type of films it pays homage to and while it could have been much better, it’s black heart is in the right place and it shows that Zombie might yet gives us something to really spill our popcorn over.

A solid 3 homicidal clowns!

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THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2005)

Rob Zombie’s sophomore film is technically a sequel to House of 1000 Corpses, but the further the film moves along, the less it has to do with that film, except for the three main characters, it’s opening sequence and a few references.

The story picks up with vengeful Sheriff John Quincey Wydell (Willaim Forsythe) laying siege to the Firefly house to avenge the murder of his brother Lt. George Wydell (Tom Towles), who the vicious clan killed in House Of 1000 Corpses. Mother (played here by Leslie Easterbrook) is captured, while Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), Otis (Bill Moseley) and Spaulding (Sid Haig) make their escape. The film then takes us along for the gruesome ride as the three fugitives flee to a motel where they torment and murder some of the guests and occupants while the revenge crazed Wydell continues his manhunt to track them down.

Again a homage to exploitation flicks of the 70s, this time Zombie creates a savage crime thriller about three deranged murderers on the run from an equally deranged lawman and the group of innocents caught in the middle. This an unflinchingly violent tale that is straight out of a 70’s grind-house revenge flick, or sleazy biker movie. It can be very brutal, gruesome and quite disturbing at times. Gone is House’s goofy humor and uneven tone, Zombie maintains an intensity from the opening shoot-out to the climactic showdown and crafts a lean and mean movie of the kind they don’t make anymore. His expert use of classic 70’s music throughout, ads to the overall effect and atmosphere of the film. You may never listen to Freebird the same way again. One of the things I liked about the film is that it’s three main characters are horrible people who do horrible things, but when Wydell catches up to them, he has let revenge turn him into a far more horrible person and you begin to root for our homicidal trio. Zombie takes a few moments here and there to show what little humanity the three have left, at least in relation to their bond with each other, so when their paths finally collide with the deranged sheriff’s, we clearly see that Wydell has lost all his humanity in his quest to make them pay for his brother’s death, and it makes him the villain. Sure the film has flaws. Did we really need to sit through the torture and torment of the hotel guests for so long and the re-emergence of a Corpses character later on, is a bit jarring as we left that film behind in the first act. Zombie sometimes revels in the trashy nature of the characters a bit too much, but the director/musician also shows growth as a filmmaker and the film does gives us a rousing last act with a really cool shoot-out finale.

Again, not perfect, but Zombie continues to show he does know his source material and does have his own ideas about what to do with his influences. He is a director to watch whether you like his type of films or not. Also stars a who’s who of low budget film icons such as Ken Foree, Danny Trejo, P.J. Soles and Michael Berryman to name a few.

3 homicidal clowns!

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Also click here to check out our review of his latest flick, The Lords Of Salem.

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