Big Bob and Ethel Carter decide to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary by traveling to California. Their married daughter, Lynne, and her husband and baby are along for the ride, as are squabbling teenage siblings Brenda and Bobby. Big Bob is not satisfied to take the direct way, though. He wants to see the wilds of the New Mexico desert off the beaten path. On the advice of a shady gas station attendant, they wind up way off the beaten path on a supposed shortcut. They soon find themselves broken down and stranded in the middle of a moonscape of broken rock and abandoned mines without a sign of civilization in sight.
That's when they're set upon by the cannibalistic, mutant offspring of miners who refused to leave the area when the government was conducting above-ground nuclear tests during the Cold War. (The miners had taken shelter in the mines, which protected them from the blasts but not from the radiation.) The resulting bloody hackfest could only have come from the imagination of goremeister Wes Craven, who wrote and directed the 1977 version of the story on which this remake is based.
Despite some bickering, the Carter family members really are close-knit, and Bobby especially steps up to protect and comfort the women as matters turn ugly. One of the mutants tries to protect one of the Carters, and in the end she gives her life to save the baby. Doug shows mercy to one of the mutants.
Ethel is described as a former hippie who has turned religious. Her husband, a retired cop, gently teases her about this. When Big Bob and Doug prepare to set off to look for help, Bob loads a gun, saying to Ethel, "I'll take my bullets over your prayers any day." (At that point he thinks he needs it only to fend off rattlesnakes.) "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition," he says. Still, Ethel insists the family huddle before the two set off, and she asks God to send guardian angels to protect the men.
One of the mutants sneaks up on a sleeping Brenda and caresses her hair while making sounds of sexual arousal. When she awakes, he attempts to rape her, knocking her head against a wall, beating her face and making sexual motions. One of the other mutants pulls him off her, saying, "You have to be a man to do that." Another mutant pulls open Lynne's shirt and begins to suck on her breast, evidently mimicking her breastfeeding. (No nudity is shown in either scene; a fact that doesn't diminish their intensity.)
Brenda sunbathes in a skimpy bikini top. Bobby makes a joke about his mom's allegedly Freudian obsession with snakes.
Frequent and viscerally bloody. Numerous scenes of people having either the blade or pick end of a miner's axe embedded into their backs, chests, necks and heads, complete with spattering and spraying blood. A burned corpse has a small flagpole jammed into its skull. That same staff then winds up being rammed through a mutant's neck. A mutant lies impaled on a spike. A man jams a spike through a mutant's foot, and we see it penetrate from below, complete with dripping blood. Doug stabs a mutant in the gut with the broken end of a baseball bat. A mutant hacks off Doug's fingers, and Doug later cuts off a mutant's leg.
A man awakes from being knocked out to find himself in a cooler filled with human body parts. Butchered human torsos hang from the walls in a building. The gas station attendant opens a sandwich box to find a bloody ear inside. We see one of the cannibals biting a hunk of flesh off a human torso, and another eats the severed leg of a dog. (We see the dog's gutted body just before this.) Another dog attacks a mutant and rips his throat open, with bloody results. A mutant bites the head off a pet bird and drinks its blood.
And it's not over yet. Not by a long shot. A man commits suicide with a shotgun blast to the head, and we see the bloody stump of his neck. A mutant flings herself and her "brother" off a cliff. A woman is shot in the head execution style, and we see her blood and brains splatter against a wall. Another woman is shot with a powerful handgun, and the blast sends her body flying. A man is nailed to a yucca tree crucifixion-style and set afire. A mutant points a gun at the baby, and another attempts to kill the child with a meat cleaver.
Running under the opening credits is archival footage of atomic testing with nuclear mushroom clouds, buildings being flattened and vehicles incinerated.
Crude or Profane Language
Twenty-plus uses of the f-word. A half-dozen s-words. And smatterings of milder profanities. God's name is misused (twice it is combined with "d--n"). As is Jesus' (twice). Crude slang is trotted out for male and female genitals. Lynne makes an obscene gesture.
Drug and Alcohol Content
The gas station attendant smokes the nub of a cigar. Doug smokes a cigarette and offers one to Bobby, then pulls it away when the boy starts to accept. Later, the gas station attendant appears drunk and holds a bottle of whiskey in his hand. Lynne says she could really use a cold margarita. Brenda uses a slang term to signify her preference for marijuana.
Other Negative Elements
Bobby starts to urinate on a bush—in front of his sister. We see archival footage of deformed human bodies (including a baby with two faces), and the movie's mutants are grotesque, with deformed heads and faces.
A scathing exposé on the horrible aftereffects of atomic testing? A green-minded assault on the proliferation of nuclear weaponry? Hardly. More like a lame excuse to carnivalize cannibalism. The Hills Have Eyes originally received an NC-17 rating. One shudders to think what was deleted to get it down to this very hard R. The film's tagline is "The lucky ones died first." It would better read, "The smart ones never bought tickets."
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Ted Levine as Bob Carter; Kathleen Quinlan as Ethel Carter; Emilie de Ravin as Brenda Carter; Dan Byrd as Bobby Carter; Aaron Stanford as Doug Bukowski; Vinessa Shaw as Lynne Bukowski
Alexandre Aja ( )