Sometimes They Come Back is here to take a look at the horror genre and its love for remakes! We’ll be discussing both the original movie and its remake (sometimes multiple remakes) in detail before deciding who comes out on top! Are the originals always the best? Let’s find out!
This month in Sometimes They Come Back we’re taking a look at one of Wes Craven’s classic efforts from 1977, and it’s 2006 remake – The Hills Have Eyes. With a script based on the legend of the Scottish cannibal Sawney Bean and his family, both films focus on the Carter family after they stumble into the desert and are attacked by a clan of blood-thirsty cannibals. As the two families are pitted against each other, which version of the story will come out on top in this very bloody battle? Both versions are currently sitting at 6.4 on IMDB, so chances are it’s going to be a close one!
The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Our story opens as a lot of good horror movies do, with a creepy gas station and a slightly dodgy looking attendant – Fred. Even Fred is trying to get the hell out of there and is the middle of packing up his belongings when a young girl, Ruby, appears to try and trade some things she has stolen with him. When she sees Fred is making a break for it she begs him to take her with him, but he refuses, as he is fearful of what her father will do if he finds out. In fact, the reason he’s fleeing in the first place is to avoid Ruby’s family, whose actions have lead to the state troopers and the airforce sniffing around.
Enter the Carter family, and there is a lot of them of so bear with me. First up we have the heads of the family Bob and Ethel Carter, their children Bobby, Brenda, and Lynne, as well as Lynne’s husband Doug and their baby daughter Katy. Rounding out the group are the family’s dogs Beauty and The Beast, and even their pet canary. Seriously, every member of the Carter clan is squeezed into a Station Wagon and a caravan on their way to Los Angeles when they decide to stop for gas.
Ethel and Bob ask for directions to an inherited silver mine they think is in the area, but Fred is very insistent that they shouldn’t wander off the main road. However, in true ‘gas station attendant advice’ style, Bob decides to ignore Fred and the family head right out into the middle of the desert, where they promptly crash their car, breaking the car’s axle in the process.
Bob decides to head the 15 or so miles back to Fred’s gas station to find help, while Doug heads out in the other direction to see what he can find, leaving everyone else back at the trailer, where things start to go wrong pretty quickly. Meanwhile, the dogs are proving you should always listen to the dogs in horror films and are going pretty mad about something the Carter family cannot see. Beauty runs off into the desert and is attacked by some unseen figure up on one of the cliff edges. Bobby discovers Beauty’s body, which has been gutted by this point, and in his bid to make a run for it ends up falling down the rocks and knocks himself out.
The unseen group who are terrorising the Carters are very organised, complete with binoculars and radios, so when the Carters try to radio for help, not only can the bad guys hear them but Lynn and Ethel also have to listen to the radio equivalent of a heavy breather.
Out in the darkness, Brenda and The Beast finally manage to track down Bobby, though he decides not to tell the rest of the family about Beauty’s murder for fear that it will probably freak them out.
Meanwhile, Bob has made it back to the gas station. Fred’s car was blown up not long after the Carters left the first time, so he’s been unable to make his escape. Fearing that Ruby’s family have come back for him, Fred attempts to hang himself but allows Bob to save him. He tells Bob his rather tragic backstory, which involves his wife being pregnant with a deformed baby who came out weighing 20 lbs and covered in hair. Bad things started to happen, and when their son burned down the house, killing his little sister in the process. Fred smashes his son’s face in with a tire iron, and then abandons him in the desert, hoping he will die.
However, Papa Jupiter (as we find out his son is called) steals a mentally unstable prostitute from the local town and proceeds to fill the desert with his questionable offspring who have a taste for whatever meat they can get their hands on. No sooner has Fred finished his story than Papa Jupiter springs through the window and promptly murders him, despite the fact he’s his father. Bob tries to make a run for it, but his earlier-mentioned bad heart finally gives out on him, and he passes out.
Back at the trailer, Bobby hears a strange noise, and when he goes outside to investigate, he finds The Beast has gone missing, as he’s headed out into the desert and found the limited remains of Beauty, which sets up the best storyline of this entire movie – The Beast’s revenge plot.
We then cut to Ruby, eating what is most definitely the rest of Beauty, and she has been chained up outside the family home as punishment for trying to make her escape with Fred.
Doug has also arrived home with lots of supplies he found in a local dump that will hopefully aid them in getting their car back on the road. He and Lynne decide to sleep in the car rather than the trailer, which is mainly so they can shag apparently, even though Bobby is dead against the idea and would rather everyone stuck together. Doug agrees that if Bob isn’t back by 11 pm, they can head out and look for him, and then retires to the car for some sexy time.
At this point, one of Papa Jupiter’s children, Pluto, shows up to syphon gas out of the family car and then creeps inside the trailer to steal supplies and food. Bobby is outside trying to convince his brother-in-law to stop banging Lynne long enough for them to go and look for Bob when something explodes in the distance. The whole family, apart from Brenda, heads into the desert to see what’s going on, and discover Bob has been nailed to a tree and set on fire. Mars, another freak family member, turns up in the trailer and proceeds to terrorise Brenda while the rest of the family try to save Bob.
The second member of the Carter family meets their maker here, as Mars bites the head off the pet canary, and then decides to steal baby Katy. Doug sends Lynne and Ethel back to the perceived safety of the trailer, and when they walk in on Mars mid kidnap both Ethel and Lynn end up being shot. Mars and Pluto leave with the baby and try to shoot Brenda in the face, but when he discovers he’s out of bullets, Mars tells her he’ll be back for her later.
Enter The Beast – hero of the piece. Mars and Pluto are on the radio to Mercury to share their smugness at that fact they’ve stolen a baby. The Beast creeps up behind Mercury, pushes him to his death off the cliff, and then takes his radio, which he promptly delivers back to the Carters so they can track the movements of the cannibal family.
Rather than eat baby Katy right away, Papa Jupiter decides to keep her to lure Doug to the family, as they failed to kill every member of the Carter family the first time around. Ruby is given the baby to care for, and the cannibals start to form their plan. Cut to the most ‘70s music possible as The Beast leads Doug across the desert to take him to the location of the family’s base. Doug sends The Beast off to hunt on his own, which is a good move, as he creeps along behind Mars and Pluto, waiting until Pluto is alone until he attacks him. Pluto’s death includes a gnarly ankle injury where The Beast basically mauls half his foot off.
Back at the trailer, Papa Jupiter has it out for Brenda and Bobby, and so they’ve set a trap for him. Despite pulling him halfway across the desert with a car-powered lasso, and then blowing up the entire trailer with him on the doorstep, Papa Jupiter is still alive and attacks Bobby. Brena comes to the rescue and axes him before he is shot to death.
Before he died, Papa Jupiter gave the order to kill the baby now, and when Mars goes to retrieve Katy, he finds that Ruby has swapped her for a piglet. Ruby runs into Doug as she makes her escape, and the two of them team up to defeat Mars. While Doug and Mars are mid-fight, Ruby retrieves a rattlesnake and allows it to bite Mars on the neck. Doug then stabs the shit out of him, and as Mars dies, we cut to a red screen. The end.
The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
“Between 1945 and 1962 the United States conducted 331 atmospheric nuclear tests.
Today, the Government still denies the genetic effects caused by the radioactive fallout…”
We’re back in mutant country, and this time it’s all the Government’s fault. After the opening text above, we meet a group of government scientists, who are testing a desert area for radioactive activity. As they are going about their science-based business, a bloodied man appears from nowhere, begging for help, before an unseen killer sporting a pickaxe murders the entire group.
Over the opening credits we get scenes of the nuclear test villages being destroyed during atomic tests, mixed with pictures of mutated humans and babies with birth defects, so you know we’re going to be getting some effects-heavy mutants in this remake.
At a creepy gas station (the last one for 200 miles by the way), Jeb has been given a bag of belongings including cameras, wallets, and a severed ear. Despite shouting to an unseen Ruby that he’s done with this arrangement, he still takes the bag inside.
Just then the Carter family show up with their car and trailer, on a cross-country trip for Bob and Ethel’s silver wedding anniversary. They have much the same family makeup as the original movie, except Bob gets called Big Bob, and Doug has a slightly strained relationship with his in-laws. When everyone piles out of the car while Jeb replenishes their petrol, Ruby sneaks into the car and steals Bobby’s red hoodie. We also see Beauty running off into the gas station, with Lynn heading in to find her, and discovering Jeb’s bag of dead people belongings in the process. Jeb tries to usher them out, and it seems that his worry that Lynn may have seen what was in the bag is enough to sentence the entire family to a violent death. He suggests the family take a shortcut through the desert which will cut a couple of hours off their journey.
As the family continues on their journey, we see a set of tyre spikes lying in wait for them in the sand. The car crashes into a rock, buckling the fender in the process. Big Bob gives Bobby a gun, though Doug refuses due to his dislike for them, and heads off back in the direction of the gas station. Meanwhile, Doug agrees to walk about five miles in the other direction to see if he can find any assistance.
Beauty makes another break for freedom, and when Bobby tries to track her down, he finds her gutted. Bobby, who is dressed like every boy I ever fancied in high school or any love interest from an Avril Lavigne music video, trips on his way back own the hill and knock himself unconscious. Ruby, now sporting the stolen red hoodie, sits watch over Bobby to make sure he’s okay. Meanwhile, Doug has hit the end of the road, which deadends in a giant crater filled with all the cars of the mutant family’s past victims.
Back at the gas station, Big Bob finds the place empty, the phone dead, and a handy wall covered in very relevant newspaper clippings which talk about the local miners who refused to evacuate the area when asked to by the Government. Bob eventually discovers Jeb in the outhouse, but he shoots himself in the face before he can offer any help in Bob’s direction. Bob tries to escape in Jeb’s car but is attacked by Jupiter and dragged into the mine tunnels.
Brenda eventually finds Bobby after darkness falls, and while his sisters and mother are tending to his head wounds, Beast breaks the chain keeping him in place, and Doug appears back at the trailer. He’s found nothing of apparent use, but that fishing rod will come in handy later guys, so I would keep a hold of it.
As Beast mourns the remains of his beloved dog girlfriend, Doug placates Bobby by agreeing to go and look for Big Bob if he hasn’t returned by midnight. However, before midnight hits Bobby gets freaked out by some noises outside, which are clearly a person imitating a dog, and wakes Doug and Lynn to let them know that Beauty has been brutally murdered, and perhaps they are not alone in the hills.
With the trailer pretty much unattended, apart from Brenda who is sleeping with her headphones in, Pluto makes his way inside and gives the order to burn Big Bob to cause a distraction. Everything plays out much as it does in the original film here, except they managed to make the whole thing much more brutal, which is impressive. Brenda’s sexual assault by Lizard is much more explicit and not merely implied, and both Ethel and Lynn’s deaths are more violent and bloody, with Lynn allowing Lizard to breastfed from her as he points a gun at her baby’s head.
As the mutants escape with baby Catherine in tow, we also see Big Bob’s body being dragged away. Beast also takes down a bowler hat wearing mutant called Goggle by ripping his throat out and then delivering his radio to the remaining Carter family, with Goggle’s arm still attached.
Come morning, Doug is ready for revenge, so he and Beast head off into the mines to track down the mutants and baby Catherine. Within the tunnels, Doug stumbles across several miner graves, suggesting the local mining community has lost a lot of its members. When Doug finally emerges from the mines, he stumbles across a nuclear testing village, mostly abandoned, but when Doug spots a generator running, it suggests there may be someone home after all.
Doug spots Catherine in the window of one of the houses but has to hide when a particularly nasty looking mutant with a back brace/headgear combo (Cyst) walks past dragging a body. Doug leaves Beast in an abandoned car as he tries to rescue Catherine, but is knocked out by Big Mama in the process, and winds up in a freezer full of dismembered body parts. As Beast escapes his car prison, Doug manages to make it out of the freezer and discovers Big Bob’s body with an American flag planted firmly in his skull.
This is where we’re introduced to Big Brain, perhaps the most horrible looking of the mutants, as his skull is so elongated, it hangs most of the way down the back of his wheelchair. Seeing as the gas station attendant didn’t give us much info before he blew his head off, it’s up to Big Brain to be our exposition character, and explain what the hell is going on with all these desert-dwelling mutants.
The Government wanted the miners to leave town so they could conduct their nuclear tests in the area. When they refused, the Government destroyed their homes anyway, forcing them to live in the mines and basically absorb all the nuclear-related damage the nuclear testing inflicted on them. Raging at what “your people” have turned the mining community into, the mutants are pretty keen to kill as many people as possible. On that note, enter Pluto! Beast tries his best to help, but Pluto is a fucking machine, and beats the absolute shit out of Doug, even chopping off two of his fingers in the fight. Doug fakes weakness and gains the upper hand when the mutants’ smugness gets the better of them. After stabbing through Pluto’s foot, Doug stabs him with the American flag and then kills him with an axe.
It’s clear by this point that any problem Doug has with violence is well and truly out the window, and he takes on Cyst with a pickaxe, finishing him off with a particularly violent stab to the eyeball. Why Doug didn’t kill Big Brain, I’ll never know, but it’s Beast to the rescue to off someone else. Though not before Big Brain gives the order to Lizard to kill the baby. Ruby has pulled the old piglet swap again and fled with the baby into the hills, but Lizard is in hot pursuit.
Back at the trailer, Bobby and Brenda have been setting traps, including a tripwire-style contraption made with the fishing rod that Doug found earlier. When the trap is tripped, the siblings discover that Jupiter has snatched their mother’s dead body, and is having a munch on it up in the hills. After he chases Bobby back to the trailer, Jupiter is seemingly killed as the trailer explodes, thanks to another trap that has been rigged.
Ruby and Doug finally run into each other, and just when Ruby is about to hand the baby over to her father, Lizard jumps on him from above and gives him another beating, which would probably ensure that Doug was pretty dead. He’s been through a lot by this point. Through his blurred vision from several head injuries and the hideous amount of blood he is covered in, Doug spots his wedding ring and is inspired to go on.
Doug finds Lizard and beats his face with the butt of his gun before shooting him several times, but it seems the men in this movie are made of extraordinarily powerful stuff, as Lizard isn’t quite dead yet. When he pops up again and tries to shoot Doug and Catherine, Ruby pushes Lizard and herself off a cliff, killing them both.
Back at the wreck of the trailer, Jupiter is still alive, though severely wounded, so Brenda puts him out of his misery by pickaxing him in the head. Just then, Doug, Catherine, and Beast show up, and what’s left of the family are reunited. As they embrace, and it looks like a sort of happy ending, we zoom out to them being watched by another set of binoculars.
The Hills Have Eyes (1977) vs The Hills Have Eyes (2006) – The Final Verdict
The mutant family in both versions of The Hills Have Eyes are excellent villains. They are very familiar with their surroundings, how to navigate the desert, how to take down enemies with their bare hands, and how to survive when the odds are stacked against them. The Carter family are basically sitting ducks when they rock up in the desert, unaware of the horrors that are about to befall them, as they find themselves face-to-face with an enemy expertly placed to take them down.
However, the mutants are very different in both versions of the film. In the original film, there is an evident family dynamic. Papa Jupiter was abandoned by his father to die and abducted a woman from the local town to build his family up around him. Every member of the family takes their orders from Papa Jupiter, and it seems to be him that creates most of the plans that the family put into action to kill the Carters. There’s also the clear link between Pete, the gas station attendant, and the mutants, as Pete admits to being Jupiter’s father. Pete cooperates with his son’s demands because he knows what he is capable of, and with a group of deranged children behind him, he’s probably even scarier than he was before. Plus Pete and the family seem to rely on each other to survive. Pete needs the supplies that the family bring him, and the family need Pete to send people into their land so they have something for dinner.
In the remake, while Jupiter still exists as a character, he’s not the head of the family any more, as the mutants are more made up of ex-miners and their now mutated offspring. However, it’s a little confusing why Jupiter is the only person without any apparent mutation without the original backstory. Because nuclear testing is involved, we’re not just dealing with a group of incestual family members this time, but instead full-on mutants. This means this version of the mutants is instantly terrifying, especially as each member of the group sports a new and interesting mutation.
The remake mutants are also a lot smarter and well prepared. While the original group are merely waiting around, hoping that someone will stumble into their land so they will finally have some food, the remake mutants have a much better plan in place. They get Jeb to direct unsuspecting families into their traps, and they also have things like tyre spikes to make sure that they always catch their prey. We also see that by the sheer amount of human meat they have hanging in their homes and stored in their freezer that they aren’t going hungry, unlike the original family who is just happy to get some dog when the chance arises. The remake mutants are clearly a lot better at their job. The fact that they continue to kill when they aren’t as desperate for food as the original family really speaks to their wickedness.
Another significant difference between the two families is the character of Ruby. In the original, Ruby is keen to escape her life with the mutants and leave with Pete when he returns to civilisation. Her betrayal is picked up instantly, and she spends most of the film chained up outside as punishment, clearly not happy at having to eat dog for her dinner. She clearly has moral compass issues going on, and so when she has the chance to save the baby, she takes it.
In the remake, Ruby’s primary motivation for getting so heavily involved in the whole thing seems to be that she’s taken a fancy to Bobby. We see her watching him when the Carters arrive at the gas station, stealing his hoodie (which she then wears for the rest of the film), and even standing watch over him when he’s injured and probably would have been easy pickings for someone else in her family. Whatever she feels for the Carter family, she makes the ultimate sacrifice in the end, clearly believing that Doug and Catherine are more important additions to the world than herself or especially Lizard.
The Carters have a pretty similar set up in both versions of the film, but I think the characters are a little more fleshed out in the remake, and therefore they are a more likeable family. Doug’s relationship with Big Bob is clearly a little strained. Bob is an ex-cop, looking to set up his own security firm, and is a standard example of macho bullshit gone mad. Doug works in an office and doesn’t like guns, and that seems to rub Bob up the wrong way. That’s why it’s even sweeter when Doug ultimately proves the saviour of the remaining family members, putting everything on the line to save his daughter and honour his dead wife.
The banter between the group also stands out better in the remake, even though they use a lot of the same dialogue. This is especially true in the scenes between Brenda and Lynn when Brenda is sunbathing, and the scene where Ethel and her children eat dinner at the camping table. The scene when the Carters pray together before Doug and Big Bob head off into the wilderness is also particularly touching, but tinged with a hint of menace as we see someone from the mutants watching them through binoculars.
There is one member of the Carter family that I prefer in the original film, and that is The Beast. While both versions of Beast go on their little revenge mission, there’s no denying the whole subplot works much better in the original movie. The Beast spends a lot of time sneaking up on mutants, skulking in the shadows, and waiting for the perfect time to strike to ensure he gets his man. Remake Beast takes out Big Brain, and while he is super annoying, he’s not really any sort of threat to the family as he can barely lift his own head. However, the original Beast takes out Pluto, one of the most prominent and threatening mutants in the family. It takes him two attempts, but he’s patient, and he gets him in the end.
While none of the deaths are exactly pleasant in either film, the remake goes that little bit further to make them a little more gruesome. First of all, we’re introduced to the random survivor and the Government employees, who are only there so we can see the horrible things a pickaxe can do to the human body.
The gas station attendant’s death is also shown on-screen, with him blowing the whole front of his face off with a shotgun, rather than being killed offscreen by Jupiter.
The scene that definitely stands out with additional violence is the trailer ambush. First of all, Bob gets the same fate in both movies (the lucky ones die first according to the tagline…not so sure about that one) by getting nailed to a tree and set on fire. However, in the remake we get long, lingering shots of the flesh being burnt from Bob’s face and arms, as well as his eyes glazing over and turning white as the flames consume him.
When Ethel returns to the trailer, the gunshot to her stomach is so severe it lifts her off her feet and slams her into the trailer wall, while Lynn gets shot right in the head for trying to protect her baby. The deaths of the Cyst and Pluto are also brilliant, and it’s great when Doug finally starts inflicting some violence on the bad guys.
That’s not to say the original movie isn’t gruesome, and while some of the deaths are a little more chilled than the remake, there is plenty of other violence to make up for it. The ankle injury The Beast inflicts on Pluto is a particular highlight, as are the shots of Beauty’s corpse.
If you enjoy the more violent side of horror, there’s something for you in both these movies, but the remake goes a little bit further when it comes to deaths.
The Final Showdown
The final showdown of both movies is when Doug heads out into the desert with Beast to track down the mutants and rescue his baby. In the original film, this doesn’t actually take up too much of the runtime, with Doug pretty much coming across Ruby instantly and defeating Mars after a brief fight, where Doug finally gets to release all his pain and aggression about the situation.
In the remake, however, the final showdown is very much the last act of the movie, with poor Doug being put through more emotional torment and mutant beatdowns than any person should have to, and coming out two fingers lighter for his trouble. We get the chance to explore the mutants’ little village, which is creepy enough without the mutants, to be honest. It’s full of half singed models and mannequin children swinging on damaged swing sets. It also gives the filmmakers the chance to drop a few more mutants on us apart from the ones that were directly responsible for the Carter attack. Cyst and Big Brain are arguably two of the creepiest mutants in the town, and we also get to meet two mutant children who are innocently playing in one of the houses, probably unaware of what is going on around them.
I also appreciate the journey that Doug has to go through to get to this point, and having him get the shit kicked out of him a few times before he finds his feet and is able to murder mutants left, right and centre gives him much better character development. This isn’t something he wants to be part of, and he’s literally pushed to his limit to save his daughter and hopefully return to what’s left of his in-laws, and the fact he has to do it all alone is bloody terrifying. He is an excellent example of how ordinary people can be pushed to do extreme things in extreme situations. I hope Big Bob is eating any horrible things he said about Doug because remake Doug is badass.
Going into this, I had already seen both movies before, though I have definitely seen the remake multiple times. I actually had it in my head that I didn’t like the original film at all, so I was happy to find that on rewatch I did enjoy it, but the remake is still coming out on top for me.
For me I connect with the family more, the mutants are far scarier, and I like their backstory more, even if it is ridiculous and far less likely to happen in real life. The effects used on the mutants are fantastic, with most of them being done practically, and only a few on the children and Ruby being done digitally. The idea of a whole community of mutants living in this abandoned nuclear village just on the other side of the hills is very chilling, and I liked the detail of them using the mines to get around quickly.
I’m not the biggest fan of gore or anything, so I didn’t need the extra violence that the remake gives us, but I do love everything about that final battle between Doug and the mutants. In the original, Doug pretty much makes it out unscathed, and it feels like a bit of a letdown after all the build-up of the mutants finally attacking the trailer. Remake Doug returns to his family battered, mutated, and looking like he was Carrie’s date to the prom. He fought hard to protect his family, even if the ending does suggest that they’re screwed anyway.
To me, The Hills Have Eyes is a perfect example of a horror movie that should be remade. They had an excellent idea, which perhaps wasn’t as scary as it could have been. They tweaked the story to make it different enough that it wasn’t a shot-for-shot remake but still felt faithful to the original. They gave us better-developed characters, a tighter final act, and they kept the dog revenge subplot. What more could we have asked for?