Starring Heather Conforto, Tom Nagel, Vaz Andreas, Tom Downey
Directed by Leigh Scott
It’s no secret that I’ve voiced my disdain quite often of late regarding The Asylum and their business practice of piggybacking off of big Hollywood genre flicks. That’s over. It’s a lost cause and I’m not getting worked up over it anymore. If making cheap DTV rip-offs of high profile Hollywood genre films makes them money, God bless them. If they can actually hold their heads up high knowing this is the kind of product they’re turning out, so be it. When The Asylum makes a new rip-off in the works I’ll probably do a story about it and be just as snarky as I would if I were reporting on Hollywood announcing another remake, Uwe Boll making another video game movie, or Charles Band announcing another film about puppet-sized slashers. If I see a movie by The Asylum I like then I’ll write a positive review and give them the credit I feel they deserve, and if I see a movie by The Asylum that’s so astoundingly bad that I kept having to pause the movie just so I could take a few moments to sit there and let it sink in how stupefyingly awful the movie I was watching really was… well, read on.
Believe it or not, I was actually holding out hope going into Hillside Cannibals. I’d heard through the grapevine that the folks in the Asylum’s office were actually quite high on the film. After seeing it, I think they were just high, period. That goes for every aspect of the making of this flop. There are moments in Hillside Cannibals where it’s almost so bad its good – almost. Mainly it’s just so bad. Where the hell to even begin with this one? I know – let me quote you from the back of the DVD case:
“The world’s most brutal serial killer was born over 400 years ago, Sawney Bean and his family pillaged, slaughtered, and literally devoured thousands of victims. Even today, the inbred clan of cannibals hides in seaside caves, feeding on the flesh of those who pass by.”
Sawney Bean and his clan were cave-dwelling, inbreeding, cannibal killers in 15th century Scotland. This movie is set in present day, and while the exact location of the setting is never specified, it’s clearly somewhere in the continental United States and that someplace isn’t even seaside. The only references to Sawney Bean in Hillside Cannibals comes whenever the leader of the clan dies; his replacement cuts off his face, puts it on his like a mask, and evokes the name of Sawney Bean. That’s it. That’s all there is connecting any of this to the Sawney Bean legend and the tagline on the DVD box claims that this film is “Based on the terrifying true story of the Sawney Bean clan that inspired The Hills Have Eyes!” I learned more from looking up Sawney Bean on Wikipedia than I did from watching this movie. I learned more from the description on the back of the DVD box than I did from the film itself. At no point does Hillside Cannibals ever make any attempt to give you any real explanation as to who these cannibals are, how they got there, why they live in these caves, or, for that matter, why they exist as hillside cannibals.
Hillside Cannibal‘s plot is actually quite simple, although that’s probably because there’s hardly any plot at all. Let me briefly summarize for you the first 45-minutes of the film.
Five young people head out into the rocky, cavernous hills of god knows where for a little spelunking fun. Three quickly get slaughtered, a fourth gets captured, and a fifth escapes. The fifth, being the fourth’s girlfriend, eventually composes herself enough to go back and find the hillside cave where he’s being taunted, tortured, and fondled by various members of the cannibal clan. She manages to sneak into the cave while all are asleep; they escape but don’t get far due to injuries hindering his ability to walk. He tells her to leave him behind and go for help, which she does, allowing him to get recaptured moments later. Rinse and repeat.
I know that doesn’t sound like a whole lot to cover a 45-minute span and you’d be right. We get about five minutes of opening credits and five more minutes of character development before the initial slaughter takes place. This leaves another half hour consisting of the girlfriend running around screaming before wandering around trying to find and rescue him, the boyfriend being tortured and what not by the cannibal clan, and an awful lot of seeing the clan dynamics inside the cave. I comprehend what director Leigh Scott was going for in attempting to capture the relentless, sometimes surreal tone of many a grindhouse horror film, but the way most of the cannibal clan members look and behave, it’s all far too goofy to be horrific and at times even quite embarrassingly bad.
Maybe it’s true about how movie violence desensitizes you because after seeing some of the recent Hollywood splatterfests, including the hard-R remake this film seeks to mimic, Hillside Cannibals’ attempts at torture porn just left me apathetic. Chop somebody’s arm off… Yawn. Cutting some fingers off with a pair of scissors… Seen it. Chopping a torso in half… What else you got for me? Nothing? Oh well. This might give some gorehounds their fix of blood and guts but me, I’m numb. Here’s an idea. How about somebody show me a real plot with fully fleshed out characters and that goes for both the victims and the killers? Wouldn’t that be a shocking horror movie twist these days?
So let’s meet the cannibal clan, shall we? Just don’t expect any names because the only time any of them are named is in the closing credits and I’ll be damned if I could tell you who’s who. I know the leader of the clan is a really old, decrepit looking man, at least I think it was supposed to be a man. The guy actually looked more like one of the Stygian witches from Clash of the Titans, which is only fitting because he sat on a throne that looked like it could be a piece of Skeletor’s patio furniture. Others include a guy that looks like Bulk from “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” made over to look like a smelly hippie – a character I’d swear we see get killed only to turn up alive in another scene minutes later. There’s also a young girl that looks sort of like Carol Kane post-electrocution, who’s really horny to get it on with the young guy with Maori-style designs painted on his face.
And then there’s the next in line to become leader of the clan, a guy that looks like a zombified Bill Paxton, often seen wearing a kilt and a baseball cap. The only entertainment value I found in the entire experience of watching this film was to marvel at the ridiculous scenes where this character goes off on these spirited tirades of total gibberish, utterly incomprehensible speech that other members of the clan can supposedly understand. None of the cannibals seem to speak a word of English, or any other discernable language, instead communicating through a combination of gobbeldy-gook and grunting sounds, but only this one character does so with any real gusto.
There’s no explanation ever given as to why this guy’s face is so deformed, whereas everyone else in the clan just looks like they need a bath. Could the production not afford special make-up appliances for everyone in the clan? It just doesn’t make any sense and, as I’ve said, the movie isn’t really interested in filling in any blanks. Although I must confess that I couldn’t help but laugh to see the crazy horny cannibal chick with dirt caked all over her face, a head of scraggily unkempt hair, and rotting teeth, but then you pan down and see those perfectly waxed legs coming out from under the mini-skirt she wears.
When the lead heroine comes across this guy in military fatigues that believes his daughters were either murdered by or assimilated into the cannibal clan, I was sure this was going to be the character that spells it all out, explaining the who, what, where, and how regarding the cannibal clan, Sawney Beam, etc. Nope. Even the theory he introduces about his daughters being assimilated into the clan as potential breeding stock is never followed up on. There’s literally no point for this character to exist other than to briefly rescue the lead, introduce himself, and then get killed off. He’s like the “Jason hunter” dude from Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter and every bit as effective as him, too
By the way, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that he rescues her when she’s being chased by a clan member through the woods. THE WOODS!?!? WHERE THE HELL DID THESE WOODS COME FROM?!?! Nothing but rocky hills far as the eye can see and she’s suddenly shown running through the woods? And then after rescuing her, he tells her, “If you go, you’ll never come out alive.” Excuse me, but we’ve already seen her escape from them twice, even walking in and out of their cave lair undetected.
The film’s ending is one of those endings that leave you wondering “What was the point?” Indeed. Other than to make a cheap quickie rip-off to capitalize on The Hills Have Eyes remake, there is no point. However, The Hills Have Eyes – both the remake and the original – were actual movies. Hillside Cannibals, on the other hand, is a nearly plotless, certainly pointless failure plods along and is only slightly more competently produced than a lot of poorly made, no budget horror films written and directed by first-time filmmakers that were clearly in over their heads.
Let me wrap up this review by being the first to introduce to the world the Hillside Cannibals drinking game. Whenever the zombified Bill Paxton-looking cannibal starts spouting gibberish, raise your beverage up and exclaim, “Sawney Bean!” Every single time director Leigh Scott decides to use a shot of the sky or the moon as a buffer between scenes, take a shot. You’ll be singing the praises of Sawney Bean and be stupid drunk in no time at all, and stupid drunk is probably the best way to get through this ordeal.
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