Hillside Cannibals (2006): The Lucky Ones Died First

… Preferably before their DVD player loaded or the movie buffered. Nah — just kidding. ‘Cos a few issues aside, Matty reckons this Asylum-backed Hills Have Eyes ‘tie-in’ has some good things going for it.

With blank, nondescript protagonists and a general air of cheapness, those of a particularly cruel disposition might think HILLSIDE CANNIBALS unfit to lace the boots of even Wes Craven’s much maligned Hills Have Eyes Part 2 (1984), let alone the Elm Street creator’s iconic original or, indeed, it’s solid Alex Aja remake (the picture this Asylum production was cobbled together to cash-in on [1]). However, at its best, Leigh Scott’s reasonably effective shocker calls to mind one of the first Hills’ most compelling bedfellows, Scalps (1983). Like Fred Olen Ray’s rough n’ ready cheapie, Hillside Cannibals benefits greatly from a mean-spirited tone and an unsettling atmosphere. 

Though their joke shop props and costuming leave a lot to be desired, the titular flesh-munchers are a surprisingly formidable bunch. In a way, Hillside Cannibals is almost an accidental precursor to Jack Ketchum’s grisly 2007 novel, Offspring, and its subsequent 2009 film adaptation. As with the inbred clan in Offspring, here we spend a great deal of time in the company of the derma-dining primitives, becoming privy to the workings of their tribal hierarchy and watching them bicker among themselves in their own bizarre lingo (a mix of screeches, squawks, and guttural roars). An initially comical development — and certainly one that makes you wonder how the hell writer Steve Bevilacqua scripted such exchanges — the incessant grunting and garbling soon becomes kind of freaky if you buy into it. Conceptually, the prattle throws us straight into the POV of the hapless sods who are dragged into the skin-slurpers’ lair, leaving us as confused and frightened as they are as we try to work out who’s going to be butchered, scoffed or sexually assaulted. 

Also impressive is Hillside Cannibals’ photography. Among the most appealing talents to have graced The Asylum’s payroll, particularly within their ‘05 to ‘10 period, the prolific Scott — whose other notable credits for the company include the similarly interesting Frankenstein Reborn (2005), The Beast of Bray Road (2005), and Dracula’s Curse (2006) [2] — is a director with an excellent feel for mood. Again, a la Scalps, there’s an eerie sparseness to Hillside Cannibals. Despite the bursts of shaky handheld camerawork during the horror set pieces occasionally robbing the well-done gore of its punch, by and large, Scott laces the film with a strong sense of all-encompassing vastness. Watching Hillside Cannibals, it often seems as if you’re being engulfed by some kind of infinite abyss; a heady sensation augmented by cinematographer Lincoln Lewis’ languid compositional style and the natural production value afforded by the film’s excellent location work (it was shot in the canyons of Yermo, California).

Hillside Cannibals debuted on U.S. DVD on 28th March 2006, three weeks after Aja’s Hills Have Eyes overhaul arrived in stateside theatres. Here in the U.K., it landed on disc on 23rd April 2007, the week before the remake’s sequel hit the big screen.

USA ● 2006 ● Horror ● 83mins

Heather Conforto, Tom Nagel, Vaz Andreas ● Dir. Leigh Scott ● Wri. Steve Bevilacqua

[1] Of course, with The Asylum wanting to avoid copyright infringement, ‘officially’ Hillside Cannibals is based upon the legend of 16th century Scottish cannibal Sawney Bean — the same tale that Craven drew inspiration from. In Hillside Cannibals, helmer Scott appears in the film as the modern-day incarnation of said character.
[2] Or, as The Asylum call it, their ‘classic monster box set’.

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