This is one of Wes Craven's early films, a kind of classic 70-style horror movie, definitely in the same sadistic vein as Craven's debut Last House on the Left, and certainly The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Overall, the film is okay, but clearly a bit amateurish and very low budget. The effort is there, some of Craven's style is there, and it can get creepy.
A hapless, all-American family is riding through the desert (apparently Nevada, or California, it's unclear) looking for an old, abandoned silver mine someone left to them. They find themselves way off the beaten path, right by a firing rage used by the Air Force to blow things up, and indeed, when jets start roaring overhead, they run their car off the road and crack an axel.
They're now prey for a demented group of mutant cannibals who roam the desolate landscape, killing and eating whatever they can find. Pretty soon the family is split up, with some members out looking for help and most staying back at the car and trailer with the dogs.
The strong points are the atmosphere and the sense of dread and menace that hangs over much of the film. This modern, happy American family is rocketed back in time and they must use their wits and might to fight back, and indeed they're driven to acts more savage than their attackers, a major theme of Last House.
Hills could clearly have benefitted from a higher budget, better acting, and better resources. However, the grainy, low budget feel of the film lends it much appeal.
The film does drag a bit at times, and some of the acting is terrible, as expected. The story is basic but has a kind of universal appeal. I'm surprised there hasn't been a remake, actually, what with recent 70s horror re-releases and remakes, though I don't doubt Hollywood's bankruptcy of ideas may drive them to it. These days remakes often jettison the very elements of the originals that made them classics, which is a shame. While I thought the Texas Chainsaw remake was satisfying in its own way (certainly stylistically) I thought it lacked some of the suspense and menace of the original, as well as the social commentary, qualities that Hills does share.
The film is given a tremendous treatment by Anchor Bay. The first disc contains the film in the best quality we're ever likely to see. The picture is incredible; no more poor tape copies or appalling prints, and there are numerous sound mixes on here, depending on your preference and home setup. It's up there with the excellent Texas Chainsaw DVD that saw a similarly grainy and faded picture give way to a totally restored print.
The second disc is full of features, most notable a lengthy documentary made in 2003 featuring Wes Craven and a good portion of the cast, including the amazing Michael Perryman who needed no makeup to play Pluto. (Perryman was born with many physical birth defects, thus his unique appearance.) There are trailers, TV spots, and even a neat bit where you see the before and after effects of the restoration of the film. You can appreciate how sharp and clear the print is on this set.
Overall, another great effort by Anchor Bay. This is a no-brainer for fans of the film, and indeed people were wondering where it was after they released Hills 2 on DVD first (a pretty poor sequel.) Studios and directors could learn a thing or two about cult horror and sci fi films; they often get the most reverent DVD releases, and Anchor Bay has a long list of them.