A House in the Hills

(Ken Wiederhorn, USA/Luxembourg, 1993)


Writer-director Ken Wiederhorn had an auspicious start in exploitation movies. While his “slasher” film Eyes of a Stranger (1981) received a BOMB rating and was reviled as “utter trash” in Leonard Maltin’s film guide, critic Robin Wood in his 1986 book Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan hailed it as a progressive and subversive take on the horror genre. Any filmmaker who can polarise opinion to this extent must possess some flair.

A House in the Hills shows Wiederhorn up to his old tricks. Again, he is playing ingenious variations on a very formulaic genre: this time, the cycle derived from Scorsese’s Cape Fear (1991) of stories about a proletarian animal returning to wreak revenge on a pristine, middle class family. The difference is that the animal (Michael Madsen from Reservoir Dogs, 1992) arrives at this “house in the hills” at the moment when only an aspiring actress (Helen Slater) is present, minding the place.

Since Slater at first pretends to the woman of the house, Madsen isn’t sure exactly who he has tied up. And that’s just the first in a vertiginous series of games and reversals: there’s a somewhat creepy neighbour who keeps bugging them; and finally the owners of the house, who have more than a few skeletons rattling around in their closets.

Wiederhorn maintains a fine balance between suspense and humour, and even manages to weave a humanist message into the unlikely romance between captor and captive. Madsen, doing the laconic Elvis manner for which he is already famous, is especially well used in this modest but always pleasantly surprising thriller.

© Adrian Martin April 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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