This movie is bad. Not in a “so bad it’s campy” way and not in a “so bad it’s disgusting” way. Staunton Hill is an amateurish mess from a director who is obviously learning his way around camera, plot, and actors. And all of that is quite visible on screen.
Let’s start with the plot. Hitchhikers in the 70s stumble their way onto a cannibalistic family. We know that it’s the 70s because the fact is ham-fistedly made clear from the pick in the African-American guy’s hair (Kiko Ellsworth as Boone) to footage of the race riots. The fact that it’s the 70s has almost no bearing whatsoever on the plot other than to remove the convenient issue of cell phones. It does have one upside; the footage has the grainy feel of a 70s film.
SPOILER HILL: There’s a subplot about attempting to graft limbs onto a dying girl. It takes place on an entirely different set, complete with an attractive assistant who never shows up elsewhere in the film. The connection between this scene and the rest of the movie is Quintin (Charlie Bodin), a failed medical student who is conducting some unorthodox surgery – surgery we can only assume will save the dying girl that we know nothing about.
Quintin lures our unsuspecting victims to their doom with a friendly demeanor and an offer of a ride. Romero doesn’t seem to understand foreshadowing, because he makes it very clear that Quintin is actually part of the crazy family within the first ten minutes. By the time it’s revealed that Quintin is actually the mastermind of the operation, Romero intercuts the revelatory scene with every clue from the first half of the movie. It’s like horror movies for dummies — Romero isn’t confident enough either in his own filmmaking skills or the audience’s ability to figure out that Quintin is actually a Really Bad Guy. It robs the revelation of any suspense.
Like the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the crazy family is as much filled with lumbering monsters (B.J. Hendricks as the mentally-impaired Buddy) as it is with crazy old ladies (Sherry Weston as Geraldine) and fat people (Kathy Lamkin as Louise). In fact, Lamkin is basically playing the same character she played in the remake of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Unlike the original, Cameron confuses “creepy” with “violent.” The purpose of having a character in an archaic wheelchair was to show how backwards the family was – and at the same time, show how they were willing to feed victims even to their elderly and infirm. Here, Geraldine is a caricature. Actress Weston looks far too young to be the crazy old lady and the director equips her with a taser capable of killing a man. She actually takes out the fittest member of the group, Cole (David Rountree), by herself.
The list of serious flaws goes on and on. The movie seems to center on the gutting and dismemberment of Trish (Paula Rhodes), intercut with dialogue from Boone as he explains the horrors that happen at a slaughterhouse: the animals are still alive as they are drained of blood, squealing. Except that’s not what happens to Trish. She gets her eyeball caved in and is unconscious by the time the throat-slitting happens. Staunton Hill’s one chance at being horrifying is tripped up by a narrative that doesn’t match what’s on screen.
When hottie Jordan (Cristen Coppen) manages to escape, there’s a final confrontation between two characters that happens so quickly, without any sort of drama, that it may well as well be two stuntmen duking it out. And it probably IS just two stuntmen.
Staunton Hill is more film project than film. Here’s hoping Cameron senior can teach his progeny a thing or two before he commits more movie mayhem.