Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Written by: Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur
Produced by: Wes Craven, Peter Locke and Marianne Maddalena
Reviewed by: Brett H.
ďKill the baby.Ē
Remakes have seeped into the landscape of horror to the point that they would be over-saturating the market if they werenít just totally random. One of the few positive aspects of the remake craze has been the unpredictability of it all, and at least revisiting classics (and not so classics) brings more to the table than copying the current sub genre trend Hollywood is cramming down the consumerís throats that had been happening since Scream. Iím not going to sit here and spit in the face of remakes like many have before me, Iím just too big of a fan of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Dawn of the Dead re-workings to cry blasphemy. You just never know how theyíll turn out. Really, some of the most highly regarded horror films in history have been remakes (The Thing, The Fly, Horror of Dracula, etcÖ) so to automatically cast these new films to the pits of hell would be a silly endeavour. Alexandre Aja made big splash with horror fans via his first hit, High Tension, but being more than a one hit wonder in the horror game is a tough task. It doesnít help when youíre handling subject matter that is amongst the highest regarded films in horror history, The Hills Have Eyes.
The film begins with a screen of text regarding the testing of nuclear weapons between 1945 and 1962 before opening with a shot of the New Mexico desert. Military personnel are gathering fish from a stream; presumably with the intent to test the effects radiation has had on the ecosystem. A fish is barely in the net when a giant being viciously attacks them with an axe. The viewer knows right here that these arenít the same Hills theyíve encountered in Wes Cravenís 1977 classic. A bag is left on the stationís entrance after the attendant screams to the empty landscape that he canít do it anymore, he wants out. The bag is full of jewellery, electronics and most curiously, a human ear in a foam takeout container.
A family of passers through make a stop at the station to fill up. Doug (Aaron Stanford) and Lynn (Vinessa Shaw) have a baby together and are on a trip to California for Lynnís parentsí 25th anniversary, along with other siblings and two dogs. One of the dog gets away and makes his way to the back of the gas station which just happens to be where the bag of treasures mentioned earlier are sitting. The attendant realizes the open bag was right before her eyes and if she got a bit nosey, that container wasnít housing a half-eaten hamburger. He walks out to the car and tells the father, Big Bob (Ted Levine) that thereís a shortcut to where heís going, itís not on the map, but itíll save them a couple hours. Like every other older conservative family man in horror history, heís delighted to hear this and they make their way. The spikes on the road arenít kind to the tires of their vehicle, and Bob is soon to realize heís made the biggest mistake of his life. Whatís left of it, at least.
The Hills Have Eyes delivers the scares and suspense youíd expect from a movie donning such a great title and it is one of those rare instances where the legacy of the film is actually preserved by the second take on it. Unlike Halloween or Dawn of the Dead, the original Hills has a much smaller fan base. If anything, the sheer quality of the movie will get more people to see the original than it could ever have imagined. The script is very close to that of Cravenís original, but differs enough to make it its own experience. Like all films made these days, there is a much higher importance placed on flashy shots and thundering bass, but Aja does nearly everything right with his version of the classic, and itís a treat for all fans, young and old to watch. The gore is just awesome and thereís so much of it after about the hour point of the film that itíll make your head spin with pickaxes through eyes, dog attacks, gunshot wounds, and the king of the kills, the head explosion.
Thereís history given on the backwoods freaks in this one, they turn out to be miners who refused to leave their town by the government during a nuke test many years ago. Expectedly, this takes away from the overall feel of the movie, mostly because you really donít really need to know this, itís a lot scarier to think theyíre out for animalistic survival than for revenge. With that said, the mutants are meant to be the stars of the show and they donít disappoint. My only issue is the monstrously strong giant is basically a combo of Sloth from The Goonies and an unmasked Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, but he is so fierce that itís nothing to really complain about. The most freakishly weird mutant is Big Brain, who he has a massive head that weighs his body down and he spends all of his time in a wheelchair. The fact that a totally harmless mutant freaked me out so much shows you just how effective this movie is.
The character of Doug is meant to be akin to the hero from the original (if youíve seen the famous ending shot, you know what I mean), but in this one Doug is put through Ash-like proportions of hell. Without a doubt, heís the most likable character in the film and the shit he is put through is unbelievable. At one point he even wakes up in a large bin completely full of corpses and body parts and has to bust his way out, and it is wickedly disgusting. It is these touches that make me love the genre so much. Combine this with him dealing with nearly every mutant the small town can throw at him as well as the psycho giant who kidnapped his baby, Doug is easily one of the most abused characters in horror history. The scene with the big fucker going at him with an axe is so tense that you just canít help but get totally immersed. The ending is pretty tragic and sad, which is fitting. Well, it would have been if there wasnít that last shot that you just knew was coming that prepared the audience for a sequel.
Politics are dabbled in and it mostly relates to Doug being liberal and the father and son of the family being conservative. They consider Doug weak because heís opposed to firearms and prefers to think things through before acting, so the film is a good representation of the state of America in this day and age. Itís fitting that Doug kicks so much ass after being picked on as a weakling, and it really draws you into the character. The film looks beautiful as Aja takes advantage of the desert scenery with interesting shots throughout the film and the music accompanying the shots is very unique. The best music in the film is the bass hammering as though it was the beating of hearts in tense scenes. Thankfully, Aja opts not to use MTV style cuts, which could have ruined the film. Obviously, the 5.1 track is awesome and the DVD picture quality is a joy to look at. Along with a couple commentaries (thereís one with Craven and Locke) and a featurette, this is a package that every horror fan should be able to enjoy on level. You could take the beaten path, but the real fun is in the shortcut. Buy it!
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