10/21/10

Halloween Top 13: The Remake- #11- The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

Ever been riding around in a rural area with someone and they lean over and say, “It’s like something from ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ out here.”? You then look around at the wooded area you’re driving though and the Fast Fare that you just passed and say, “Yeah, sure does”, but in your horror-hound heart you want to tell them, “No, this is nothing like The Hills Have Eyes. We’re not in the freakin’ desert. We’re not in an Airstream camper. And most importantly, while there does seem to be a contingent of Moonshining rednecks back at that Fast Fare, I haven’t seen a single person who I think might be an irradiated mess.” The problem is that you can’t say that because the person in the car with you either a) had never seen Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes b) has seen it but is mixing it up with Last House on the Left c) might have seen it, but doesn’t know, doesn’t care, and sure isn’t going want a horror nerd hissy fit on their hands.

Choice ‘c’ there is how I kind of felt every time someone came at me with Alexandre Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes. I had seen it some time back, didn’t much care for it, and no amount of persuading me could get me to think that it wasn’t unnecessary. As you might have surmised, my opinion has finally changed….somewhat. After ranting about Piranha 3-D a couple of months back, I thought maybe I should give Aja another look. I rewatched High Tension, and it still ticked me off. Then I caught Mirrors again, and it never rises above the one gruesome scene that was already in the trailer. However on a second viewing of Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes I finally got into what he had done with the film. Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes is a tense, well paced movie, but his flat, blunt style keeps the action at arms length. Aja brings his viewer right into the bloody mess.

The core of the original story is kept in place. A family going cross country is given bad advice by a gas station attendant who sends them down an unpaved “shortcut”. Naturally, there is no shortcut at all, and the family soon is being stalked by a group of nuclear mutants. This is where the film takes a departure. Instead of the mutants being a vaguely Max Max-ian gang, these mutants are just that. When the U.S. government decided to test nukes in the desert, these folks’ ancestors went underground to live in the mines where they gave birth to generation after generation of inbred, irradiated cannibal killers. Needless to say, they were pretty put out by the whole “nuking our homes” thing, and so they seem to have decided to get by day to day eating whatever passersby they can.

Aja penned the screenplay with Gregory Levasseur, his co-writer on High Tension, but there was very little to do here but update how the people talked and add in a few minor sequences. There is a shockingly little difference in the storyline and dialog between the two films, but that didn’t bother me that much. Often times people complain about remakes going off in their own direction with little connection to the original film, and of course some films (Psycho remake, this means you) that don’t even seem to have an original thought. Aja might be able to be blamed for not taking the film a little further away from its roots, but that’s not the kind of remake he crafted. By keeping the story safe and familiar, he was able to spend a lot of time on visual imagery, and there are some striking examples in this film. Belgian cinematographer Maxime Aleandre, who also worked on High Tension which looked good if nothing else, and Aja make full use of the barren landscape and wide open settings to lets the camera swing, dart, and circle the characters. I thought this was a wonderful touch. It really gives the viewer a sense of what the family must feel like. They are being watched from all sides, danger surrounds them, and a chance of escape looks minimal. I would have liked to see a little more play with the lighting and shadow, but overall, Aja made the film his by making is a sleek, stylish production which are two adjectives that I’ve never heard used to describe Craven’s original film.

As the actors are playing virtual carbon copies of their 1970’s counterparts, there is little to write home about in that department, but I do want to mention a few folks. Ted Levine, who many will know as Buffalo Bob in Silence of the Lambs, appears here as another Bob, Big Bob, the patriarch of the family. No matter if I’m seeing Levine on Monk, in the Swayze classic Next of Kin, or just as the voice of Sinestro in Justice League cartoons, I always enjoy a performance from Levine, and this is no exception. Aaron Stanford, who played the son-in-law suffering Doug, really has the only dramatic arc in the film, pretty much everyone else gets whacked before they could become more than a static character, and he does it well. As the emotional center of the film, he impressed me very much, and the parts of the flick that don’t belong to cannibalistic nuclear mutants, are purely his to own. The last person I have to mention is one of my favorite genre film actors ever, Billy Drago. He shows up here are Papa Jupiter, the role originated by James Whitworth in the original film, and more than does the part justice. Plus with how odd Drago looks naturally, they probably saved some cash on special effects.

The Hills Have Eyes at first doesn’t come off at exactly what I thought it would be. Going into it, especially after the credits, I expected a film that was charged with political statements and social relevancy. Perhaps Aja thought those things were in there, but I didn’t see them. What I saw instead was a beautifully shot film that takes the ideas of the original film and expands on them with a style that doesn’t so much overshadow the substance but enhances it. I still don’t count myself as a fan of Mr. Aja’s films, (I am a fan of how his last name brings to mind Steely Dan songs every time I read it though.) but in this instance I have to say that he really did this remake justice. Let’s face it, while The Hills Have Eyes(1977) is a classic, it is only slightly average film to begin with (I have it a 2.5 in its review.). The fact that the remake exceeds the original is a testament to the work that Aja must have put into this film.

Bugg Rating



Hey Hey, we’re up to day 3 on the countdown, and that brings us to our guest today, the lovely and talented Ms. Christine Makepeace of Paracinema magazine, one of the baddest cinema magazines in the land. the new issue has just come out so get on over there and pick one up, but for now I won’t hold up Ms. Makepeace anymore. Let’s check out her list…

“HEY! After much thought, I realized I don't really like too many remakes! I could only come up with two!

Dawn of the Dead (2004)- I find this film more enjoyable than the original. Not to downplay the importance of Romero's creation... send all hate mail to christine@paracinema.net

The Hills Have Eyes (2006)- Both films are SUPER successful, but this remake was shockingly good (and faithful).

Whatddaya know! One of those picks is on the list, and one is the film I talked about today. I can’t thank you enough for taking part Christine, and I can’t wait until my copy of Paracinema arrives in the mailbox. That wraps it up today for The Halloween Top 13: The Remake. Tomorrow, things start to get a little more serious as the top ten picks start rolling.

3 comments:

  1. Definitely agree on this one. I grew up with the original, and while I do think the story itself has a lot of merit, it was easily a film that could be tweaked a bit for new audiences. I love the nuclear testing ground angle too, with the mock-town and sort of underlying questions of what caused these mutants. Only thing I miss: the line my boyfriend always quotes whenever I don't want to eat something he made: "You too good to eat dog, girlie?"

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  2. jervaise brooke hamsterOctober 23, 2010 at 5:50 AM

    I wonder if the British film industry will ever produce anything that is even 100th as entertaining as the remake of "The Hills Have Eyes"?...er...i very much doubt it !!!.

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  3. The opening 10 or 15 minutes of the 2004 DAWN is some of the finest zombie mayhem ever filmed.

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