The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
Stars: Aaron Stanford, Dan Byrd, Vinessa Shaw, Kathleen Quinlan,
Ted Levine, Emilie de Ravin
Director: Alexandre Aja
Critic's rating: 7.5 out of 10
Review by Chuck O'Leary
If you're driving through the middle of the desert and a
seedy, half-witted gas-station attendant with no front teeth tells you how to
save a couple of hours by veering off the main road, you'd better stick to the
main road. That's the lesson learned too late by an ordinary American
family in The Hills Have Eyes, a surprisingly
very effective remake of Wes Craven's 1977 shocker of the same name.
Craven's original, which was quite brutal in its day, became
a cult hit on the drive-in circuit, and spawned a far-less successful sequel, The
Hills Have Eyes Part II (1985), that Craven also directed. The
original Hills, however, ranks with Red Eye
as one of Craven's best and most suspenseful efforts.
The remake increases the gore factor substantially courtesy of
Greg Nicotero's gruesome special effects, but thankfully director/co-writer
Alexandre Aja stays close to the original's blueprint and keeps the
suspense quotient high -- Aja previously showed some skill for
sustaining tension in his High Tension before that film
was completely ruined by a horrendous twist ending.
The basic plot and characters are the same, but the Hills
remake gives us a backstory (inspired by 1950s monster movies) that wasn't
provided in the original. The villains in Craven's Hills
were cannibals, but came across more as deranged inbreds similar to the ones in
Deliverance. The unusual-looking,
chrome-domed Michael Berryman, a patient in One Flew Over the
Cuckoo's Nest, portrayed one of the murderous inbreds and his
face was front and center on the film's poster and print display ads.
But little makeup was used.
The remake, conversely, piles the grotesque-looking makeup on
veteran character actors who specialize in heavies such as
Robert Joy and Billy Drago, making them severely-deformed mutants who got that
way as the result of radiation from nuclear testing the United States
government conducted in the New Mexico desert from 1945-1962. Apparently
the residents of a mining town in the middle of the desert refused to leave
their homes during the nuclear testing, resulting in horrific consequences for
their offspring. For decades, the deformed subsequent generations have
managed to secretly survive in a remote section of the desert by turning to
cannibalism, and killing any unfortunate soul who enters their territory.
The latest victims are the Carter's. Bob Carter (Ted Levine)
is a veteran police detective, so you'd think he'd be more world-wise than to
take a shortcut through the desert at the suggestion of the aforementioned
gas-station attendant (Tom Bower). Bob and his wife, Ethel (Kathleen
Quinlan), are celebrating their 25th anniversary and taking a long drive
to a vacation destination with their family.
Joining them are their three children, son Bobby (Dan Byrd),
who's about 20, teen-age daughter Brenda (Emilie de Raven) and oldest daughter,
Lynne (Vinessa Shaw), her husband, Doug (Aaron Stanford), and Lynne and
Doug's infant daughter. The Carter's two pet German Shepherds
are also present.
Patriarch Bob is a macho-type guy who's resentful of his bespectacled, mild-mannered
son-in-law. Doug is described as an anti-gun Democrat in a family of
Christians who seem to represent Republican Red-State America.
As in the original, it's the son-in-law who's forced to unleash an animalistic
side he never knew he had in order to save his child. However, in the
post-9/11 world, Doug's transformation can be taken as a metaphor with how
America and the civilized West must reduce itself to becoming like
animals to successfully fight a vicious, animalistic enemy that knows
no rules or mercy. Pacifistic politicians of the Ted Kennedy, Howard Dean
ilk could afford to learn something from Doug's battle for survival and
apply it to their approach to the war on terror.
Set in New Mexico, but filmed in Morocco, Aja's version of The
Hills Have Eyes benefits from Maxime Alexandre's rich desert
cinematography and a tension-enhancing musical score by tomandandy. On
the downside, there are a couple of big lapses in logic near the end, and
I could have done without the obligatory ending that hints at a sequel when the
more ambiguous way the original ended was so effective. But despite
these shortcomings, this is the most satisfying horror remake since
Marcus Nispel's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), and like
that film, it fills in some blanks the previous film did not.
The graphic violence and gore in the new Hills
pushes the R rating to its limits, but unlike a quasi-snuff film like The
Devil's Rejects, which
offensively took the side of three homicidal maniacs, Hills
is clearly on the side of the victimized family, and makes us cheer their
revenge. For those who can stomach such a film, it delivers a bloody