The Hills Have Eyes

Cast:
Aaron Stanford as Doug Bukowski
Kathleen Quinlan as Ethel Carter
Vinessa Shaw as Lynne Bukowski
Emilie de Ravin as Brenda Carter
Dan Byrd as Bobby Carter
Robert Joy as Lizard
Ted Levine as Bob Carter
Desmond Askew as Big Brain
Ezra Buzzington as Goggle
Maisie Camilleri Preziosi as Baby Catherine
Billy Drago as Jupiter
Laura Ortiz as Ruby
Michael Bailey Smith as Pluto

Directed by Alexandre Aja

Summary:
As grim, grisly and gratuitous as the original movie, this remake serves about as little purpose.

Story:
A family traveling through the Nevada desert are sent on a short-cut that puts them into the path of a deadly group of killer mutants, who have been preying on innocent travelers for years.

Analysis:
In the current Hollywood mindset where remaking older movies, regardless of their quality, is easier than finding new ideas, it made perfect sense for French goremeister Alexandre Aja, the man behind last year’s “High Tension,” to direct a remake of Wes Craven’s early low-budget horror flick which helped define the trend of gory films entering the mainstream. Craven’s original movie is mostly forgettable with a simple premise that has been turned into a horror genre cliché in the near thirty years since—stupid tourists end up in the wrong place and get slaughtered for their mistake–but the remake does try to expand on Craven’s original idea a bit.

After an opening scene with scientists in Hazmat suits at a nuclear testing site being attacked and dragged away by a large character with a pickaxe, the title sequence briefly explains the origins of the movie’s predators with a montage of nuclear bombs and pictures of mutated babies. Years later, an extended family is traveling through the same desert and they’re advised by a creepy old gas attendant of a shortcut through the hills. Their tires blow out leaving their trailer stranded, and the men walk off to try to find replacements, leaving the women alone with the younger teen son Bobby.

Considering how long it’s been since I saw the original, it’s hard to determine how much has been retained—Bobby’s journey into the hills looking for his missing dogs and the initial attack on the trailer and the scene seemed similar—but the remake veers closer to the formula used for other recent horror remakes like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Dawn of the Dead,” combining modern camerawork and editing with old-fashioned gore.

Of course, with a bigger budget than “High Tension” and the original “Hills Have Eyes,” Aja has a field day with the latter part of the equation, but most of us have already become so desensitized by the type of violence that pervades this film that the gore doesn’t do very much. There isn’t anything particularly scary or shocking compared to the original movie, which was far more effective, and most of the worst atrocities seem to be done purely for the sake of atrocity, rather than doing much for the story.

The trailer attack and rape is even more graphic and excruciating to watch than the original, but it’s to be expected from the director responsible for the misogynism of “High Tension”. The women in the movie are treated merely as fodder for the mutants’ sexual appetites, leaving it up to Aaron Stanford’s Doug to go Rambo on the mutants after they kill his wife and steal their baby. He travels deep into mutant territory trying to save the baby, encountering a variety of strange characters that bare only a passing resemblance to human.

Although the gore is respectable, the actual make-up used for the mutants is pretty bad, making some of them look like a cross between a Resident Evil creature and Sloth from “The Goonies”. (There’s even a mutant that looks a bit like “Devil’s Reject” director Rob Zombie, which one would presume was meant as an inside joke.) Still, most of these poor souls look like the odd Southerners from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake, which makes it that much more apparent where Aja’s influences lie.

The writing isn’t particularly good and for the most part, the movie is pretty boring since it takes so long for things to get going again after the opening scene. The barren desert setting leaves it up to the actors to keep things interesting, but the only one even remotely up to the challenge is Ted Levine as the family’s tough paternal figure. Since the family does very little except argue with each other, there isn’t much to make us care what happens to them, so there’s very little real tension when they’re brutally attacked. Heck, the relationship between the Bobby and his sister Brenda, who acts as if she’s on spring break in Cancun, is probably creepier than anything the mutants might get up to. At least, Stanford uses his character to get away from the usual troubled teen character he has played so much in the past, and he comes close to saving the last half hour of the movie once he takes the fight back to the mutants.

Of course, the mutants have a traitor in their midst as a young mutant girl secretly harbors a crush for Bobby, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that she’ll ultimately turn on her own family and help their current victims escape as the film is fairly predictable even if you haven’t seen the original. Unfortunately, we never really learn what motivates the mutants to attack and kill interlopers, but to go that far would probably require far more thought than a movie like this deserves.

The Bottom Line:
Horror buffs might appreciate Aja’s remake of Craven’s lesser work for the relentless series of gory showpieces, but the premise wasn’t strong enough to be memorable thirty years ago, and it certainly isn’t improved by this remake’s significantly larger budget. You would have to look long and hard to find anything even remotely justifiable in the existence of this remake, and frankly, it’s not really worth the effort.

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