Starring Aaron Stanford, Kathleen Quinlan, Vinessa Shaw, Emilie de Ravin
Directed by Alexandre Aja
Within the never ending barrage of studio remakes comes one on the horizon with actual promise: the remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. What makes this one special is the fact that Craven spearheaded the remake himself and has had his hands in the project from start to finish. He also smartlty enlisted a great director, Alexandre Aja, who recently kicked major horror ass with the film Haute Tension. So far, so good in my book.
The Hills Have Eyes isn’t one of Craven’s most well-known films and certainly not his best, but it still is a classic to the hardcore horror fans like myself. My guess is that most of you reading this review here know the original film quite well, but the average person or new school horror fan may look at the updated Hills as a rip-off of 2003’s Wrong Turn, which is very unfortunate. There are quite a few similarities between the two, and if it weren’t for the original Hills, there would’ve been no Wrong Turn.
The festivities kick into high gear with what I thought was one of the coolest and most intense deaths in the film. The opening is so strong that it can’t be topped; the rest of the experience doesn’t kick you in the ass quite like it does. Don’t get me wrong. There’s more violence and gore but nothing quite as brutal as the first five minutes. So out of the gates they raise the bar pretty high, and although they come really close, it just doesn’t quite get back up there.
This time around there is more explanation as to why these hill people are mutated, which has to do with a small town of miners and their families not letting the government push them out of their homes so their land could be used for nuclear testing. Hell no, they won’t go! Instead, they hide down in the mine shafts, giving the finger to Uncle Sam, and from the fallout become flesh eating mutants. These mutants are in cahoots with the local gas station owner on the main highway, who leads unfortunate travelers toward a “short cut” down a dirt road that doesn’t appear on any maps.
The most recent potential victims consist of a middle-aged detective, his wife, their teenage son, two daughters, the older daughter’s husband, and their infant child. As they travel down the dirt road, they hit a string of spikes that blow out their tires and make them crash their vehicle. Of course now they’re way out of range to get any cell phone reception. The father, played by Ted “Buffalo Bill” Levine, decides to leave the family and walk back to the service station while his son-in-law (Stanford) heads off in the opposite direction to see what lies ahead. This leaves the women and teenage boy alone to fend for themselves. Things don’t go well for the Carter family.
There are some nice new touches in this version that are absent from the original such as the nuclear testing back story, evidence of various previous victims’ belongings and vehicles, and the small town that these people tried to fight for is also used, which adds another element to the film.
The special make-up effects by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger were top-notch as always; however, I had an issue with some of the mutant designs. The design for the new Pluto just wasn’t scary at all. In fact, it looked so much like Chunk from The Goonies that I couldn’t help but laugh. I think they could have pushed the envelope a bit more in that aspect. I will say that there is one of the coolest axes I’ve seen in a horror film in a long time … that’s a prop I wouldn’t mind owning. Berger and Nicotero definitely got messy during the making of this film because the gore score is pretty high and they got away with a lot of the red stuff for an R-rated cut (an unrated edition is, of course, planned for the DVD).
Alexandre Aja’s direction was very good minus a few pacing issues, the acting was solid all around, and the screenwriting was great. My biggest gripe is that the filmmakers and studio seemed to ignore similar films that have come out in recent years, especially one that is from the very same studio and was a flop at the box office. I understand that there is this strange thing going on in Hollywood right now that if a film is a remake, people just seem to turn out in crazy numbers whether the original was good or not, so if this trend continues they should be in good shape.
Overall, I have to say this updated version of the Hills Have Eyes is superior to the original. That in itself is a major achievement that can only be said about a small handful of remakes.
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