Starring Maxime Giffard, Michael Bailey Smith, Emilie de Ravin, Tom Bower, Ted Levine, Kathleen Quinlan, Robert Joy, Dan Bird, Aaron Stanford, Billy Drago, and Ezra Buzzington
Directed by Alexandre Aja
Distributed by Fox Home Entertainment
Here’s the interesting thing about remakes: We all know that most of them end up sucking like a Hoover vacuum, but there are a few that do work. The Thing (begin needless argument about this not being a remake now), The Blob, The Fly, hell, even the Dawn of the Dead remake all have one thing in common – they were good. What was it about them that delighted fans of the original? I have a pretty good idea; they each brought something new to the table instead of just pointlessly rehashing past glory. Take the Dawn remake. Let’s face it, stepping into Romero’s shoes? No easy task. Yet, Dawn didn’t try to. Instead of taking a stab at outdoing its source material, it and the other abovementioned films just took what we liked about the original works and either gave us more or paid homage to the original by taking a similar yet somewhat different route. Alexandre Aja’s version of the Wes Craven classic The Hills Have Eyes does all that and then some.
Unless you’re young, new to the genre, or have been living under a rock the past couple of decades, you know the story quite well. While on vacation a family takes one hell of a wrong turn through the desert and ends up being fodder for a family-like group of deformed mutants who prowl the hills and the roads like big game hunters stalking their prey. Simple, to the point, and terrifying.
America is a vast place. There are some roads that just are not meant to be traveled down. People disappear throughout the country every day at an alarming rate. To think that something like the aforementioned events couldn’t or don’t happen would be really ignorant. That’s part of what makes Hills as frightening as it is; while the story is grisly, it never leaves the realm of absolute and final reality. Instead of supernatural beings, CGI monsters, or accidentally stumbled upon mythic lands, our protagonists are forced to deal with the natural elements of the desert and a band of people who are about as reasonable as a school of piranha.
The original Hills was all about the family unit, both mutant and ordinary. Unfortunately, that premise is where the remake comes up on the short side. Craven’s Hills played more like a deranged version of the Hatfield and McCoy hillbilly feud. It was family vs. family in a fight for survival. The original ordinary family was kind, loving, and warm. In this retelling the folks in question are about as dysfunctional as possible. As a result viewers will probably find themselves disliking these players for most of the first act. Even though there is a lot of moral drama going on, it’s hard to get behind them as characters we can care about. I wanted to see some of them die, and much to the delight of my splatter-loving heart, most of them did ever so gruesomely. In the end, the only characters left standing are predictably the ones that end up being on the likable side of the fence.
Then there’s my bigger problem: the mutants themselves. Don’t get me wrong, they’re as ugly and savage as you could ever hope that they would be; they’re just not given much to do but show up every so often, say boo, and shed blood. There is no family dynamic or hierarchy to be found within their unit at all. In the original Hills there were moments where the audience could almost sympathize with these creatures. Here, it’s all played for straight horror thrills. They’re hideous, and they want to kill. That’s about as much dimension as these characters have. A bit of a missed opportunity if you ask me.
Now let’s get down to brass tacks. The main reason you’re reading this review is because of one word on the DVD’s cover: Unrated. It’s been said that almost eight minutes were cut from Hills to secure an R rating for the film. Honestly, I sure as hell didn’t see eight minutes worth of added footage. About two minutes are back, and they are brutal. There’s no extra added exposition, just more violence. I’m not just talking added gore either. We get that coupled with some really mean-spirited torture. This version of The Hills Have Eyes is likely to be one of the most sadistic films to come along in quite some time. It’s great to see it as it was meant to be seen. Thank god for DVD!
Speaking of which, let’s dig into the extras. First up we get two commentaries. The first features director Aja along with writer Gregory Levassuer and producer Marianne Maddalena. This was a great and engaging audio track. Aja and crew not only display a lot of energy for their film but a genuine affection for the source material. Be warned; Aja and Levassuer’s accents can at times be pretty thick, but after a while you get used to it. It’s easy to describe this commentary as “informative and fun,” but the same cannot be said for the second, which features producers Peter Locke and Wes Craven. They each come off as, for lack of a better term, uninterested. There was a lot of opportunity for Wes to talk about this film in comparison to his own, and most of it is missed. You can’t help but feel as if they were recording their commentary completely out of obligation. I guess they had a plane to catch because as soon as the end credits begin to roll, they are out of there.
Also included is a nearly hour-long featurette titled Surviving the Hills, which gives the viewer a pretty good grasp on where everyone involved wanted to go with this film. While not everything is covered, we do get some good looks at the F/X and certain key sequences of the movie. Nothing groundbreaking, but totally competent. From there we’re treated to about eleven minutes of behind-the-scenes stuff arranged into truly mini video production diaries, and speaking of obligatory – a music video. It’s a fairly standard package as far as supplements go, but the extras are not what’s going to bring you to the table. You’ll be investing in this package to see the violent goodies, and in that respect this DVD delivers!
All in all, this is a very welcome return to the Hills. Will we get a sequel? Maybe. Let’s just hope it’s better than the one Craven himself made back in 1985. You remember the one: It had about a half an hour of original footage and a ton of flashbacks. Even the damned dog had a flashback! I shudder to think.
Audio commentary with director Alexandre Aja, co-screenwriter Gregory Levassuer, and producer Marianne Maddalena
Audio commentary with producers Peter Locke and Wes Craven
Surviving the Hills making-of featurette
4 out of 5