Surprisingly, the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, while not a great film, really wasn't so bad, and managed to be pretty damned scary. That's saying a lot seeing as how the recent harvest of Horror Remakes have ranged from the mediocre to the absolutely bottom of the toilet terrible. However, aside from Emilie, sweet Emilie, I was heartened to watch the opening credit sequence and find that the film was directed by Alexandre Aja, and written by Aja with his High Tension Ami Grégory Levasseur. Who better than to adapt Wes Craven's original film?
On the downside, it's clear that while watching Wes' original The Hills Have Eyes, Alex and Greg were also watching a bunch of other horror flicks, not the least of which was that remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Yes, just like any number of recent unofficial remakes, The Hills Have Eyes gleefully adopts a lot of the whole inbred cannibalistic hicks preying on innocent families who dare cross their paths. In every one of these there's always a Gas Station that sends them on back to the Cannibal Hick Buffet. I was deeply disheartened to note that this film actually opens in that very gas station, meaning there was very little ambiguity surrounding what the hell was happening next. On the up side, that element was also found in Wes' original (to a different extent), and Craven (who produced this version of the film) has his early work written all over this film. Just like in a lot of Craven's first phase, here we get the plight of the good and upright family who is pushed just too far by the big bad nasties they come across and when they push back, the big bad nasties wish they hadn't ever been born to their mother-sister-aunts.
Here we get the Carter / Bukowski family, cutting through the New Mexico desert just close enough to the Government Nuclear Testing grounds to make the educated in the audience say "Yeah, right!" When the attendant of the aforementioned gas station sends our friendly folks on a "shortcut" to San Diego that forces one to go right through the middle of a bomb crater, we pretty well know this family is hillbilly chow.
What follows is pretty predictable, but is remarkably frightening at first. The Hills Have Eyes is at its most effective when we don't see the people running around. Maybe a hand or a shoe or something, but that's about it. During these moments, even when the shocks were cheap and stock I jumped out of my seat at least three times. However, this fades the second we first get a good look at the creeps and we see what goobers they all are. Man... These guys look like they were kicked out of the Raiding Party from The Road Warrior for poor hygiene. At that point I was like "Well, guess this isn't scary anymore!"
But to make this a movie, some of this large family has to get eaten, beaten or smashed. We start with "Big" Bob Carter (Ted Levine), his wife Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan), their children Bobby (Dan Byrd), Brenda (sweet, sweet Emilie de Ravin) and Lynn (Vinessa Shaw), along with Lynn's husband Doug Bukowski (Aaron Stanford) and their baby daughter Catherine (Maisie Camilleri Preziosi). We end up with... well, a lot less than that.
Part of this is because they're stupid, though. And I don't just mean taking an uncharted road through irradiated desert either. Here's an example. A character investigates strange voices to the left of their wrecked Airflow camper, then is summoned into the other direction by one of their own being burned alive on the right of the wrecked Airflow camper. Then, everyone is completely stunned to discover that the Airflow Camper has been invaded by the very inbred hicks that were being investigated to the left of the Airflow Camper. Well DUH! Another... while searching for help, an otherwise intelligent and seemingly educated character comes to a dead end in the road at which he finds a huge nuclear crater filled with the cars that the killers have pilfered and stolen from over the years. That characters response is somewhere along the lines of "Hmmm, this is interesting. I think I'll take a fishing pole for myself, a bear for my daughter... what else..." DUH! SOMEONE IS GOING TO EAT YOU, FOLKS!
But, I guess these nuclear irradiated hill people are used to stupid prey, if their graveyard of pilfered cars is anything to guess at. Still, even after this movie gets goof-ball and unintentionally funny on us, the frights manage to continue in various nauseating ways. And, yes, there is something oddly satisfying in seeing inbred cannibalistic side-show freaks get their comeuppance by the righteous left hand of Big Bob's family.
Yes, "Grand Guignol" is written all over this movie in a blood-red, gothic font, and those who like gory movies as much as they like do-it-yourself root canals should go see The Shaggy Dog instead. No, wait... don't do that either. There is a lot of shock for the sake of shock, some stunningly idiotic moments, and enough fake blood to make a butcher squeamish. But it's safe to admit that this film has been done before, and I'm not just talking about the original 1977 The Hills Have Eyes. Clichés abound here, such as the indestructible, yet unlikely hero, the deformed jackass in the wheelchair, and yes, the lumbering moron butcher who pops up in every fourth horror film since 1974! Still, there are some moments of decent acting, some commendable surprises (in that relative, grain-of-salt kind of way) and a lot of convincing effects. Unfortunately there is also a lot of shock-for-shock's sake, boogey men jumping out with a musical cue, and some truly corny ass lines. Worst of all, the ending feels like some arbitrary point in time no more or less satisfying for a credit roll than just about anywhere else. It doesn't make a whole cauldron of sense either, but man, Starship Troopers had a more final ending than this. What the hell, did Wes and his French Lackeys run out of scratch at the last minute, or were they this sure they could count on a remake of The Hills Have Eyes 2?
For those of you wondering how in the name of Sawney Bean they could have made this flick without the involvement of Michael Berryman, the answer is make-up, make-up, make-up... and the nastier the better. In his absence the only semi-bizarre-looking Robert Joy leads our group of squishy squatters as (ha ha) "Lizard" and brings along supporting pinheads like Michael Bailey Smith, Ezra Buzzington, Desmond Askew and Billy Drago, all of whom are only scary when they jump at the camera. But then, so would Ed Bradley be if he really put his mind to it. Laura Ortiz's Ruby is the one to watch in this cabal of corn as she has not only some of the more convincing make-up, but is called upon to do more multi-layered acting.
All in all The Hills Have Eyes (the remake) is a mostly effective scare-and-blood fest of a B-Movie that might be your cup of tea or your porcelain bowl of vomit depending on your tastes. I must give credit to the Writers, Producers and Director of The Hills Have Eyes for not trying to market this one as "Based on a True Story", which, by the way, technically it is. This bears about as much resemblance to actual events as... well, as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has to the story that inspired IT. Okay, slightly more, but they chose not to bother with that, and for that I salute their honesty. Three Stars out of Five for the effective, yet deeply flawed remake of The Hills Have Eyes. You know, in 1998 when my daughter and I drove in a Rider truck through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, primarily through the Desert, to join my wife in California we had so many bad things happen, we thought it couldn't have gotten worse. Now I see we shouldn't have complained. At least Emilie de Ravin wasn't with us. See you in the next bald, stupid, deformed reel, amigos!
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