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Bewildering Stories

Alexandre Aja, dir., The Hills Have Eyes

reviewed by Christopher Stires

Director: Alexandre Aja
Writers: Alexandre Aja, Gregory Levasseur
Based on the 1977 screenplay by Wes Craven
Distributor: Fox Searchlight, 2006
Length: 107 mins.
Starring: Aaron Stanford, Emilie de Ravin, Dan Byrd

The lucky ones die first

Horror films have been remade and serialized more than any other genre in Hollywood. Sometimes the story is re-imagined, sometimes updated with new technology and bigger budgets. Sometimes the remake is as good or better than the original source material (The Thing, The Fly). Sometimes the remake is dreadful (Psycho, Planet of the Apes).

The Hills Have Eyes is a remake of the Wes Craven cult fave of the city-folks-in-the-backwoods horror sub-genre. Craven is the producer of this remake so it has his blessing. The plot is a family (dad, mom, three siblings, one son-in-law, one baby granddaughter, and two German Shepherd pets) takes a cross-country road trip to San Diego.

As they travel through the New Mexico badlands, they take a dirt road that will supposedly save them several hours of driving time. They are waylaid on this road by a mutant cannibalistic clan that has attacked travelers for over five decades. Y’see, the bad people are the descendants of the mining families who didn’t leave the area when the Army said to when some A-bombs were tested there back in the late Forties and Fifties.

Three Rules for a Road Trip:

  1. Never stop at gas stations that look like they were rundown shacks when they were first built.
  2. Never take side roads that are recommended by guys with fewer teeth than you have fingers on one hand and aren’t on the map.
  3. Never follow a dog when it takes off chasing something into the desolate wastelands.

On the plus side, Hills has a solid, these-are-the-stakes opening; good and not intrusive background info on how the clan became what it is; some cool visuals of the testing ground aftermath; some genuine scares (for me, it was when the sisters were attacked in the trailer one part was really, really creepy and you’ll know it when you see it); and it accomplishes what it sets out to do.

On the minus side, however, the storyline wasn’t cutting edge back in the late Seventies coming after Deliverance and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Today, it has an even more been-there-seen-that feel. The good family needed more character to them before the body countdown started. (I really do want to care if the characters survive or not.) I didn’t believe that the dad, played by Ted Levine (The Silence of the Lambs, TV’s Monk), who is a retired police detective, a professional with firearms, would just start blasting away at sounds in the dark or that the wuss son-in-law, played by Stanford (X-2, Spartan) would change into a tough-as-nails rescuer. I know he was on a mission, but I never believed that he would’ve gotten up after the first beating.

I did learn two things in this film. The first was that bloodthirsty cannibal mutants turn into Sloth from The Goonies at the sight of a baby. And the second was that if you kill a dog and it has a mate, that mate will turn Charlie Bronson on you and hunt your miserable butt down along with the rest of your clan.

Trivia: The movie was inspired by the true story of the Sawney Bean family who in 15th-Century Scotland murdered and cannibalized travelers going to and coming from Edinburgh. After one victim escaped, they were captured by the King’s soldiers and burned at the stake without trial. There are no accurate records, of course, but criminal historians estimate that there may have been as many as 1500 victims of the Bean family.

Copyright © 2007 by Christopher Stires

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