THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006)
(This is it for the old Cinema Knife Fights – this is the last column we did for the old HELLNOTES newsletter, and marks the fact that all of our previous CKF columns are now posted on this site – the HELLNOTES ones and the ones we did for FEAR ZONE. But don’t worry – we’ve got plenty of other things in the pipeline, as next week we introduce lots of new material, and some other surprises. So keep checking in daily – we haven’t run out of material. Not by a long shot~LLS).
CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006)
by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares
(MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are stranded in the middle of the desert; their Winnebago has a flat tire. Behind them, having emerged from the desert hills, stand hundreds of malformed MUTANTS, holding knives and forks and all singing “We Are The World.”)
MA: Aah, we’re just one big happy family here!
This month’s movie, THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006), is a remake of the 1977 Wes Craven film of the same name, a film I know you’re a big fan of, L.L. Myself, I was never really into it.
It’s the story of a family making a cross-country trip, who get stranded in the desert and are preyed upon by vicious cannibalistic mutants. The mutants are the result of atomic testing in the desert in the 1950s. And that’s it in a nutshell. If you’re into seeing nice people terrorized, beaten, and eaten by deformed people, then THE HILLS HAVE EYES is your cup of tea.
It’s not mine.
It’s not necessarily a problem of blood and gore. I’m okay with that. It’s the subject, the plot. Watching a family brutally terrorized for 90 minutes for no other reason that I can see, other than the whim of the filmmaker, is not my idea of entertainment.
So I can’t recommend THE HILLS HAVE EYES, but I’m sure you loved it. So, take it away.
LS: (Looks around and waves ) Lookit all them muties! Looks like an Arruda family reunion!
MA: Hey, don’t insult my family! (surrounded by various monsters, vampires, aliens, and a giant pink starfish all wearing “Arruda” T-shirts.)
LS: Y’know, the whole time I was watching this movie, I couldn’t help laughing, thinking of what your reaction would be to certain scenes. That was enjoyable in itself.
MA: Glad I could brighten your day, Bud.
LS: Yeah, HILLS is a remake of Craven’s 70s classic. This time around, the movie is directed by Alexandre Aja, whose last film, HAUTE TENSION (HIGH TENSION to American audiences, from 2003), was a mixed bag. It was derivative as hell, which annoyed me, but it was also very well made and atmospheric. While I didn’t love HIGH TENSION, I could tell that Aja was a director to watch, and since he seems to be short on original ideas, he’s the perfect guy to direct a remake. And he really excelled this time around; his version of HILLS is a great movie.
MA: If you’re a sadist.
UGLY MUTANT (Pops up with white lips): Got Milk?
LS: I was amazed how similar the two versions of HILLS are. There are whole scenes that are exactly the same. The one big change is that, instead of being a group of feral people living in the desert, who are clearly human, the villains in the new movie are twisted and disfigured mutations. While this does ratchet up the scares, it does take away any vestiges of humanity the villains had in the original film. In Craven’s version, the bad guys had distinct personalities. Here, the monsters are more interchangeable, but also more formidable.
However, the mutant angle sets up a great scene mid-way into the movie where the hero by default, Doug, comes upon a strange little model town, full of mannequins. This whole section wasn’t in the original film and it’s a fascinating addition. Doug’s run-in there with a man with a humungous head, who can’t move, is especially surreal. Aja knows how to create atmosphere and there is a real sense of desperation that permeates the film.
HILLS is a family feud, with a modern family vs. the savage mutants who want to eat them. The movie plays upon one of my favorite themes, the fine line between “civilized” society and our animal natures. In order to fight the mutants, the civilized family has to stoop to their level. There is one scene where a bloodied Doug picks up his cracked glasses and puts them on, which reminded me a lot of Dustin Hoffman in director Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 classic, STRAW DOGS, another movie about a civilized man forced to deal with savagery head on.
I have to admit, I liked this remake even better than the original - something that almost never happens. Aja knows what he’s doing here. Where most remakes jettison what was good about the original film, his film keeps the good stuff from Craven’s version and builds on it.
Aaron Stanford as Doug does a fine job as the unlikely hero of the film. The only other recognizable faces I saw were Kathleen Quinlan as the mother and Emelie de Ravin (Claire from the TV show LOST) as the more rebellious daughter, Brenda .But the acting is good all around, and the make-up effects for the mutants are especially good.
This movie has a strong R rating for violence and doesn’t flinch on the violence and gore. It’s even more graphic than Craven’s original, where more is implied than shown.
(Winnebago blows up behind them with a loud roar.)
MA: Oooh! Fireworks! (Mutants all cheer!) You’re right. Aja does a good job with the suspense scenes. Technically, the film is fine. I also really liked the music score by “tomandandy” (Tom Hajdu and Andy Milburn). But it’s still a barbaric tale that is too offensive for my tastes.
And forgetting the fact that it is so offensive, it’s also unbelievable, when you come right down to it. Doug’s character, who I also liked, has more lives than James Bond and after a while begins to look like a bloodied Monty Python character (“I’m not dead, yet!”)
And any film where you’re rooting for the dog – that raises a red flag for me. Why am I rooting for the dog? Is it because the people are all dead?? Pretty much! The hills may have eyes, but they’re short on brains.
(MUTANTS stop singing.).
LS: Uh oh, now you went and done it.
MA: Not to worry. Okay, everybody, how about a round of ”Kumbaya?”
(Originally published in the HELLNOTES newsletter on March 23, 2006)
© Copyright 2006 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares