The Hills Have Eyes, 2006.
Directed by Alexandre Aja.
Starring Aaron Stanford, Kathleen Quinlan, Vinessa Shaw, Emilie de Ravin, Dan Byrd, Tom Bower, Ted Levine, Billy Drago, and Laura Ortiz.
After breaking down while driving through a barren stretch of desert, a family find themselves fighting for survival against a family of mutant cannibals.
Earlier this month, we looked at Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, a violent and thrilling cult favourite in which a family battled to survive against a gang of mountain-dwelling cannibals. Several decades later, Craven’s film was given the remake treatment courtesy of French director Alexandre Aja. And while one might expect a terrible watered-down retread, as is sometimes the case with remakes, what we get instead is a much more visceral experience that is among one of the better horror remakes out there. So join us as we find ourselves once again taking a look at The Hills Have Eyes.
The story of the Hills remake follows the same beats of Craven’s original with a handful of minor tweaks. Again, we follow the Carter family as they travel through the desert on a road trip. Again, something goes horribly wrong, and they find themselves at the mercy of the cannibalistic Jupiter clan led by the fearsome Papa and once more, bloody mayhem ensues as the two families battle each other to the death. In short, if you’ve seen the original film, then you probably won’t expect much new in this remake.
However, that’s not to say there isn’t anything new to find in this trip to the hills. The biggest and, in my view, best change comes in the depiction of the Jupiter clan. Whereas in the original, they were inbred desert cannibals spawned from a fearsome giant, this time around, the Jupiter’s are nightmarish mine dwelling mutants. Their horrific deformed appearances caused by decades of inbreeding and exposure to radiation from atomic bomb tests conducted in their home. This new change is teased throughout the brilliant opening credits, a montage of archive footage of bomb tests blasting cars, trees and houses to smithereens with brief flashes of the mutated horrors the radiation inflicts on the human survivors. The images of deformity and mushroom clouded destruction are given a darkly humorous edge by the almost joyous tune of the song More and More by country singer Webb Pierce.
The make-up effects by the artists of KNB Efex Group are grotesquely brilliant. The appearances of the mutated Jupiter clan being a nightmarish mixture of malformed lips, scaly skin, disfigured puss-filled eyes and, as in one case, an engorged swollen skull that renders one mutant as a rasping grinning cripple. The change in approach to the material extends to its depiction of violence, with co-writer/director Alexandre Aja opting for a much more vicious approach than was taken in the original. We have moments of fingers being sliced off, skulls being caved in with axes, necks being stabbed with the obligatory blood gushing, and eyes being gouged with the back end of an axe, among many grisly blood-soaked sights befitting of a director of the New French Extremity movement. However, sometimes Aja, in what feels like an attempt to “one-up” the original, can go a step too far. This is none more apparent than in a deeply disturbing rape scene. A moment which mainly occurred off-screen in the original, but this time around is partly shown before being followed up with a further instance of sexual assault that is frankly unnecessary.
There is much more action this time around, particularly as nerdy son-in-law Doug (Aaron Stanford), as in the original, emerges as the surprise hero of the film as he valiantly charges up hills against the mutants. A favourite set piece of mine comes when Doug goes toe to toe with Pluto, a hulking deformed brute who throws our hero through windows and walls like a rag doll before meeting the sharp end of a flag pole. The rapid editing and shaky camera managing to create a frantic fight to the death that manages to be intense while still being coherent.
What holds the remake back somewhat is that it follows the original film perhaps a tad too closely, with some of the changes that are made, perhaps to its detriment. One disappointing difference from before is in the depiction of the Jupiter clan, who were at least given a bit of character development in the original, but are reduced here into one note psychopaths with little personality outside of their gruesome appearances.
The depiction of the Jupiter clan is also where the remake commits what might be its most unforgivable sin. Casting terrifying character actor Billy Drago (who you’ll recognise from all kinds of films and nightmares) as Papa Jupiter and then barely using him aside from a handful of short scenes. It’s a tragic waste of talents of one of the most sinister cinematic bastards of all time (although I’m sure he was, in reality, a perfectly nice man) in a role that seemed tailor-made for him. Although, with what little screen time he does have, Drago makes the most of it, such as when we finally get a good look at him, feasting upon the organs of a victim like a rabid animal.
While I might seem like I disliked the remake due to its similarities to Craven’s original and for its changes, the reality is far from it. If anything, I can’t decide whether I prefer it over the original or not. While not bringing too much new to the table and perhaps following the original a bit too closely, Alexandre Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes is still an enjoyable and much more brutal atomic tinged retread that is arguably among the best of horror remakes.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★