Thursday, August 03, 2006

Film Notes: The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

Horror fans tend to love the horror films of the 70s; they were often brutal and uncompromising, scary and innovative. Since the best ones were made outside of the major studios by the sort of mavericks who were making a lot of movies in the 70s, they pushed the boundaries beyond all recognition. Films like 'The Brood' and 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' are still shocking even today, and rightfully considered classics.

So, when these films are remade, the originality factor goes right out the window. Even worse, remakes of films like Dawn of the Dead have tended to remove the subversive or satirical nuances, which modern audiences can't be expected to pick up on. And then they throw in hot MTV babes and a pounding soundtrack to update things. By the time they're done, you often forget why you liked the original film in the first place. Even when they're done well, as with the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, they're still remakes of movies that just aren't that old in the first place, and so don't gain much.

This is sort of the problem with The Hills Have Eyes: the film is very well-made, strong and uncompromising. But, we've seen this movie before, and frankly, it wasn't that good in the first place. The story is simple- a family headed across the country for vacation has their RV break down in the desert and has to fight for survival against mutants who live in the hills. The execution is what matters here, and Wes Craven did a fine job on the first go-round. His film was exciting and surprisingly brutal. Was it scary? Not for me it wasn't. This wasn't an atmosphere sort of film- more like a roadrunner cartoon with blood. So, it's worth seeing once, but why remake it?

According to director Alexandre Aja, the new version justifies its existence by making the mutants the result of US nuclear testing in the 1950s. I'm glad that he is continuing the 70s tradition of adding a dash of political commentary, although I actually suspect the real motivation was that nuclear mutants look cool and scary. Unfortunately, the movie still isn't scary otherwise. Sure it's still very violent and shocking. But, like most of the 70s horror survival films, the filmmakers don't seem as interested as scaring the audience as making them say 'Oh man, that is so messed up!' And yes it is, and I'm glad for that, but this wave of big studio horror remakes is starting to remind me of why those maverick filmmakers got sick of the studio system in the first place.

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