THE HILLS HAVE EYES
Directed by Alexandre Aja
Produced by Wes Craven, Marianne Maddalena, Peter Locke
Written by Alexandra Aja & Gregory Levasseur
Director of Photograpy Maxime Alexandre
Music by TomandAndy
Cast: Ted Levine, Kathleen Quinlan, Emile de Ravin, Aaron Stanford, Dan Byrd
2006/108 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
2.35:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment DVD
When I first met my wife, she was the kind of person who appreciated a good horror film, but wouldn't necessarily go out of her way to see one. After many years together, she's gotten very used to scary movies being a regular part of our viewing routine. Still, she's not a fan of overly violent films and when we watched HOSTEL recently, I warned her that the film was reportedly very intense. She didn't find the film to be intense or gory at all. So, when we were about to watch the remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES, I gave her a similar warning, saying that I'd read several reviews which commented on the brutality in the film. She noted that since HOSTEL didn't bother her, that she wasn't afraid. When the film was over, she stated, "That's the movie that HOSTEL wanted to be."
THE HILLS HAVE EYES tells the story of the Carter Family, who are traveling cross-country to San Diego for a vacation. "Big" Bob Carter (Ted Levine), has recently retired from the police force, and he's accompanied on the trip by his wife, Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan), and their three children, Lynn (Vinessa Shaw), Brenda (Emilie de Ravin), and Bobby (Dan Byrd), as well as Lynn's husband, Doug (Aaron Stanford), and their baby Catherine (Maisie Camilleri Preziosi). Also in tow are the family's dog, Beauty and Beast. The family stops for gas in the wastelands of the New Mexico desert and are given directions to a shortcut by the station attendant (Tom Bower).
Once on the shortcut, the Carter's car wrecks, breaking the axle. Stranded in the middle of the desert, the family struggles to deal with the situation, and attempts to formulate a plan of how to get help. However, things become much worse when the family is attacked by a group of mutated humans who live in the nearby hills. This normal urban family will soon find themselves locked in a struggle for survival against a group of cannibalistic savages.
The idea of a group of weary travelers finding themselves stranded in an old, dark house has existed in horror literature and films for years. In 1974, Tobe Hooper took that idea to a new place as he traded the familiar gothic setting of these stories for a desolate rural backdrop in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Three years later, writer/director Wes Craven, who had already explored suburban paranoia to an extent with his LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, took the house out of the equation all together with THE HILLS HAVE EYES. The idea of being out in the open, totally exposed, while a group of maniacs attacks the family was disturbing enough. The film earned its notoriety by portraying the lengths that the urban family would go to in order to survive.
With their 2006 remake of the film, HIGH TENSION creators Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur have taken the premise of the original film and simply beefed it up. Instead of making major changes, director/co-writer Aja has made the most of his $14 million budget (compared to the estimated $230,000 available for the original film). As opposed to something like the remake of PSYCHO, which was a shot-for-shot re-creation, THE HILLS HAVE EYES has only made minor changes in the original story but has made everything much bigger. The stunts, sets, and special effects are much grander and instead of simply making a flashier movie, they make a movie which looks great but doesn't have a "studio" feel.
As noted above, the basic story hasn't changed much from the original and the first 2/3 of the film plays very closely to the 1977 version. However, Aja has chosen to emphasize one aspect of the story which was only hinted at in the original. There is no doubt here that the mutants are individuals (and their descendents) who lived on the nuclear testing ranges in New Mexico when weapons were tested there in the middle of the 20th Century. The final act of the film introduces some ideas which weren't in the original and they work quite well. A setting is used that is both fascinating and creepy. The nuclear is really driven home and instead of getting "odd" looking characters, the maniacs in this movie are clearly deformed and FX makeup by Nicotero and Berger is genuinely disturbing at times.
While this appearance of there characters adds a new dimension to the film, it was doubtful that Aja and co. could match the sheer brutality of the original film. The fact that they come close may be one of the most surprising facets of THE HILLS HAVE EYES and the primary reason to see it. On the original film, Craven had little more than his actors and his imagination, so he went for broke creating some shockingly violent scenes. Some of these scenes are re-created on the remake, while new ideas are brought into the third act. The build-up to the first attack is done quite well (especially if you've seen the original and know what's coming) and when the violence does begin, Aja doesn't pull any punches. The images of rape, stabbings, burning, and gunshots are all shown in realistic detail and the camera rarely pulls away from the suffering. As in the original film, the baby is placed in peril, but surprisingly, to an even greater extent. I don't know, maybe it's because Aja is foreign, but this film truly feels different (again, for a studio film) and it definitely pushes the envelope.
THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006) is quite similar to DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004) in that they are good examples of how to remake a low-budget classic. Instead of trying to re-invent the story or worse, make something totally unrelated, simply take the initial idea and make it a little broader. I can't say that the new THE HILLS HAVE EYES is better than the original (there's something about the shoe-string budget moxie of that film which is endearing), but it's certainly one of the most brutal and shocking Hollywood films that I've seen in years. Those of you who complain about the recent onslaught of PG-13 horror films and the watering-down of scary movies should truly appreciate the gore on display in THE HILLS HAVE EYES. This movie is an exhausting thrill-ride and maybe it will convince some American filmmakers that the time is nigh to make horror movies horrifying again.
THE HILLS HAVE EYES crashes onto DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing little grain and no defects from the source material. The absence of grain is notable for over 1/2 of the film takes place in the bright desert sun. When the sun goes down, the action is still visible. (Anyone who's seen the original film can tell you that one of that movie's biggest problems is the darkness of the nighttime scenes.) Given the barren landscape of the movie, much of the film is devoid of bright colors, however the blood is very red and contrasts well with the brown hues of the film. Artifacting is negligible, although I did see some haloes at times. The DVD carries a rather nice Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. The dialogue is clear and audible and there's no distortion on the track. The stereo effects are good, while the surround sound and subwoofer effects are quite effective. The bass response adds power to the scenes of violence and the surround channels are used to reflect the fact that the mutants could be anywhere.
The DVD carries a nice mix of extras. We start with an Audio Commentary from co-writer/director Alexandre Aja, co-writer/art director Gregory Levasseur, and producer Marianne Maddalena. This trio gives in-depth information about the shooting of the film, which was done, surprisingly, in Morocco. Aja and Levasseur also give details about why they wanted to remake the film and where their new ideas came from. Unfortunately, (Sorry, Arc!) Aja and Levasseur are difficult to understand at times. A second commentary has producers Wes Craven and Peter Locke. This is an odd commentary as Craven wasn't on the set, so he doesn't have much to say about the film's production -- this is left to Locke. Also, Craven doesn't have that much to say about his feelings over having the film remade. "Surviving the Hills: Making of THE HILLS HAVE EYES" is a 50-minute featurette which is quite in-depth. Through interviews and tons of behind-the-scenes footage, the featurette explores location scouting, set design, special effects makeup, stunts, animals, children, CGI FX, and musical score. "Production Diaries" features 7 vignettes of on-set behind-the-scenes video portraying many aspects of the production. The final extra is a Music Video for the song "Leave the Broken Hearts" by The Finalist.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2006. ©
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