When news broke out Craven was producing a remake (yes, another fucking remake) to his classic “The Hills Have Eyes” I groaned. I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of the original film that’s still branded a classic. I saw it twice and it just didn’t resonate with me. The cannibals looked like cavemen/WWE wrestlers, the acting was horrible, the plot dragged, and I just wasn’t satisfied. While I can and do appreciate its importance in horror (hence the collective groan after the remake news) I just didn’t care for it. I was weary of this remake since about 95 percent of modern horror remakes are terrible (i.e. House of Wax, TCM), but two words instantly turned me in to someone really anxious to watch this. Alexandre Aja.
The remake to “The Hills Have Eyes” (Wes Craven who has his hand firmly placed in the cookie jar as producer) still isn’t a perfect film, but for what it gives us in its ninety minute run time, is a true definition of a horror movie. Aja knows how to make a horror movie that’s realistic, bold, and provides all the bloodhounds with a satisfactory amount of gore. This remake of “Hills” is superior not only because it provides us with the amount of violence that’s been missing from horror for years, but basically because it has more focus on the survival aspects. There’s more tension, more urgency, more dread, and less camp. Aja’s new film has a sort of eeriness to it from the very beginning as we’re introduced to this family taking a crossroad journey for their vacation (you know how the usual story goes).
2006’s “Hills” presents the usual nihilism Aja has become known for, along with the gritty dirty atmosphere that looms around this family seeking an exit and ultimately fighting for their lives. But not before the opening credits roll with banjo music playing in front of a montage of birth defects, and nuclear explosions. The story of “Hills” derives from the true story of serial killer Sawney Bean who took refuge in deserted seaside caves where he and his wife had many children, and they had children of their own creating a large clan of inbred savages. But Craven and Aja’s vision of that story is much more visionary and takes liberties that enhance the source material. Aja plays it slick by concealing the monsters stalking the family within this nuclear wasteland and keeps them hidden in the shadows until the invasion scene which is much more frightening this time than what was depicted in the original.
Aja’s remake is about ninety-five percent close to the original with more liberties taken. To devotees of the original that will anger them, but I say this only to let you know what you’re about to get in to. But there is a great cast here from Ted Levine, Kathleen Quinlan, Dan Byrd, and Aaron Stanford. Aja’s remake has a much better sense of urgency, and tension and the trailer sequence is utterly electric with much more chaos and confusion happening, and Aja does this with quick cuts, and a hell of a lot of screaming. Then that is when the heroes are sorted out, and Aaron Stanford’s yuppie character becomes the unofficial leader of the remaining family members. Staanford (who I’ve liked since “Tadpole”) gives the stand out performance as Doug, the man fighting for his daughter. You get the sense from the beginning of the film that though he’s a father he’s not completely close to his own wife and daughter, but when you see the beating and massive sacrifice he makes to get his child back, he becomes a hero.
Aja increases everything the original had from the energy, to the story, right down to the dogs who become more instrumental to the family’s survival. They become more like characters and less like plot devices when the film ends, and the creatures also become characters as well with rather gruesome make up. Robert Joy–who you may remember from “Land of the Dead”–is great as Lizard. Aja really takes these characters and revamps them to make them much more effective and it works. We believe these people are being terrorized, we believe these monsters could be human, and we believe there’s no possibility of survival. Aja actually saves what could have been another botched remake. I won’t lie, though. This version is about as subversive and groundbreaking as Britney Spears was to music.
Craven and Hooper basically invented the survivalist horror where cannibals are terrorizing hapless victims, and to many, even the ignorant movie goers, “Hills” remake won’t bring anything new to the table because we’ve seen this film be remade a thousand times (Wrong Turn, anyone?), and it doesn’t help that Aja doesn’t want to introduce any new devices to the story. The original was more of a metaphor of the traditional nuclear family (pardon the pun) being ravaged by these savages whom wanted to steal the baby because their dog killed one of their family members, while this is just people being maimed by monsters whom want to steal the baby to eat her. In the original they were humans whom were smarter than the victims and even planned and coordinated this assault that lost the lives of nearly the entire family while here they’re just monsters who storm in guerilla style and now have to face the survivors.
Any family who goes across country without taking a plane deserves to die first of all, and they tend to make many dumb moves. Taking a back road that could get them lost in the desert while they have a baby with them, and the script injects the cliché elements from the survivalist horror genre that we’ve seen a thousand times. Car graveyards, the seedy gas station attendant, newspaper clippings bringing clues to the killer, and as always, the ending signals “Sequel” which had me groaning and rolling my eyes. There’s going to be a sequel, it’s as plain as the nose on our face. The smartest move they made for remaking a horror film was hiring a director who knows how to make horror films. While all the other remakes hire commercial and music video directors, Aja is a horror director who knows how to make a horror film. “The Hills Have Eyes” is still not a perfect film, but it’s still superior to the original.