Monday, October 20, 2014

The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

Not every remake is subpar to the original and not every one of them is unneeded.  Every once and a while, you need to purge the memory of an older, poorly made film and see a refreshed look at it with a remake.  Now, I know, I’ve said, time and time again, that we should all boycott remakes and I still stand by that.  But when I cry foul, I’m usually referring to the films that are made solely for the studios to make money by remaking hits of yesteryear (or even of recent release) that don’t warrant it.

With the exception of John Carpenter’s Halloween, I feel that any horror film within the era of the 1970s should be okay to redo.  Most of them were of the grindhouse composition, where they were cruelly put together and pretty exploitive.  Thus, if Hollywood is rehashing one of those, I usually don’t care.  So when I had heard that a redux of The Hills Have Eyeswas on the block to be reimagined, I didn’t blink an eye.  Actually, after seeing the Wes Craven original a few years before this new version was released, I pretty much rejoiced when I’d heard about the new version.  I found the original to be a little overbearing in its brutality and just saw it as an all-around ugly film.

Sometimes I think I’m a bit biased because, I’ve got to admit, the 70s is not my favorite era for horror films.  I enjoy the action or sci-fi films of that time, even some of the dramas as well, but horror films in that decade were just not my cup o’ tea. 

With all that said, I can confess that I thought the original Hills had an interesting premise and a very good plot, but the presentation and direction was just too 70s, for lack of a better description.  So I was more than on board to see the 2006 retelling when it was released and I was planted firmly in the theater seat when the film opened in March of that year.

The film is about a family on a cross-country trip from Ohio to California, stopping for gas in some
desert town.  The service station attendant tells the family about a shortcut through the desert that’ll save them time, so they decide on taking it.  As they take the route, someone throws a spike belt across the road which punctures the tires of the family’s SUV and causes them to crash into a boulder, incapacitating the vehicle.  Soon, they realize they’re being watched by unknown assailants from the mountainous areas surrounding them…ready to attack…ready to kill.

Directed by Alexandre Aja, I definitely had liked the approach he took with this film and how he presented it.  The opening credits, in particular, was a nice way to start the story, as it gave us a narrative look as to what happened to the location where the story is going to take place.  The montage of atomic bomb testing along with photos of adults and children with apparent birth defects is both appalling and fascinating at the same time.  To top that mixture off, we hear an old country song, “More and More” by Webb Pierce, playing over the horrendous images we see.  And just as I had mentioned in my review ofWrong Turn, the same thing is done here by showing us what happens to anyone who intrudes in this desert area, giving us a terrifying scene as an introduction to this film.
The film boasts quite an ensemble for a film of this type.  With Ted Levine and Kathleen Quinlan playing the patriarch and matriarch of the family, along with some solid performances by the younger cast, the movie feels more believable and you really feel for them, especially when things go sour.  How they play out their parts, showing how they come to the decisions that they do, seems believable enough as I’d mentioned before that we’d all like to get to a place sooner than later, so taking a shortcut is something a lot of us would do.  

The makeup and special effects are done pretty well in this film, with one particular shot that had fooled me for a number of years until I found out recently that it was a digital effect.  It’s a scene where the son-in-law, Doug (Aaron Stanford), walks for a number of miles to see if he could find help and happens upon a huge crater in the desert filled with a bunch of abandoned vehicles.  It looks real enough, but it’s said that the far shot of the crater was digitally created for the film.  What gets me—and this is not a complaint, but more of an amusement—is in the same scene, as Doug is walking up, we see some sort of raptor—maybe a vulture or a buzzard—flying overhead.  Usually, when a bird is flying, its body rises up and down as the wings are flapping.  However, the bird in this film is shown to be flying in a straight line as the wings are flapping, so it’s obvious, right away, that the bird is a fake.  I just don’t understand how the digital artists can render a perfect-looking crater in the desert, but completely fumble a rendering of a simple bird in flight.  As for the makeup effects of the deformed and mutated characters, they’re very realistic with some of them being downright grotesque.  I almost thought they had actually hired people who really had these deformities until I looked up their bios.  Plus, watching the “making of” featurette on the disc, it explains how the makeup effects were applied to each actor and actress.  Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger held these duties and did a magnificent job.

Overall, this film gives the audience a sense of dread as soon as the main protagonists break down in the desert and is a surefire message to all of us to make certain we stay on the main roads and avoid shortcuts when travelling.

My final “bit” on The Hills Have Eyes?

I’d say this new version is an improved film compared to the original, with much better development of all the main characters.  The movie features better effects and an expanded look at the reasoning behind the antagonists, definitely surpassing its predecessor and should not be overlooked.  Enjoy it this scary season!

Thanks for reading a Happy Halloween!

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