Review 8: The Hills Have Eyes (4/5)

The Hills Have Eyes (remake)

Directed by Alexandre Aja

Starring: Aaron Stanford, Emilie de Ravin, Dan Byrd, Vinessa Shaw, Kathleen Quinlan, Ted Levine, Maisie Camilleri Preziosi

Released on March 10, 2006

Running time: 1h 47m

Rated R, uncut version rated NC-17

Genre: Horror

YAY! Horror remakes can actually be good! No, really. The Alexandre Aja remake of the Wes Craven horror classic The Hills Have Eyes supersedes the original in nearly every possible way.

The original HHE was pretty okay in its own right. While gritty and disturbing by 70s standards, it’s pretty mild today, considering the violence. While it garnered an X rating in 1977, it would barely scrape an R rating today, if that. Apart from one shot of a gutted dog’s entrails hanging out, and another shot of a mutant cannibal fingering his severed Achilles’ tendon, literally no violence, or results thereof, are shown onscreen.

But the ending is awful. It’s so abrupt. It comes out of nowhere. It leaves so much unresolved.

The remake, however, is surprisingly good for a remake. It maintains absolute loyalty to its source material.

Except for one thing. It’s violent. Gratuitously and graphically violent. It breaks every violence-related taboo. It shows you what happens. It shows, for example, onscreen, the severing via axe of two fingers.

It’s surprisingly disturbing. The dual rape and baby abduction is much more disturbing when it’s being done by the brothers of Sloth from The Goonies. (HEY YOU GUYS!) Throughout the movie, I was thinking, No. You do not kill those dogs or that baby. Each cannibal death was SOOOOO SATISFYING.

And one more thing: it’s actually kind of scary. And it successfully utilizes the plot device known as the “Slow Build”.

Our story begins as a family, on their way to California, stops for gas at a derelict gas station. They are: Bob (Ted Levine. You know, Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs!) and his wife Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan), Doug (Aaron Stanford) and his wife Lynn (Vinessa Shaw), Bobby (Dan Byrd) and his sister Brenda (Emilie de Ravin), Doug’s baby daughter Katherine (Maisie Camilleri Preziosi), dogs Beauty and Beast and a couple of parakeets(?). They’re on their way to San Diego, but Bob was oh-so-smart enough to take a “shortcut” off Interstate 40. The gas station guy recommends that they take a dirt road back to the freeway.

The family does so, and they run over a row of spikes that blow out their tires. Bob and Doug go in opposite directions to get help.

Beauty runs off and is killed and gutted after Bobby runs after her. Bobby is knocked out. Cannibals Goggle (Mercury’s counterpart [black jacket, bowler hat, and binoculars]) and Ruby (red drawstring hoodie) pass by him. Beast runs off and encounters Beauty’s corpse, and, out of revenge, tears Goggle’s throat out.

Doug returns after seeing the road come to a dead end in a huge crater.

However, Bob gets to the gas station that night, encounters the gas station guy who commits suicide, and is abducted by the cannibal Papa Jupiter (long black hair and beard, black trench coat) I’m only referring to the names from the original, because the cannibals in this remake are nameless.

Two cannibals, Lizard (Mars’s counterpart [cleft lip, spike row]) and Pluto (evil version of Sloth from The Goonies), break into the family’s camper trailer. Bob is crucified and set afire. While Doug, Bobby, and Ethel are distracted, Lizard and Pluto rape Brenda, kill Lynn, Ethel, and a parakeet, and abduct Katherine. Beast returns to the trailer.

The next morning, Doug arms himself and takes Beast to find his daughter and kill the cannibals who abducted her. Bobby and Brenda remain behind to defend themselves, and prepare for the final confrontation with Papa Jupiter, who is coming to finish Pluto and Lizard’s job.

It is brutal. Unflinching. Somewhat patriotic.
No, really. Doug, a staunch Democrat, throws aside his dislike of weapons, and uses a baseball bat, an axe, the sharpened end of the staff of an American flag, and a shotgun to take down and kill Pluto and Cyst (another cannibal), and ultimately come up on top in his part of the climax: Doug vs. Lizard. Nothing can stand in the way of Doug’s reunion with his daughter, and his path of vengeance.

This remake of the horror classic is undoubtedly flawed, but it is surprisingly good.

Final verdict: 4 stars out of 5

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