Sunday, March 25, 2007

THE HILLS HAVE EYES MOVIE REVIEW

















CAST: AARON SANFORD, KATHLEEN QUINLAN, VINESSA SHAW, EMILIE DE RAVIN, DAN BYRD, TED LEVINE
DIRECTOR: ALEXANDER AJA
RUNTIME: 107 min.
RATING: ***
GENRE: HORROR, THRILLER, CANNIBALISTIC

This stuff with remakes is getting eerie. We have a remake here (THE HILLS HAVE EYES) of a 70s low budgeted cult hit (THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977)) that itself bought a lot of elements from a 70s classic (Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAINSW MASSACRE) that itself was an inspiration of sorts (Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO) and has already been remade (THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003)). Sounds confusing, isn’t it? Well, I bet there’s not a frame in THE HILLS HAVE EYES that could be called entirely original it still deserves a recommendation for both the hardcore horror fan and the casual viewer. This is not to say that the movie is brilliant or anything but that it is better than most of the trash served out these days.
Horror master Wes Craven has been involved in all the movies where the hills have eyes. He directed the original back in ’77, directed the sequel in 82, produced this one and has written the sequel to this remake, releasing in theatres across North America on 23rd March. Alexander Aja, the man behind the very well received HIGH TENSION, was I’ve heard handpicked by Craven to helm this effort. Apart from the reason that Craven liked HIGH TENSION, Aja got the chair after having admitting that Craven’s version was his all time favorite flick.
The plot is quiet generic. A family, out for a picnic ride in the west with their camper is the object of attention of the malevolent beings surrounding hills. A macho dad (Ted Levine), the typical prayer-warrior mother (Kathleen Quinlan), a seemingly unworthy son-in-law (Aaron Sanford), his wife, couple of spoilt teenagers and a couple of German shepherds, this is the Carter family for you. They’re naïve and adventurous enough to venture into seemingly uncharted territories of the wild, wild west where their camper meets an accident and breaks down. They do have company, of mutants, of course not remotely as nice as Wolverine or Cyclops, but terrible cannibalistic deranged human beings. The family isn’t dysfunctional as usually is the case but seems to gel quite well under pressure.
Aja is quite a man at building tension and he seems to be one of those guys who do not rely solely on violence and gore to horrify audiences. Although the entire premise is similar, Aja displays remarkable authority over proceedings and brings quite a bit of emotional strength. THE HILLS HAVE EYES stands almost as one of Leone’s spaghetti western with cinematographer Maxime Alexandre doing a commendable job in bringing the desert as an important character. In fact, for most of the first half, the searing heat of the desert is the one generating the tension and creating an atmosphere, one of thrill and horror. The work was so good, I was half expecting Clint Eastwood to walk out against Ennio Morricone’s score and shoot each of those mutants. Although horror fans are raving about Eli Roth (CABIN FEVER, HOSTEL) as the next big thing to the genre, I think it is an Aja or a John Wan who deserves it more. Roth barely generates any tension, leave alone horrify and his HOSTEL was the exact sort of movie I loathe.
THE HILLS HAVE EYES does pack in a bit of political rhetoric as well, stuff that was just hinted at in the original. The movie sure does try to make some sort of comment on nuclear tests, their after effects and America’s failed social program but Aja seems to go just a bit too far with that. Although the effort for political relevance does exist it sure isn’t the movie’s strength by any stretch of the imagination. It is the emotional core, although that sure is a result of standard horror clichés. There sure are formulaic mechanisms like dividing the group, sudden surge in background score, people running after their dogs, but it is all old wine in a new bottle. Not a moment of violence seems to be unnecessary s is the case nowadays. The movie runs fast although drags a bit towards the end. It gets a bit ridiculous during the climax when the now high now low intelligence quotient factor comes to the fore. The movie does rob itself of a trump card by disclosing the background of the cannibals and missing a chance at creating a mysterious element. But movies as these work when the transformation of someone from an innocent entity to the same grotesque level as their predator occurs, of course convincingly. THE HILLS HAVE EYES sure scores points here and does more than a good job at characterization, although I was unconvinced at the speed of transformation of a gun-thing democrat to an axe-wielding John Rambo.
Minor quibbles aside, THE HILLS HAVE EYES is one of the better horror movies of recent times, especially when compared to movies like HOSTEL and the zillion Asian horror remakes. It is thrilling, it is violent, it is bloody, it is gory, it is tried, it is tested, it is formulaic and it does a good job at incorporating the standard clichés. What more can you ask from horror movie?

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