"There's a crater, I think the locals use it as a dump site."
The Hills Have Eyes is one of the seminal horror flicks of the ‘70s, and was shocking at the time for its brutality. So it should come as no surprise that it has been remade to try and recapture the scares, tension and money of the original.
Now there have been some good, some decent and some not-so decent remakes recently, so while I would rather see something new and original, I'm not as turned off by the idea of remakes as I used to be. Especially when it's a film that -- though it was good -- could do with a little bit of a facelift.
This new version of The Hills Have Eyes is brought to us by the director of High Tension, a taut, gore-packed flick that put an interesting spin on the identity of the slasher. I'm not surprised he's been brought to the US to make scary movies, or that they picked him for this particular project. I mean, he's already shown that he has the chops to show us the bad things that happen when you head into the backwoods. How hard to I have do beat that drum, people? Avoid the wilderness! The life you save may be a character actor!
So the basic premise is the same as the original: it's the story of the Carter family, granddad Big Bob (Ted "Lotion in the Basket" Levine), his wife Ethel, son Bobby, daughters Brenda (Emile "Lost" de Ravin) and Lynn, her husband Doug (Aaron "Pyro in X2" Stanford), grandchild baby Catherine, along with family pets Beauty and Beast, a pair of German Shepherds.
They're still traveling on their way to California, but this time instead of ignoring the grizzled gas station attendant to search for a silver mine, they're tricked into taking a "short cut" through the desert into the waiting trap of the cannibal clan residing in the dessert.
In the original, the desert-residing family were called mutants, mainly because of Michael Berryman's distinctive looks, Papa Jupiter's facial scar, and it sounded cool. This time, the crazed feral clan really are mutants, thanks to their living in an abandoned mine under where the US did nuclear testing. So we have fused fingers, malformed mouths, grotesque enlarged heads, faces that look half-melted and other such ick-inducing disfigurements. And just to make sure we know they're full-on backwoods hillbillies, we catch one of them watching Divorce Court.
The film follows the rest of the original's plot points in order, with Big Bob heading back to the gas station for help while Doug heads in another, leaving the teen boy and the women alone in the wilderness. So this is two roles now for Emile as a woman stranded, you could even say lost, in the middle of nowhere, menaced by savages. I wonder what made the producers think she was right for this part?
Anyway, the savage, cannibalistic mutants proceed to rape, capture, torture, kill and eat various members of the Carter family in the same sequence as the original, except now it's a little more explicit (except for the rape, which is downplayed in both versions to the point where it could be argued that the character was tortured but not raped), the gore is more impressive, and it feels more savage.
This is not to say that the film is a note for note remake of the original, but it does go fairly beat for beat, even keeping good chunks of the original dialogue. They also do a great job of making Stanford look like Doug from the original, with the same bad ‘70s hair. Also, the main sequences are in the same order. Now some scenes are longer than in the original, such as the setup, (which, like House of Wax takes almost too long), the capture of Big Bob, and the first long day in the desert. Other scenes are shorter or glossed over, with some scenes from the original cut; also, implied scenes from the original are now shown, so while it feels a lot like the first, we have enough new bits to keep things interesting.
The main change, aside from real mutants, is the end chase/rescue of baby Catherine scene. In the original, it's fairly short, with Doug and Ruby chasing/being chased by Mars through the rocky landscape. This time Doug has to venture into the mine and nuclear test town that the mutants are living in to search for his baby, fighting for his life and meeting the new grotesque leader of the cannibal clan.
The movie has some good scares, plenty of gore (losing fingers seems to be the injury du jour these days -- see Hostel and House of Wax), talented direction, decent acting and the cinematography shows off the harsh beauty of the desert.
The flick's main downpoints are that it takes a while to get going, it is a remake so you know most of what's coming if you've seen the original, and instead of Michael Berryman's distinctive face we have Billy Drago with a bad hairpiece and fake beard.
The Hills Have Eyes is a decent remake of a horror classic. It manages to keep the same brutal feel and most of the scares of the original, while adding a few new twists as it brings the acting, sets and effects up to "modern" specs. I just miss Berryman's odd-shaped, eyebrow-less head.