While The Hills Have Eyes is truly a sick and disturbing movie, it is also one rollercoaster ride of a horror film that keeps you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. It is almost like a train wreck – too bloody to watch, yet too mesmerizing to take your eyes off of it.
The film is a remake of the 1977 cult classic horror film by genre icon Wes Craven (the guy behind that other horror hit A Nightmare on Elm Street) – who also served as a producer on the remake. The film also credits Craven in the writing credits for his original screenplay along with Grégory Levasseur and Alexandre Aja. The movie was also directed by Aja – who also got some notice with his 2003 film Haute Tension (also know as High Tension (in the U.S.) and Switchblade Romance (International title).
With The Hills Have Eyes remake, Aja made sure to stay faithful to elements of Craven’s script, but also threw in enough of his own style to make the film work extremely well – even given its limited plot.
Unlike other recent horror remakes (such as House of Wax), this is a film that may not surpass the original in some viewers eyes, but it can at least stand shoulder to shoulder with it. The film also has enough grit, gore, and nail biting moments to make it worth watching even if you aren’t just trying to see how much of the original got changed.
At its core, The Hills Have Eyes has a somewhat simple and predictable plot. It is one that horror fans have seen before and you are able to pretty much telegraph where most of the scares will come at you. The film follows a family (including a retired cop, his wife, their two teenage kids, his married daughter, son-in-law, and the infant granddaughter) traveling through the desert in a suburban and a motor home.
They are also traveling with their two dogs “Beast” and “Beauty.” When they stop for gas at a dump in the middle of nowhere, they are given directions that will take them on a short cut to the highway. Now, we all know they shouldn’t take the short cut, but this is a horror movie so they do.
After a few miles down the road, a trap is sprung, and the family wrecks. Now stranded, the father “Big Bob” (Ted Levine) decides that he will trek back to the gas station for help while the son-in-law Doug (Aaron Stanford) will continue down the road the other direction to try and find the highway. The mom Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan) will stay at the crash/campsite with the two daughters Brenda (Emilie de Ravin) and Lynn (Vinessa Shaw). The dad leaves the teenage boy Bobby (Dan Byrd) in charge, and makes sure that he is armed. “Big Bob” seems to travel with at least two pistols – which isn’t a bad idea seeing how they are in the middle of the desert.
Naturally, the family is brutally attacked by nightfall by the local band of mutants – who happen to live in the same hills where nuclear testing took place. The attack (which shows you right off the bat this is going to be a rough movie) leaves Bob, Ethel, and Lynn dead, and the rest waiting for death. To make matters worse, the mutants (for lack of a better description) steal the baby which sends Doug on a quest to get her back. While Doug is gone in search of his daughter, Bobby and Brenda get the campsite ready for another attack, and wait for the worse to come. Doug follows a blood trail to where the attackers live, and begins the fight of his life to get his daughter back.
While the plot is predictable and even a bit silly (at times it is like a cross between Evil Dead and something out of a Mad Max film), Aja never gives you a chance to breathe or think about how unrealistic the film actually is. The director keeps the pace of the movie going and at times the combination of filming, editing and music feel like a sledgehammer smashing you over the head.
The baby kidnapping and resulting quest to get her back keeps you hooked on what will happen next, and dreading what the movie may show you next. Aja shows early on that this is going to be a brutal movie, and the shots of the baby sitting on the bed crying really works to build the suspense. You honestly don’t know how far the film will go, and you are dreading that Aja will show you.
The film’s special effects are extremely good and extremely gory. Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero along with their army of special effects masters from KNB EFX go above and beyond in this film. The mutants are so well defined that you have to appreciate the work that went into designing them.
There is a ton of blood and gore sprayed on the screen, but you can tell the level of detail that must have went into preparing this film. That work pays off in the finished product which looks so good you can’t help but watch it – even if it makes your stomach turn. For more details on the movie’s special effects and the work that went into them, visit M&C’s Beauty and the Beast column by April MacIntyre
Although the gore is disturbing, the movie’s music (created by Luis Guajardo, Farbood Nivi, and tomandandy) really works to help the story, and keep you on edge. Unlike some horror films where the music tells you “get ready for a scare,” the Hill’s music keeps the tension with bizarre grinding noises, mixed with music and industrial sounds. There are also times when the film’s score goes silent just to blast the traditional scare as something runs across the screen. It really works well in the film and keeps the pressure on the audience throughout the whole movie.
The DVD comes with some decent special features including commentary from Craven, producer Peter Locke, Aja, and others involved in making the film. There is also a 53-minute look at the making of the movie that takes you through every aspect of the movie – from location shooting in Morroco, to how the mutants where designed, to the film’s visual effects.
On top of that, the DVD also has a 7-part production diary feature that takes you further behind the scenes with the making of the movie. This might be a bit of overkill for some audiences, but diehard fans of the movie will enjoy it. The DVD also includes a music video for “Leave the Broken Hearts" by The Finalist.
The Hills Have Eyes (Unrated Edition) is not a film for the weak of heart, but it is one hell of a horror movie. I wasn’t too sure about watching the movie when I started it, but couldn’t stop it once it got going. I would recommend the movie to fans of the original, or anyone wanting to experience a truly disturbing horror film – which is something that doesn’t come along every day.