I haven’t seen the original on which this film is based. I’ve read that it’s regarded as a seminal work in the horror genre. A Wes Craven masterpiece. Luckily, we never need see the original because the remake has finally made its way to us in 2006, 29 years later.
Craven (who recently showed a return to form with Red Eye) has dusted off some old material (producing this time round), hired an up-and-coming director and can now sit back and rake in the earnings of an almost 30 year old concept/story. Remake niggles aside, The Hills Have Eyes – while being extremely formulaic – is extremely shocking (in the horror film sense) at times.
The Carter family – your typical dysfunctional American family – are driving across the good old U. S. of A. to celebrate the wedding anniversary of their parents Big Bob (Ted Levine) and Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan). When they stop at a petrol station in the New Mexico desert and some unintentional snooping around by the family gets the not so innocent petrol attendant (Tom Bower) nervous, he provides them with directions for a “shortcut”.
The Carters (oblivious to everything it seems) thank him and make their way through the desert until the tires on their pickup truck “suddenly” blow out. Big Bob – who used to be a cop – must have been quite poor at his job because he assumes, without further investigation, that the tires blew out because of the heat. Right. Stranded in the middle of what used to be a nuclear testing site for the American military, they soon realise that they aren’t alone.
The Hills Have Eyes is standard horror stuff that only rarely rises to the occasion in order to give us something enjoyable and unique. The Carter’s lack a common sense that most people in the real world would – I assume – have. Have they never heard of the buddy system? Instead of doing things together they walk off into the desert alone, separated from each other, and then seem clueless on what to do when they are attacked and murdered – one by one – by a family of mutated “freaks”. It was frustrating watching this film because as a unit they are somewhat hopeless. Of course, the mutants can’t win and eventually someone steps up to the plate to extract some well deserved vengeance.
The mutants are possibly the most interesting aspect of this film and the makeup and visual effects people must be congratulated for bringing some extremely twisted creations to the screen. The mutant family is littered with fantastic characters. Some have heads the size of watermelons, others have deformed lips that reveal a permanent grin and some are just mean disfigured monsters. If The Hills Have Eyes gets anything right it’s the makeup and gore.
Only when the family baby is kidnapped does anybody do anything about the situation. This is also where the film provides some genuine enjoyment. As the brother-in-law tracks down the mutants, director Alexandre Aja takes on an Evil Dead-esque approach to his material. (Picture the brother-in-law as Ash.) A freezer full of dismembered bloody limbs and several fantastic deaths later I felt that The Hills Have Eyes had redeemed itself somewhat.
The Hills Have Eyes is a gory film that did freak me out with its diseased and irradiated villains. The opening sequence showing atomic bomb tests and the after effects of these tests truly is shocking and speaks volumes against nuclear testing of any kind. It’s a great mood setter but unfortunately the film isn’t pacy enough to maintain this feel and a lot of the initial shock value dissipates as you wait for the inevitable to happen. It’s predictable and extremely obvious at times but won’t disappoint horror fans entirely.
My advice: give The Hills Have Eyes a whirl if you enjoy this genre, but if you’re really looking for some fantastic horror see Wes Craven’s People Under the Stairs (1991) on DVD – before it gets remade.