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Monday, March 20, 2006

The Hills Have Eyes

When I first saw the poster at the Essex Cinemas for The Hills Have Eyes I was actually excited. I am no snob when it comes to horror movies. I love them even though it is considered anything but ‘tasteful’ to admit to such a base enjoyment. I remembered the first version of the movie from 1977 which more or less made a horror star of Michael Berryman, he of the spooky face, that went on to scare legions in dozens of other schlock epics. If this The Hills Have Eyes was anything like the first then I considered it might be best to wear a pair of Depends to the showing because the first one scared me more than any movie this side of the original Night of the Living Dead.

A couple of the guys who work at the Essex Cinemas, Austin and Rob, told me that people actually left the movie because it was so gory and suspenseful that they just couldn’t take it. I’m not sure if that was meant to be a challenge, but to me it was like throwing down a gauntlet. Nothing would ever scare me, especially shadows on a screen. And so in I went.

The story was nearly identical to the original, though, as often happens when people remake their own movies two or three decades later (in this case Wes Craven) they feel the need to add exposition that tends to slow down the action and speak volumes about the dumbing down of America. Now we have to have everything spelled out for us, even the reasons why cannibalistic mutants are roaming the desert wanting to knock off nice middle-class families on vacation in the middle of nowhere. Like the audience for this kind of movie cares.

The audience is there to see blood and guts and on that level The Hills Have Eyes succeeds in buckets. Whether burning someone alive, giving them a miner’s pick to the head, or becoming someone’s dinner, there is plenty to cringe from, but to be honest, I found it all too “been there, done that” and not just because I saw the first version of the same film. It just seems from the moment the family’s SUV and trailer gets stranded in the desert the occupants emerge from the vehicle with numbers over their head indicating in what order they will systematically be slaughtered. Yawn.

It’s probably not a good thing when you are sitting in a movie and thinking about how much more fun it would be if the producers had turned this gore fest into a musical. “The Hills are alive, full of Von Trapp mutants….” I found myself composing. “I am sixteen, I’ll never make seventeen, that’s
‘cause I’m gonna die…” Suddenly the idea of seeing the mostly no-name cast in lederhosen made me laugh out loud, just as a couple of mutants were raping Lost’s Emilie de Ravin in the broken-down trailer. How embarrassing as audience members turned to look at me as if I might be a member of the mutant family still at large.

The possibilities of turning The Hills Have Eyes into something more than just another routine slasher movie were definitely there, so it is a shame that Wes Craven would choose to resurrect one of his first works after all these years and then “re-imagine” it by basically adding nothing of value to the original other than updating the look of the characters and the soundtrack. The original is thought of fondly by horror aficionados as a classic, so this can only be looked upon as a disappointment. Of course, for younger viewers who are clueless to any movie made before 1998, then The Hills Have Eyes may have fresh thrills and seem like a shocking thriller.

Perhaps it is a commentary on the world we live in today, but no matter how outrageous the mutants are they can’t top the headlines we see in the papers of real life sickos that live amongst us. Just killing people and even eating them doesn’t seem as shocking as it did in 1977. Après Jeffrey Dahmer, it seems so “five minutes ago”. So do mutants. We’ve lived for years seeing Michael Jackson and Joan Rivers’ faces so we’ve lost the ability to be frightened by freakish looks or behavior. Face it, nowadays a great horror movie is going to have to tread into new territory if it is really going to be Depends-able. Maybe Craven might want to consider his next movie as something along the lines of The Capital Hill Has Eyes.

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