|The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
Starring: Ted Levine, Kathleen Quinlan, Dan Byrd, Emilie de Ravin, Aaron Stanford, Vinessa Shaw
Director: Alexandre Aja
The reason that the phrase “gorehound” exists is because of movies like “The Hills Have Eyes.” They’re classified as horror, but in truth they’re not particularly scary. They’re more like a litmus test for your freak meter. How much disturbing imagery can you handle? That will determine how much you enjoy the movie, not your tendency to jump when something goes “boo.” The problem with the movie is that it appears to be holding back, afraid to embrace its inner “Evil Dead” and let the carnage flow freely. When it does let loose, it’s a ton of fun. It just doesn’t let loose early or often enough to give the gorehounds the fix they’re craving.
Set in the middle of the New Mexico desert, a family on its way to San Diego stops in a one-horse town to fill up, and the toothless guy at the gas station gives them a shortcut to the highway. The family takes his advice, and within a matter of minutes they suffer a “blowout” and their truck is totaled. The father Big Bob (Ted Levine) goes back to the gas station to ask for help, while the disrespected son-in-law Doug (Aaron Stanford, “X-Men” villain Pyro all grown up), husband of Lynne (Vinessa Shaw), searches for the highway. What Doug finds is a giant, perfectly circular pit, filled with a bunch of old cars. Bob, unfortunately, finds the unlucky survivors of the giant pit’s origin.
And there’s the hook: the government, it appears, used that part of the desert for extensive nuclear testing from the late ‘40s to the early ‘60s, and several of the miners who lived in the area refused to leave. The Carter family is meeting those miners’ offspring, who have evolved into mutant cannibals. Youngest son Bobby (Dan Byrd) is the first to discover this, when he finds one of their dogs viciously mutilated. When night falls, the rest of the family is let in on the gag when the freaks come to assault sisters Brenda (Emilie de Ravin from “Lost”) and Lynne. To say that the ensuing events flick a switch in the liberal Doug’s head would be a gross understatement.
Wes Craven, writer/director of the 1977 original, reportedly hand picked Alexandre Aja (“High Tension”) to helm the remake, and Aja appears to be focusing his efforts more on storytelling than bloodshed. This could be because “High Tension,” according to BE resident metal god (and gorehound) Bill Clark, contained a plot twist that could only be described as preposterous, and Aja is trying to atone for the sins of his past. He would have been better off keeping things simple and letting the blood flow early and often, since the movie it as its best when someone is dying a horrible, horrible death, be it a freak or a norm. The movie’s funniest moment is when Doug commits an unpardonable horror movie sin, and the entire audience groans in disappointment. Trust me, you’ll know it when you see it.
“The Hills Have Eyes” is one of those in-or-out movies; there’s no waffling over whether or not you’re interested in the Mutant Cannibal Movie, the same way there is no waffling over a movie with the title of “Snakes on a Plane.” (August. Samuel L. Jackson. Snakes. I am so there.) Those non-wafflers, however, would be wise to keep in mind that as bloody as this movie is – and it is unbelievably bloody – it doesn’t raise the bar in terms of either quantity or quality of gore. Still, as ‘70s horror remakes go, it beats the living snot out of “When a Stranger Calls.” Granted, that doesn’t take much effort, but it’s both better than you might expect but not everything it could have been.
The unrated, single-disc release of “The Hills Have Eyes” is the perfect example of what to expect from a good DVD. Featuring two audio commentaries, the first by writer/director Alexandre Aja, and the second with producers Wes Craven and Peter Locke, the DVD also includes an excellent making-of featurette and seven short production diaries (like “Danilo: The Blood Bomb Builder” and “The Scorpion Whisperer) that unlock all the secrets of the film. The commentary with Craven and Locke is worth listening to, but it’s on the first commentary track that you’ll hear all of the juicy behind-the-scenes info. For everything else, search no further than the 50-minute “Surviving the Hills” documentary, a super in-depth look at everything from special FX and makeup to stunts and art design. This is one disc you can’t miss out on, and the unrated cut of the film delivers a little extra for all you gore fanatics.