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The Hills Have Eyes - Review

The Hills Have Eyes

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by Director Alexandre Aja, Writer Gregory Levasseur and Producer Marianne Maddalena. Commentary by Producers Wes Craven and Peter Locke. Surviving the Hills: Making of The Hills Have Eyes. Casting Session Music Video: ‘Leave the Broken Hearts’ by The Finalist. Production Diaries: Welcome to Moracco, Danilo: The Bomg Builder, Missing Fingers, The Scorpion Whisperer, Stunt Double, Happy Family, Bad Weather. Thank You for Smoking trailer.

WHEN it was first released in 1977, Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes became a cult classic, courtesy of its gritty, ferocious, no-holds-barred style. It remains one of the most enduringly unpleasant horror experiences.

The remake places the same story within a contemporary setting and seeks to push the envelope still further in terms of gore and depravity.

It marks the Hollywood arrival of cutting-edge horror maestros Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur, whose Switchblade Romance (or Haute Tension) so impressed Craven that he enlisted them for this makeover.

Yet while undoubtedly savage and unspeakably brutal in places, the 2006 version of The Hills Have Eyes brings very little new to an over-cooked genre, veering instead between moments of sheer nastiness and cartoonish violence.

The plot remains largely the same. A family of vacationers find themselves facing a desperate battle for survival after their vehicle ‘breaks down’ in the middle of the desert and they find themselves at the mercy of a genetically mutated bunch of killers.

The family in question is comprised of a former Cleveland police detective (Ted Levine), his wife (Kathleen Quinlan), their eldest daughter (Vinessa Shaw), her mild-mannered husband (Aaron Stanford) and their newborn baby, as well as two troublesome teenagers (Emilie De Ravin and Dan Byrd) and a pair of German Shepherds.

Having been deliberately mis-directed into the desert they find themselves stranded miles from anywhere and not alone.

Aja does a credible job of building the tension during the opening half an hour or so but loses his grip on proceedings once the horror begins.

The initial attack on the family is jaw-droppingly brutal and as uncompromising as Craven’s original. It is shot in the same raw style and feels terrifyingly authentic (so much so that a couple walked out of the screening I attended).

The decision to place the family’s newborn child at the centre of proceedings also adds an extra element of terror, so that the mind truly does boggle at what depravity might unfold.

Needless to say, the baby is abducted, leaving the survivors of the attack to regroup and determine a course of action.

It is at this point that the film struggles with credibility, especially since it is the mild-mannered Stanford who ventures off to reclaim his child with only a baseball bat and German Shepherd for comfort.

His subsequent battles with the mutants are just as brutal and bone-crunching, yet they also take on a cartoon element as he gradually becomes more and more soaked in blood and is thrown around like some Tom & Jerry style character.

The mutants themselves are the result of nuclear testing in the desert carried out by the US government and Aja does take more time to explore their back story and subsequent depravity, even daring to suggest that society is to blame.

Yet while such touches undoubtedly add an extra element of interest to the story, they’re quickly pushed to the side in favour of more blood-letting.

So while the initial success of Craven’s original Hills Have Eyes gave rise to horror films such as Wrong Turn and their type, Aja’s remake merely conforms to a tired structure.

Hardened horror buffs will no doubt lap up the added gore (especially when an uncut version makes its way to DVD), but on the whole this is an unpleasant and disappointing effort that seems to exist purely to see how far mainstream horror can push the censor.

Certificate: 18
Running time: 96mins (tbc)