Saturday, October 22, 2011

Clyde’s Movie Palace: The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

Michael Bailey Smith
Tom Bower
Aaron Stanford
Kathleen Quinlan
Vinessa Shaw
Directed by Alexandre Aja

Back in the fifties and sixties a good percentage of the prehistoric animals, mutants, gargantuan insects, giant colossal men and zombies that inhabited the movie theaters were brought to you courtesy of some healthy doses of radiation. In those days, we were continuously setting off nuclear warheads in the Nevada Desert so that we could be absolutely positively sure that our nuclear weapons would obliterate everything in their path just like they were supposed to. Those that weren’t tested were spit polished, shine and set on top of the nearest nuclear missile, you know, just in case. I’m not sure why or when we finally decided not to test any more nuclear weapons above ground, but I think maybe President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev watched a joint screening of The Giant Gila Monster along with  Beginning of the End and it scared the hell out of them. I’m not sure if it actually made the world much safer, but it did mean that the writers of horror films would have to come up with some other scientific explanation to explain away their mutant creatures out to feast on mankind.

For a while they turned to chemical waste products and that seemed to do the trick. Chemical waste in the water supply, in the sewers, being poured into the ground or leaking out of a barrel on the back of a pickup truck always seemed to do the trick. We were soon treated with mutants, walking dead, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, all cause by glowing green neon chemical waste products. Every once in a while they would bring the old radiation poisoning bugaboo back to science fictions as Roland Emmerich did with Godzilla, but I’m not sure if that counts because it was a remake and you don’t mess around with the origins of a classic Japanese Lizardsaurus . So you’re probably asking by now what all of this has to do with The Hills Have Eyes. Think of it this way, you’re getting a movie review, a history lesson, and a film history lesson for the low low price of just one mouse click, so quit your damn complaining.

Leave it to Wes Craven though, to decide to improve on one of his old films by producing a remake of his 1977 film, The Hills Have Eyes. This time around he hired Alexandre Aja to not only adapt Craven’s old screenplay, but to direct it as well. All Craven had to do was sit and count the money.

While the opening credits of Hills are being splashed up on the screen, we get picture after picture after picture of nuclear explosions followed by huge mushroom clouds taking place during the age of nuclear testing in the New Mexico Desert. Along with that we get glimpses of paper clippings from the newspapers telling us about a few hundred missing tourists. I always wonder about these missing tourists. I guess the search and rescue department of New Mexico is every bit as lame as the one in West Virginia. They too had a rash of unexplained tourists that disappeared in the almost heaven state in the film Wrong Turn. I thought I had walked into a screening of that film for a moment instead of this one.

“Now wait a minute,” you’re telling yourself, “didn’t you just say a couple of paragraphs ago that the nuclear tests took place in the Nevada Desert, not New Mexico?” Yep, that’s what I said alright. In fact, there was only one nuclear test in the state of New Mexico, that being the first nuclear test ever. The rest that took place in the Continental U.S. took place in Nevada. However, filmmakers being what they are, they’ve never been known to let little things like history and geography deter them, especially when they’re making a film that nobody’s going to remember a month after having seen it until AMC or some other  lame horror network drags it out for their annual Halloween crapfest.

A Look at the makeup effects for The Hills Have Eyes.

Interspersed with the shots of nuclear explosions, we also get some pictures of deformed humans, just so we know for sure that radiation can still screw you up like nobody’s business. We’re also given the hint that some inhabitants of the New Mexico Desert, didn’t exactly clear out when they had the chance because becoming a mutant in the desert was more preferable than taking an extended vacation in Albuquerque. So by the time the credits have ended, you know precisely what the film is about, and that Craven and Aja come from the school of filmmakers that believe you shouldn’t be bothered with letting the screenplay fill you in on the details.

When the film finally does get underway, it opens at a dirty filthy run down gas station that appears to have been abandoned out in the middle of nowhere with gas pumps that look as if the last car that filled up was an Edsel. If you’ve been to enough of these films you already know the routine though. The gas station is actually in full working order, and the guy who runs it will be the same creepy, rotted teeth, unshaven, ghoul (Tom Bower) who hasn’t bathed since 1977. You also know that within seconds, the unsuspecting Brady Bunch Family will pull up to get gas because they decided to take a detour into the middle of no man’s land. I guess they preferred the New Mexico desert instead of a quick trip to Disneyland.

For our purposes, the Brady Bunch consists of Papa Bob Carter (Ted Levine), Mama Ethel Carter (Kathleen Quinlan), daughter Lynn (Vinessa Shaw), her husband Doug (Aaron Stanford), their infant, and the Carter’s other two teenage kids Bobby (Dan Byrd) and Brenda (Emilie de Ravin).

Papa Bob is an ex-police chief and staunch NRA carrying member of the Repugnican Party who intends to open his own detective business as soon as he’s finished collecting Gila Monsters and cactus out in the desert. As if trying to fend off radiated mutants weren’t going to be enough, son-in-law Doug just has to be a wimpy Democrat in order to make the film politically relevant, and so that Douggie can later discover his Repugnican Manhood and then join the National Rifle Association.

We also know that besides the greasy guy at the gas station there are other inhabitants lurking around while Papa Bob is filling up. We see them hiding in the shadows, taking a sweater out of the car, and running by the outhouse when Bobby Jr. is taking a leak. And to make sure we don’t miss them, Director Aja has the sound editor crank the volume up a couple of decibels just so we’re sure that they’re there.

It  goes without saying that the Greasy Gas Station Owner is going to tell Repugnican Bob about a shortcut,  that he is going to take it, and that they are going to break down and be stranded for the rest of the movie. Of course, just as if you were in  in the mountains of West Virginia in Wrong Turn, there is no signals for your cell phone to latch onto out in the desert either.

It’s not long before Repugnican Bob decides to hike back to the creepy gas station while Democrat Doug heads in the other direction for his own date with the Dalai Llama, and son Bobby Jr. goes chasing after his pet dogs that ran off because having hung around with the Carters for a while, these canines decided that making a run for Santa Fe was preferable to being stuck in the desert with Ward and June Cleaver.

Don’t worry though, because Director Aja is not in any hurry to have his movie get from point A to point B too quickly. We get a long scene of Democrat Doug trekking through the desert where after what seems like a year and a half he comes across a passel full of vehicles from all the missing tourists we saw in the newspaper clippings during the credits. But is Democrat Doug awed by this site? Does he think it’s a little weird for all these recreational vehicles to be abandoned in a giant crater? Nope, he just grabs a fishing pole and heads back to the trailer in order that it can be used as a prop later in the film. So besides being pacifist Democrat Doug, he is now stupid pacifist Democrat Doug.

Eventually you know that all hell is going to break lose. Repugnican Bob makes a return trip to the stranded camper, but not in the way he would have liked to. Marshmallow, anyone?

The mutant ninja people begin raping, pillaging, blasting away and eating the heads off of parakeets. They also decide to kidnap Democrat Doug and his wife Lynn’s infant, forcing Doug to forget his peace loving ways in order to save his child before the baby becomes the Grand Slam Breakfast at the local Denny’s.

When the film finally does get going, it is extremely violent, vicious, savage, and unrelenting. Yes, that will unnerve you a bit, but you could add this type of brutality to any film and it would make you squirm. However, the plot holes are enormous and there is never any real suspense. How can there be when the filmmakers decide to hit you over the head with too many details before we even get to the Directed by sign, and then can’t come up with anything cleverer than the creepy guy at the gas station that seems to be airlifted from one horror film to another to open the film with. Granted this is a remake, but if you’re going to remake a film, any film, it might behoove you to try and do something original. It doesn’t help any that before the mayhem even commences, we are treated to so much obnoxious behavior by the Carter family, we almost root for the mutants to do away with them as quickly as possible.


I suppose you could say that Democrat Doug’s conversion from pacifist to someone who when pushed to the limit will take what ever violent steps are necessary to redeem himself, delude himself, stupidfy himself, and become hard core Repugnicon-man, is some kind of morality lesson. But it’s a lesson that’s been given many times and in a far more believable film than this tripe. One need look no further than Sam Peckinpaugh’s excellent Straw Dog’s for that tale, and I hope that wherever Sam is, he will forgive me for mentioning his name in a review of a clunker such as this.

Still, I’ll let the film get by with a D+  just because of its intensity at times, but unfortunately with Craven standing over his shoulder, hoping they can have a Hills Have Eyes II (would that be a remake of the original Hills Have Eyes II which was a sequel to the original Hills Have Eyes?), Aja felt it necessary to tack on the obligatory sequel setting ending in the very last two seconds of the film.  So I can’t help myself but to  lower your already dismal score to the precipice of total failure with a hearty D-, and only because I have to have somewhere to go with your inevitable sequel.

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