Sunday, October 18, 2009

HORROR EPICS DOUBLE FEATURE: The Hills Have Eyes (1977/2006)

Although I’d heard the name in the past, you can consider me a member of the generation that was unaware of The Hills Have Eyes before Alexandre Aja (High Tension) remade it in 2006. But unlike most people in my boat, I went to the original source first. That’s how I roll, after all. The Hills Have Eyes is Wes Craven’s second film, and is somewhat based on the legend of a murderous Scottish family from the early 1400s. During that time, the cave dwelling inbred Bean family supposedly killed and cannibalized more than a thousand people over the course of twenty-five years. Eventually, they were captured by King James VI of Scotland, and executed without a trial. Somebody should consider making a movie about the legend itself sometime instead of just taking cues from it.

Since you’ve probably seen the remake, that means you know the p
lot. A nice middle-class family is driving to California to celebrate Mom and Dad’s 25th anniversary. But instead of taking the normal route, they detour through a barren desert wasteland to check out a silver mine left to them by the grandparents. Despite warnings to stay on the main road, Dad knows that caution would result in a boring movie. Instead, he takes the dirt road and puts the pedal to the metal, wrecking the family station wagon in the process. Before long, a family of desert rat cannibals descends upon the makeshift campsite and things quickly intensify. Heinous crimes are committed, forcing the survivors to shed their civilized inhibitions and fight for their lives. Cell phones didn’t exist in 1977, and there is too much iron in the hills to allow the CB radio signal to reach anyone helpful. But there is a rebellious hillbetty who wants to leave the desert wasteland behind. And don’t count out the family dog that owes a sizable debt to Rin Tin Tin, which is annoyingly convenient at times.

I’ve always been really impressed with what Wes Craven pulled off with the limited budget he had to work with. Of course, this was back when
filmmakers actually had a sense of adventure and gave it their best shot, money be damned. Despite the financial limitations, the original Hills Have Eyes is one raw, gritty motherfucker of a movie. Michael Berryman—the guy on the poster—steals the show by simply showing up for work. Anyone who has seen him in movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Weird Science, or The Devil’s Rejects could tell you that there’s no makeup involved…he legitimately looks like that due to a genetic condition called Hypohidrotic Ectodermal Dysplasia. We at Horror Epics would also like to welcome back Dee Wallace, who plays the eldest daughter. If you still haven’t seen this movie, what the hell are you waiting for?

Now for the remake, which took me a while
to get to. A lot of people told me that it was one of the worst movies they’d ever seen, but my girlfriend at the time seemed to love it. Although she rarely watched horror movies in the first place (and didn’t know it was a remake until I told her), she still wrote a cutesy review of it on her MySpace blog that didn’t help matters much. In hindsight I should have listened to her about a lot of things, and The Hills Have Eyes 2006 is one of those.

The plot has already been covered, so there’s obviously no point in rehashing it a second time. However, the story does contain a few different elements. The silver mine goes unmentioned, and the gas station owner purposely directs the Carter family to the dirt road that is their undoing. Instead of wrecking the car by driving like a moron, the accident occurs thanks to a booby trap in the road. There is also a political slant to the story that is reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah’s
Straw Dogs. But the element that separates the remake from the original the most is the extended look at the desert family and how they live. Although that difference is what I liked the most about this movie, it’s also where it goes wrong in a sense.

Like it says in the beginning of the film, the eyes of these hills are products of post-nuclear fallout—miners who refused to vacate their homes when the government declared their area a weapons testing ground. Instead, they hid in the mines, drinking radioactive water and producing offspring with their damaged DNA. Thus, mutants are born. I can dig the idea of basing them on photos taken of the effects of Chernobyl and Hiroshima. But damn it all, their version of the Michael Berryman character reminds me of Sloth from
The Goonies way too much. He even behaves like him at times, causing me wonder if he’s going to start yelling “HEEEEY YOOOOOU GUUUUUYS” after crashing through a window or something. I’m sure Richard Donner and Steven Spielberg are touched, but come on. Like I said in the Wrong Turn double feature: Real people are actually scarier than comic book-style monsters. Reason being because mutants wouldn’t require any explanation for pillaging, raping, and murdering. What else would you expect a mutant to do? Get a job and pay taxes like the rest of us? Merciless humans forced to live in the outskirts that possess a thought process dictating such actions are more brutal and unsettling to me.

That aside, I beg to differ with these people who say that
The Hills Have Eyes 2K6 is one of the worst. It isn’t perfect, sure. But I think the film does a good job carrying out something close to what may have been Wes Craven’s vision with a budget of more than fifteen bucks. If you still think this is bad, just wait until I bring up the sequels next year!

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