In Honor of the Late Great Wes Craven I present this review to you...
In 1977, Wes Craven, riding high from the very disturbing Last House On The Left, directed the equally disturbing The Hills Have Eyes. I have to be honest and say that the film doesn't quite hold up well as it be but back then it was fresh in it's animalistic brutality of how this seemingly normal family gets attacked by a savage group of feral cannibals. Most recently, Alexander Aja who takes over the directing chair in 2006 to remake the Wes Craven cult classic. Now there was a obscure 1985 sequel but lets leave that for another day, it's best to not have that in our minds.
So here in 2006, Mr. Aja, The French director known for the not-well received but extremely bloody High Tension, took on the directing seat with Wes Craven as Producer. And oh boy, it's awesome!
Now there are some problems I have with it, mainly the cast, but I think the true beauty of this movie is the raw impact of grittiness and realism. Showing the brutality of the mutant clan while the Carter family tries to survive their attacks.
Say what you will about High Tension, I think Alexander Aja has a very artistic eye and I think he's one of those directors who really put his passion into his work. So you can quite tell that I am happy to review this.
The Story: The Carter family, going on a road trip from Ohio to California, gets trapped in a series of terrible events, playing a cat and mouse game with a group of vicious mutant cannibals.
The cast is fantastic, bringing in these incredible performances, especially from the leads but, however, there are some flaws to that, not from the actors per say, but the characters they're playing. And for the most part, my focus will be mainly on these three.
Let's start with Doug first, our hero of the movie. In the original, he was a typical everyday man, who had a strive of leadership and competence. Doug in this version is a bit uptight and annoyingly geeky, though that was intentional for the filmmakers for him to be effective as a hero throughout the story. But that's not my main problem with this guy.
He complains and complains throughout half of the movie and his wife, the saint that she is, have to deal with this while taking care of their newborn child.
Not only that but it seems he has a thing for his own sister-in-law. I'm not joking, guys. There is literally a scene where Doug is caught ogling at his FIFTEEN-year old sister-in-law, who's wearing a bikini. If that's not creepy I don't what it is. But Doug somehow redeems himself once he takes charge and saves his baby girl.
Imagine Debbie Thornberry but in live action form. Yeah, she's definitely like that. The original version of Brenda is no better as her screeching high-pitched voice will send blood to your ears.
Though by the middle of the movie, Brenda is able to get our sympathy from a traumatic event but have to deal with Brenda as a character is a sore to get through.
Lastly, there's Bobby, who's actually the more likeable of the three. There's not much to say about Bobby and there are times where he is whiny but then again, he's just a teenage boy and having to deal with the situation at hand, he would be sympathetic in that light.
So then again, with his intelligence, he is useful after all.
Now to showcase the big bad Jupiter family played by character actors Michael Bailey Smith, Desmond Askew, and Billy Drago. Fun Fact! All three actors guest-starred on the show Charmed, just to squeeze some trivia there.
The biggest accomplishment that I got from this remake is the special effects. I just want to be honest here, in the original, the mutants just didn't look like mutants to me, more like feral homeless men with a little dirt on their faces. But in this new version, the mutants' look are out of this world. They are also more smarter and vicious than their original counterparts, making their brutal attacks more effective. What's even more great about this version of the movie is how they written in a backstory about the mutants and how they evolved into their animalistic savagery.
Now there is one special addition that blew the original out of the water, this movie is GO-ORY, which will lead me to the epic climatic battle between Doug and Mutants. Now let's talk a little bit about the original, Wes Craven will always be crowned the master of suspense but boy does this man loves his booby traps. Yes, that's how the climax went down mostly, defeating the mutants with booby traps. Kind of cool but kind of unexciting as well.
But in this version, it goes balls out. In search of his child, Doug goes into a full-on blood soaked fight with the mutants out of an act of revenge and it is glorious. It's one of my favorite parts of the movie and you should see it yourself.
The Verdict? Both movies could be looked at as commentary on class and social values, even though in some parts, the movies aren't exactly perfect. But with good directors on their hands, they hold up just fine in cult classic territory. But the main problem with both versions is how the family are portrayed. They are just plain unlikeable and yes, even when bad things start to happen to them, of course I am with them, but in order for me to gain just enough sympathy for a character in a horror film, you have to make them likeable, just sayin'. And if the filmmakers in the 2006 version, I would've liked this movie better. So I guess I go with the remake with this one. Although I see Wes Craven as a legend, the original Hills Have Eyes isn't all that memorable to me.
My Last Word: Go see both versions, they go hand in hand.