It is not the lucky ones who die first, as the grisly tag line of The Hills Have Eyes promises, but rather Beauty, one of two German shepherds belonging to a nice all-American family who thought it would be cute to take the scenic route to California.
Needless to say, the eyes in these hills belong to a clan of angry mutant hillbillies. Dog-hating hillbillies (or cat people?) from the look of poor Beauty, her gut sliced open from neck to tail. As for Beast, her companion, he sets his fangs to throat-gnashing revenge, doing his part to put the gore back in allegory.
Along a diabolical stretch of New Mexico desert, man, dog and subhuman alike will find themselves trapped, poor souls, in that most hellish of genres, the horror-classic remake. Run for the hills! But keep your eyes open. Snobs may balk, purists will be appalled, but this new and exceedingly nasty version of Wes Craven's 1977 cult shocker is awfully good at what it does. And mostly what it does is make you feel awful.
Directed in tense, concentrated jabs by Alexandre Aja, who wrote the screenplay with Gregory Levasseur, the remake establishes a jittery family dynamic as well as the original, making the heroes of the movie just sympathetic enough that it stings when they are plunged into a world of utter nihilism and depravity. This is done with such remorseless elan that Craven (on hand as producer) must have gone green with envy. Or maybe disgust.
So what if this retread replaces the scuzzy punk-rock angst of the original with a corporate sheen? The 1970s are long gone, and with them the relevant modes of 1970s cinema. Every generation calls forth the fright films it needs, horror being the most cathartic and subconscious of genres. The strange truth about this new Hills, like the reviled 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is that its chic commercial packaging and market-tested atrocities are just as unsettling as the low-budget barbarism of the original. With torture gone mainstream, it's no surprise that brutality is back in the horror film, albeit with a stamp of approval from the Motion Picture Association and an unrated director's cut heading to the DVD shelves at Wal-Mart.
The Hills Have Eyes
Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Maxime Giffard (First Victim), Michael Bailey Smith (Pluto), Tom Bower (Gas Station Attendant), Ted Levin (Big Bob), Kathleen Quinlan (Ethel), Dan Byrd (Bobby), Emilie de Ravin (Brenda)
Running time: 107 minutes
Taiwan Release: today
Further complicating any knee-jerk reaction against this remake as a crass cashing-in on someone else's talent -- assuming those knees stop quaking long enough to jerk -- is the issue of Aja's chops. Hills confirms the promise of High Tension, his viciously effective (if compro-mised) debut. No one else under 30 makes movies this savage and disturbingly symptomatic.