Surely every reader knows the premise.
Bob (Ted Levine, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA; THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) drives his family through the American desert in his mobile home, on the way to a much-needed vacation. When they stop for gas, the attendant (Tom Bower, THE MOGULS; DIE HARD 2) advises of a short-cut that will save them a couple of hours travelling.
As half of the family are already being driven to distraction by the unrelenting heat, ex-cop Bob makes an executive decision to take the short-cut. Bad move. Unseen hands trigger a trap on the dirt-track that puncture the RV's tyres, and as the family fret about what to do next they are watched from afar through binoculars ...
Bob and his unlikeable son-in-law Doug (Aaron Stanford, 25TH HOUR; X-MEN: THE LAST STAND) agree to both hike in separate directions and see if they can find help. Bob sets off for the gas station from a while back, while Doug moans his way to an altogether different - and unexpected - destination ...
THE HILLS HAVE EYES plays very faithful to Wes Craven's original source material. Key scenes have been left unaltered, and even little touches - such as the two dogs named Beauty and Beast - have been preserved for purists. The baby (and subsequent kidnapping of such) is here as hoped, as is the infamous crucifixion scene ... which, if anything, is even more jarring now, thanks to the makeover it's been given by FX supremos Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger (HOSTEL; LAND OF THE DEAD).
But for all that the filmmakers have remained true to the 1977 film that inspired their remake, there are changes to accommodate the times. Most glaringly, and necessarily I suppose, are the references to life in the current decade. Doug works for a "telecommunications" company and is constantly whining about not being able to get a signal on his super-duper mobile phone. The kids Brenda (the gorgeous Emilie De Ravin, BRICK) and Bobby (Dan Byrd, LONELY HEARTS) are typical two-dimensional contemporary brats, bickering incessantly over inane stuff and displaying all the traits of modern middle-America's "me" ethos.
Actually, I must give Bobby a reprieve somewhat because - as in the original - he becomes the film's soul as the action progresses, burdened with impossible pressures and dilemmas upon his young shoulders.
But here lies part of this remake's problem. As the cannibal family hidden in the hills starts to attack our All-American "heroes", there is only the young Bobby that we feel any empathy towards. The rest of the family are - as is so depressingly typical of latter-day mainstream horror flicks - pretty deplorable.
In addition to this, my other complaint with the new THE HILLS HAVE EYES is that it's too slow to start with. It takes an age to get going (fannying about with scenes of squabbling between Bobby and Brenda; pouring too much energy into the ill-advised explanation that our villains are unfortunate products of nuclear testing - oh the timely politics!).
But, when it finally gets itself into gear, THE HILLS HAVE EYES delivers a truly thrilling, surprisingly gory final hour. There's a nice twist/addition to the original storyline which is a good inclusion, as it adds more crazy characters to the pot, before things come round full-circle and ultimately stay true to Craven's original theme ... albeit with a lot more grue this time around.
Director Alexander Aja proved his mettle with the crowd-pleasing cult hit SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE (a.k.a. HAUTE TENSION), and if you were worried that his move to the US would temper his love of old-shool gore tactics ... fear not. THE HILLS HAVE EYES is an extremely visceral thrill-ride, which I imagine only the most jaded bloodhounds will be dissatisfied by.
The presentation on Fox's R2 disc is superb. The film looks absolutely stunning. So it should, let's be fair. Daylight images are some of the most pleasingly sharp and clear I've ever seen - while darker images and contrast are handled very well. The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 TV sets.
Audio is available in English 5.1, which is superb too. Loud, clear and interference free - not to mention booming in all the right places. Removable English subtitles are easy to read.
It's worth noting that the R2 disc is the unrated, uncut version of Aja's film.
Gorgeous animated menus lead us into some interesting extra features.
There's two audio commentaries on offer. The first, from Aja in conversation with screenwriter Gregory Levasseur and producer Marianne Maddalena, is fairly interesting and flows well considering the potential language barrier. It's rarely a problem here. The second commentary comes courtesy of Craven and original producer Peter Locke.
Next up is an enjoyable (though, if anything, overlong) 50 minute documentary entitled SURVIVING THE HILLS. It includes some interesting on-location footage, along with cast members addressing the cameras to tell us about their characters. Aja seems like an all-round good guy.
A music video, from The Finalist (is it uncool to ask "Who?"?!) follows. Hmm.
Finally, we get a "first look" featurette on the new remake of THE OMEN, plus trailers for SILENT HILL, THE SENTINEL, STAY and BEHIND ENEMY LINES 2: AXIS OF EVIL. Why, God only knows.
A worthy remake, less of the abomination I'd expected. Actually, it's very good once it finds it's feet. Certainly gory enough to meet the needs of audiences weaned on a diet of THE EVIL DEAD, HELLRAISER and THE FLY.
For the older ones amongst us, the cynical few who can't believe a remake of Craven's edgy little shocker was even considered, Aja has done a largely decent job of respecting the old while thrilling with the new. It's no small feat.
This R2 disc lacks the production video diary from the unrated version on R1. Is it important? You decide.
Review by Stu Willis
|Released by Fox|
|Region 2 - PAL|
|see main review|