The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Ask anybody what the best Wes Craven movie is and you’ll probably either hear A Nightmare on Elm Street or Scream, but for my money Craven never did better than his sophomore effort (not counting his terrifying porno film as pseudonym Abe Snake) The Hills Have Eyes. The movie just works on an elemental level, it’s brutal and ugly but doesn’t wallow in its nastiness like his previous film The Hills Have Eyes or shy away from being visceral like later films The People Under the Stairs and Shocker. It’s a movie that shows a lot without showing too much and the mythology of the cannibal mutants was interesting without going into too much detail. It’s Craven’s masterpiece and one of the highest echelon in the canon of great horror movies.
Also there’s a dog who’s basically the hero of the movie.
The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
The remake of The Hills Have Eyes is director Alexander Aja’s first American film. Aja goes meaner, nastier, and more violent than Craven’s version. The desert mutants, previously just a clan of cave dwelling cannibals in the vein of the legend of Sawnee Bean are now explicitly deformed mutants twisted by the residual radiation of the nuclear tests held in the desert. The family is a bit more stacked with familiar faces with Ted Levine and Kathleen Quinlan as the parents, Emile de Raven at the peak of her Lost career bump, and the cannibals are headed up by the always wonderful Billy Drago and Robert Joy in his second major facial prosthesis in a horror movie in a year’s time after his appearance in Land of the Dead.
The performances are strong, the effects are better, the film is bigger budget and more crisply filmed. Yet something just doesn’t click as well.
Is it a good remake?
No it isn’t. When I think of the way remakes worked in the ‘00s, The Hills Have Eyes dings almost everything they did wrong. Its as if the people responsible for the remake have taken the original film, watched it frame by frame and decided what they can milk out of each individual moment to either expand or change. The movie is too reliant on the original while at the same time insistent on being different so it has no real voice of its own. The warmth of the family dynamic in the original movie is gone, the lean simplicity of the cannibal family is gone, everything’s been improved but it’s not as scary or as compelling as the original.
The decision to make the cannibals radioactive mutants feels overdone, Robert Joy’s weird mouth is unsettling but still manages to be less creepy than Lance Gordon with filed teeth and an afro. Similarly Pluto, the hulking hydrocephalic beast that serves as the family’s muscle, is clearly just a big guy in some facial prosthetics while Michael Berryman wasn’t particularly hulking or monstrous, he just made his peculiar looks work for him. Everything is over-produced and overthought and while this doesn’t ruin the movie it does make it pale in comparison to its predecessor.
Does it stand on its own?
Yes, very much so. The Hills Have Eyes is also a great example of why people should just calm the hell down about remakes. It’s not as good as the original, but why does it have to be? A movie can just be good and not live up to the legendary status of its predecessor. And yes we should have more original ideas but original ideas don’t actually exist, people are just mashing up things they’ve seen elsewhere and calling it something new so doing a new take on an existent property is fine. The Hills Have Eyes isn’t a great remake but it’s a pretty solid film in its own right and that’s all that really matters.
Watch, Toss, or Buy?