Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Hills Have Eyes

  I may not have been into horror movies when this one came out, but the concept of killer cannibal mutants terrorizing a family stranded in the desert stuck in my head. Over time curiosity would get the better of me every now and again, and I'd look the movie up, but never brought myself to watch it. Yet the concept grew on me. I liked the backstory of atomic tests in the desert resulting in these people mutating. Scary stuff man. Anyway, a while ago I decided to at least watch the original, which I quickly found out had none of the mutant stuff. The antagonists were just deranged cannibals. No atomic testing, no mutants, and my interest quickly waned. But, I had no idea then that I would come right back to this one, and enjoy the hell out of it.

   The original didn't click with me, I didn't like it at all. To date, it's the only Wes Craven movie I didn't enjoy at all. After that one, my interest in the remake dropped sharply and I moved on to other horror movies. Anyhow, given that it's October, and Halloween is mere days away- department store shelves are brimming with horror movies, and on the cheap no less. I couldn't resist some of these and walked away with a grip of blu rays, including the remake of The Hills Have Eyes. Now, I must confess, a good friend had told me last year that even if I disliked the original, I might still like this one- so it was an informed purchase, but a blind-buy nonetheless, and those are always scary because you never know if the movie will end up sucking. If it does, you're stuck with it. Yay.

   Cutting to the chase here- I was actually getting my hopes up for this one all over again, and let me just say right now that it didn't disappoint. The inclusion of the atomic bomb tests backstory adds a layer of unsettling creepiness to the movie that was sorely lacking in the original. There's just something repulsive about mutations and deformities. It has a very exploitative quality to it, like a sideshow attraction. It's creepy, haunting, and grotesque. You don't wanna look at it, but you also can't look away. That kind of appeal is here in spades, and again, something that was lacking from the original. I hate comparing them at this point, holding the remake over the original. The social climate back then was so different, I just may have missed some cultural context that would've made the original more effective to me.

  Yet the test of time with any movie is an essential one. If your concept doesn't have shelf life, it's not going to be as scary decades later. That was the case with the original for me. I heard it was a comment on family life, post-Vietnam. I guess? I don't see it, but again- socio-cultural context. Anyways, this movie is pretty gruesome. It should be noted I saw the unrated edition, which apparently got an NC-17 from the MPAA. Yay! The movie follows the story of the original fairly religiously. A family on vacation gets stranded in the New Mexico desert, and quickly finds themselves terrorized by cannibalistic people living in the hills. Of course, as I've mentioned, the twist this time is that they're also mutants. Which just makes this whole thing scarier.

  The haunting atmosphere is carefully fostered and built on throughout the first act, and then things just explode in the second act. The intensity is ramped up to 11 and the movie gets shockingly graphic and brutal. It doesn't let up from there. It just gets crazier the more it goes on. This would all be for naught if we didn't give a shit about the characters, which I actually did. They seem like a real family more or less. They all had chemistry, and you could totally buy their dynamic. Decent and serviceable acting all around, and then moments of exceptional emotional punch. I was impressed. Of course the real star of this movie is the practical effects and the makeup effects.

  The practical makeup/gore effects in this movie were done by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger apparently. Nicotero is actually pretty famous for his makeup effects work.  Do movies like... From Dusk Til Dawn, Day of the Dead, and Evil Dead II ring a bell? Yeah, Greg Nicotero worked on all those in the same department. His work here is just as stellar. This flick is a total splatterfest, and the mutant characters look incredibly scary. Sometimes the work is understated and low-key, and in other places it's in-your-face horrifying. Either way, it's just as effective. The actors behind the makeup give it their all too, it's a real horrifying treat seeing these guys go on a crazy murder spree.

   This one is obviously not for the weak-stomached because this movie is full of all kinds of graphic killing and even a rape scene. The third act is reserved for payback of course and that's just as amazing. The third act of the movie has some neat surprises in store for the viewer, and plenty of shocking imagery to go along with it. I read someone complain about the shaky cam in this one... which is a bullshit complaint. There is no shaky cam. Maybe some handheld cameras, but shaky cam? No. This movie is well shot and incredibly intense. The multi-tiered climax involves one character going into the mutant's hideout to rescue an infant, and it's one of the most hair raising sequences in a movie full of hair raising sequences. I was definitely on the edge of my seat the whole time.

   Is The Hills Have Eyes perfect? No. But it's a perfect example of how to do a remake properly. It took a dated movie and updated it in a respectful and necessary way. I couldn't be more pleased with this movie. It's exactly what I wanted from a movie about mutant cannibals. It's wall-to-wall blood, gore, and violence- that's also actually creepy as hell. If that doesn't sound like your cup of tea... don't watch it? Everyone else... enjoy. Try to put yourself in the right mindset first. This isn't a high-minded movie, but it's also not one you need to turn your brain off to enjoy. It's a fairly smart flick, but it's first and foremost a survival horror movie.  It's about a family having to survive attacks by mutant cannibals. What else do you expect from it? It delivers amazingly well on that basic premise. I really enjoyed it. Top marks for this remake.

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