There’s something so sinister about The Hills Have Eyes, a refreshing remake of Wes Craven’s seventies classic that I still can’t wrap my head around it. I don’t know if it’s because of the brutal opening scene or the fact we will be following a single family, but this movie is just nasty. The atmosphere is ominous from minute one and the setting genuinely desolate. We won’t be getting lost in the woods this time but in the barren deserts of New Mexico. A place where nuclear tests have been going on for quite some time. And I guess you already see where this is going. Director Alexandre Aja will honor some longstanding traditions but also flip others on their heads.
We will have the infamous gas station and the rough owner who will meet our unsuspecting heroes. However, you’ll also never be able to predict where the story is going. Additionally, The Hills Have Eyes also features some pretty mysterious killers. Their motivations are nihilistic making them that much scarier. They are agents of chaos, taking everything we hold cute, normal, and loving and subverting it effortlessly. I always felt uncomfortable, like anything might happen and I didn’t want to see this poor family fucked up any further.
The first thing that’s going to hit you when you start watching this movie is the visual quality. The cinematography was excellent bringing to life the alien landscapes of Morocco and not New Mexico. There was something so exotic and at the same time unwelcoming about these vistas. And then we will start to meet our hideous mutants living in the hills. The practical effects along with the make-up were excellent. We expected nothing less from Greg Nicotero and his crew.
I think that Robert Joy as Lizard was the most striking individual. He played a similar role just a year prior in Romero’s Land of the Dead. That lip thing is highly effective, you’ll have to admit. We also have a much meaner version of Sloth from Goonies and a variety of other disfigured people. However, loveable Laura Ortiz as Ruby gave Lizard a run for his money. And the entire Carter family was well-developed, starting with Big Bob and poor Ethel. I say poor because ten years earlier she found herself in a similar situation in Breakdown. Of course, as an IT man myself, I couldn’t help identifying with Doug, arguably the best character in the entire movie. Apart from one or two scenes, everyone here acts quite reasonably and doesn’t rush into certain death.
Bob and his wife Ethel decided to spend their silver wedding anniversary a bit differently. The two of them along with their immediate and extended family are on a road trip. Currently, they’re lost somewhere in New Mexico but they soon stumble upon a remote gas station. The owner tells them that there’s a shortcut up ahead and that it would save them a couple of hours. Bob decides to go for it not knowing that he’s driving his entire family into almost certain and gruesome death.
I remember watching The Hills Have Eyes for the first time back in 2006 and feeling completely freaked out by it. It just blew me away with its interesting story and a sense of impending doom. Nowadays I watch these 2000s slashers like House of Wax or Wrong Turn to relax. I did not relax watching this one. Don’t get me wrong, I still had a blast, it’s just this movie is much more intense than the rest of them from that era. It was the first English-speaking movie for the French director Alexandre Aja after he broke out with Haute Tension.
Aja brought this fucked up European vibe to a distinctly American movie and made it that much better. Just consider the opening sequence showing a real picture of real people with birth defects. Caused by the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, these people will put you in the right mood for what’s about to follow. He knew how to accentuate the wicked nature of certain scenes. Notice how the camera moves on the first night when the mutants are first spotted. And the visceral nature of all subsequent scenes with careful attention to detail.
I don’t want to spoil anything for you so I’m beating around the bush here. However, you’ll know what’s this scene as soon as it appears. The Hills Have Eyes is one of the best horror remakes I have ever seen I highly recommend you check it out. There’s a direct sequel to this movie, The Hills Have Eyes II released just a year later that’s worth taking a look at. Sure, it’s predictable and cliched but if you’re hungry for some human vs. mutant action, it will do just fine.