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Hollywood has always been fond of remakes. About a third of my reviews represent remakes in some form or another, and in my experience the lack of originality is a serious, often fatal, disadvantage. Recently, however, we have had a spate of horror remakes, bringing life to seventies classics and making the stories more accessible for younger generations who may not be familiar with the originals. Both The Amityville Horror and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were solid reworkings of the cult classics, and now we get a remake of the infamous early Wes Craven horror, The Hills Have Eyes.

Hills Have Eyes, The


“Between 1945 and 1962 the United States conducted 331 atmospheric nuclear tests. Today, the government still denies the genetic effects caused by the radioactive fallout…”

Bob has decided to take his wife and extended family on holiday in their caravan. They have a teenage son and two daughters, the elder of which has brought along her husband and their own baby daughter. Their route has somehow taken then straight through the New Mexico desert, largely because the dad believes the road trip will bring the family together, but when they break down in the middle of nowhere, things soon start to fall apart. The dad is quick to react, deciding that he and his son in law should walk in opposite directions down the road to find help. The others are left behind to sit and wait. Unfortunately they are not alone and pretty soon, their worst nightmares come true.

Based on the 1977 horror cult classic directed by Wes ‘ A Nightmare on Elm Street’ Craven, this remake follows the story right down to who dies and how. The characters are almost identical, the bad guys the same and so forth. So, why should anybody bother watching it? Well, after almost thirty years there is a whole new generation of film viewers who may not have encountered the bloody, banned original. For newcomers—as I was—the movie is actually remarkably innovative considering the genre.

Hills Have Eyes, The
Firstly, the standard horror fare is to have victims killed one by one in increasingly gory fashion. Here, almost nothing happens for about half an hour and then the bodies pile up within minutes. Most standard horrors also feature mostly stupid victims who tend to do things like split up or draw attention to themselves. Here, they are seldom alone and are remarkably cunning, particularly in the improvisation department. Even the dog racks up his own kill-count. This is not a stupid horror that will have you sitting at home, shouting at your screen ‘don’t go in there’.

The characters too are quite unusual, mainly thanks to the clever casting. Ted Levine ( The Silence of the Lambs, Heat, Memoirs of a Geisha) and Kathleen Quinlan ( Event Horizon, Breakdown) play the two parents, Vinessa Shaw ( Melinda and Melinda, 40 Days and 40 Nights, Eyes Wide Shut) plays the eldest daughter, Lynn, Emilie de Ravin (from Lost) plays the feisty younger daughter, Brenda (who fans of the original 1977 version should remember) and Aaron Stanford (an almost unrecognisable Pyro from X2 and X3) plays the son-in-law—Doug—whose refusal to handle firearms necessitates him getting his hands fairly bloody. In the way of bad guys, we get Robert Joy ( Land of the Dead, CSI: New York) and Billy Drago ( The Untouchables, Delta Force 2), under heavy prosthetics of course.

The Hills Have Eyes remake is a competent, solid horror movie, a worthy Hollywood debut for Alexandre Aja, the man behind the superior French horror Haute Tension (which suffered significantly from the unnecessary ‘twist’ ending). He brings plenty of blood and guts to his new production, especially with this DVD release, which presents much more gory footage than the theatrical cut. There’s some eye gouging, more shotguns blasts to bodies, heads being blown apart and an extension to the sickening rape scene. All in all, it’s a decent remake of a superior original, and it has some standing of its own. If you like your heroes not to be stupid, your villains to be unflinchingly evil and your story not to be too predictable, The Hills Have Eyes is a good place to start.

Hills Have Eyes, The


The Hills Have Eyes is presented in an excellent 2.35:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. Detail is superb throughout, with utter clarity and no sign of any softness. Grain is kept to an absolute minimum and edge enhancement is practically non-existent. The colour scheme makes the desert look hot but also luscious, and the colours are well represented throughout, however much the palette is restricted by the sand-based domination. Blacks are solid and the transfer itself exhibits absolutely no signs of any print damage.


The accompanying Dolby Digital 5.1 track is superb as well, presenting the dialogue clearly from the frontal array, but also giving us plenty of effects coverage across the surrounds, from the opening violence and the rumbling truck and trailer to the subsequent screams and echoing gunshots. Even when the dog barks, it sounds like it’s right behind you. However, it is the score that is, above all, the most important element of the track, providing this brooding background beat that really notches up the tension whilst you are watching the proceeding. It simply explodes at all the right points, but even in the quiet moments it never lets up.

Hills Have Eyes, The


There are two full length audio commentaries. The first is with the director Alexander Aja, along with the screenplay writer and art director, Gregory Levasseur and the producer Marianne Maddalena. It is quite a dry, technical effort, explaining how and why they shot things in a certain way, the effects they used, the locations, set designs and so forth. Some of it can be very throwaway (like information about whether or not the gas station they used is still in service) but fans of how this movie was made will find plenty of informative stuff here. It’s a shame, with all the screenplay knowledge that two of the contributors had, that we did not get a slightly more interesting offering.

The second commentary is with the producers Wes Craven and Peter Locke. They also spend a great deal of time discussing working in Morocco, the shooting schedules, the meals they had and how hot it was out there, again making you quite irritated when their background information could have been much more interesting and revealing. Wes Craven could have at least pointed out more comparisons between this and his original movie, but instead the commentary comes across as almost as dry as the first effort.

There is a fifty-minute documentary: ‘Surviving the Hills’ which takes a comprehensive look at the making of this movie, with plenty of behind the scenes footage of the makeup and prosthetics that were applied, the scenes being shot, and the way it was all put together, along with sound bites from all of the main cast and crew, who discuss the characters, the story and the production in general.

We also get an ‘Inside Look’ into the new Omen movie, a music video by The Finalist entitled ‘Leave the Broken Hearts’ and preview trailers for the disappointing video-game tie-in, Silent Hill, the upcoming Michael Douglas/Kiefer Sutherland action thriller, The Sentinel (in the formula of In the Line of Fire), the dire DTV sequel Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil and the Ewan McGregor/Naomi Watts psychological thriller Stay.

Hills Have Eyes, The


The Hills Have Eyes is a very entertaining remake, with plenty of surprises, shocks, gore and intelligent characters, all the requisite elements of a solid horror. The lack of originality will only really affect those familiar with the 1977 version and, even then, it breathes new life into the dusty cult classic. Video and audio presentations are excellent, and the plentiful extras should keep fans occupied. Fans of a decent horror should definitely pick this one up.