The Hills Have Eyes

Starring: Aaron Stanford, Emilie de Ravin and Ted Levine
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: 18
Available 26 June 2006

The Carter couple are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary with a drive across the California desert, towing a trailer home. Their family is dragged along, unwillingly, for the ride: a daughter, her pacifist husband and their baby; and a slightly younger son and daughter. When they reach the desert of New Mexico (actually filmed in Morocco) a gas station owner purposefully misdirects them into the hills. After an accident which wrecks the car, caused by an unseen stinger (spikes normally use by the police to bring a vehicle to a halt), they are effectively stranded. The father takes the long walk back to the gas station and into trouble, while the son-in-law heads in the opposite direction looking for civilisation, only to find a crater containing dozens of vehicles. The others are attacked by violent flesh-eating mutants. When the son-in-law returns to find his wife dead and his baby taken, the younger son and daughter are left to fend for themselves while the pacifist goes on the offensive to get back his offspring...

This is an updated remake of Wes Craven's 1976 original film. In fact, he and his cohort Peter Locke are producers on this movie. The rights were offered to the French director Alexandre Aja, who made the excellent slasher movie Switchblade Romance (also known as Haute Tension), and co-writer Gregory Levasseur. They both remembered the original with affection, but made it plain the horror hadn't stood the test of time and therefore had to be updated for a new audience.

Several changes were made, the greatest being the addition of the mutant family background. In this version a New Mexico mining town is evacuated by the government for the purposes of atomic testing. The family refuses to be driven away and disappears into the hills. The twisted psychopaths encountered by the holidaymakers are the radiation-mutated offspring of that family. This somewhat hackneyed idea produces two great plot points. Firstly, it's infinitely more edgy to have a major scene take place in a long-abandoned small town than the bland backdrop of the desert. In fact, as the central character walks through the town searching for his baby, the filming techniques momentarily turn it into a western, with unseen third-party points of view through the windows from several buildings.

The second, more important point is that the mutants are in effect victims too. Victims of a cold war society, perhaps; but while it could be argued that the original mining family chose its own fate, the subsequent spawned generations did not. They have had to fend for themselves and that means all their provisions - including food - have come from hapless travellers. As it's pretty difficult to feel sympathy for a bunch of hideous cannibal abominations, the writers have been shrewd enough here to include a less ugly mutant girl who is very protective of the baby (a maternal instinct, even), causing inevitable conflict among the others.

All said and done, this is a powerful film about survival. The horror is at times brutal and visceral (no more so than the average Jason or Chucky film), but it is all conducive to the plot, and the sight of blood is surprisingly scarce. It's left ambiguous as to whether or not Emilie De Ravin's (Lost) Brenda Carter character is raped. It's more implied than seen, but in one respect is the ugliest moment. However, as the film seems to forget all about this, perhaps I was wrong. I'm just grateful we didn't get a "Nine Months Later" epilogue of a mutant baby birth, otherwise this decent horror flick would have degenerated into an It's Alive prequel. I look forward to Alexandre Aja's next project.

Extras on this single disc include: a commentary with writer/director Alexandre Aja, writer/art director Gregory Levasseur and producer Marianne Maddalena; a second commentary with main producers Wes Craven and Peter Locke; Surviving the Hills, an informative Making of... documentary; music video Leave the Broken Hearts by The Finalist; and far too many trailers for other films.

Ty Power

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