The Hills Have Eyes

©2006 Fox Searchlight Pictures
Aaron Stanford in THE HILLS HAVE EYES. Photo Credit: Lacey Terrell

Is there something that was not addressed in Wes Craven’s 1977 original that is in this remake, also produced by Craven and directed by Alexandre Aja? I have not watched the original but, if it is even remotely like the movie I have just seen, I’m certain I can go an entire lifetime without having viewed it. “The Hills Have Eyes” is touted as a horror film but I think it belongs in a narrower subgenre populated mostly by directors who seem preoccupied with the need to outdo each other’s grotesque sensibilities.

The premise is exceptionally simple: The Carter family and their son-in-law are traveling through New Mexico on their way to vacation in California. Their truck and trailer get bashed up when they run over a trap on a backroad shortcut which was suggested by a gas station attendant in the middle of nowhere. Stranded, they attempt to make the best of the situation only to discover they’re being watched. The watchers are the mutated offspring of a couple irradiated by atomic tests. The mutated humans bear obvious resentment and hatred toward anyone who enters the area near the mine into which they’ve retreated. This is about as much motivation as Craven apparently thought the characters needed to resort to varying acts of disgusting violence and cannibalism.

Like “Wolf Creek,” I find absolutely no artistic merit whatsoever in this film. The structure of the very slasher genre for which Craven is credited with establishing is repeated here with startling inanity: A group of people are stranded by what seems like an accident. They’re watched by voyeurs waiting to do bad things to them. They’re picked off one by one. If the film contains no stars, then either everyone is massacred or a sole survivor emerges. If the film was cast to have, inexplicably, a romantic lead couple to increase the studio’s figures, then the couple will survive — especially if they’re popular film stars. There’s nothing new introduced here, except perhaps the greater magnitude of orgiastic gore and the absence of the campy humor and deaths so visually absurd, so common in modern slasher films, that prevent the viewer from identifying each victim’s suffering as even remotely plausible.

Suffice it to say that the film reached a point of lurid obsession far exceeding the prurient interest such that a dozen or so people walked out. Ask yourself: How offensive does a film have to be for people to bail out on a FREE screening? That’s how terrible this film is.

The scenes that people had the greatest displeasure with (and that’s putting it exceedingly mildly) were extraordinarily misogynistic in nature. Have you ever noticed how in borderline snuff-horror the camera dwells most on the torture and suffering of beautiful women? I was previously wondering the same thing watching “Wolf Creek.” In both movies, not even a tenth of the time is devoted to the humiliation, terrorizing and agonizingly slow maiming of male victims. I suspect it’s because the violence as a power game is employed by these directors with an almost sexual fervor — and to infer such sexuality exists between the director and the characters they exploit for sadomasochistic titillation would imply a degree of homosexuality they wish to avoid being associated with. While that’s not necessarily the definition of homophobia, it certainly exceeds the minimum standards of defining bigotry and chauvinism.

If there is any kind of message in the film it must be that deformity equals evil. Just to be sure I wasn’t generalizing, I found a built-in proof: Gradients of depravity. The Carter family member capable of the most violence, in retaliation to the mutants, is the one who is already established as demonstrably more selfish than the others. You know how you can tell who the mysteriously benevolent deus ex machina of the mutated family is? She’s less deformed than the others. There’s always a feeble kind of morality play inherent in horror: e.g. Sex and drugs at camp will get you killed, scientific “tampering with nature” is amoral and therefore evil, ugly people are bad, etc. One could deconstruct almost every horror film as a PSA for Focus on the Family.

Aja so relentlessly hammers the audience that by the time the hero shot comes along the audience is either too depressed, too offended or simply too desensitized to the barrage of violence to even care that someone made it out alive. To describe this film as “pornographically violent” is an affront to pornography. There’s no psychological, intellectual, dramatic or aesthetic gain enjoyed by the audience. The ending is an insulting put-on… Why even waste the celluloid attempting to have an uplifting conclusion in a film so intentionally repugnant? The audience has already checked out by the time the mother watches her eldest daughter defiled in ways I won’t describe so as to not sensationalize or further publicize a movie so utterly worthless as this.

The Hills Have Eyes • Dolby® Digital surround sound in select theatres • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 • Running Time: 107 minutes • MPAA Rating: R for strong gruesome violence and terror throughout, and for language. • Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures

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  • Mary T

    Very well put and accurate. I agree with everything said in this review.

  • kitty

    I completely agree – I had the misfortune of catching a scene of this movie on TV last night – it was the part with the eldest daughter that you refer to. Needless to say it’s horrifying, and somehow it seems incredibly disrespectful to me. I’m not used to feeling this way about any piece of creative work or art, but these kinds of movies seem to cheapen real suffering, and real trauma. I don’t understand how people can stand watching it – there’s nothing of value to take away, nothing good to be learned.

  • Mr Sensitive

    Totally agree. This movie is a worthless piece of garbage of the worst kind. I have seen many many crappy, disturbing movies, like Cannibal Holocaust, I spit on your grave…etc…etc.. but this one was devoid of anything good at all. What’s worse is there are people in the world that love movies like this. It got itself a sequel after all. I haven’t bothered to watch it.

  • Sam

    I had the misfortune of actually wanting to see this in theatre’s and have been scarred by what I witnessed ever since. Horrifically violent and depraved, I would call this snuff rather than horror.

    But what it lacked in reasonable decency it made up for in true feelings of terror. I’ve read some positive reviews that gave it good marks, but for the strictly horror/terror buff; a sentiment I agree with to limited extent. I felt that it was an interesting film overall, but personally would have preferred less grotesque and disturbing violence (especially towards women). I suppose it’s a perverted insight into a visceral, demented, and primitive human nature. Certainly wouldn’t recommend it, unless you’re really, really, really, really, REALLY into horror movies.