Full disclosure: after marathoning every Nightmare on Elm Street film ever made barring the remake, I decided to check out Wes Craven’s cannibal classic The Hills Have Eyes. Only when I went to CEX to go grab a cheap copy, I accidentally bought the noughties remake without looking – whoops. From what I’ve seen though, this is the unlikely remake that neither transcends nor disgraces the name of the original, instead sitting in the hallowed halls of ‘meh’. And after watching, I basically agree.
The premise follows the traditional horror trope of an isolated family defending themselves against a sinister threat, some surviving and some not. Only this time, the family are stranded in the American wilderness, and the ‘monsters’ in question are humans, deformed by radiation from living on a nuclear test site. As a jumping off point, this does bring up some interesting questions about the dog eat dog nature of Americana competition, even from the perspective of a – in this case rather literally – nuclear family. The cliche intro certainly suggests that this is the direction the film will take, as Alexandre Aja contrasts romantic 1950s music and footage of family life with images of atomic blasts.
Unfortunately, though, the remainder of the film doesn’t really fulfill this promise, as after a dull opening intended to flesh out the characters (spoilers: this doesn’t work beyond establishing the various archetypes) The Hills Have Eyes descends into full-on torture porn debauchery. Nothing is off the table once they kill off the family dog: graphic scenes of rape, murder, and dismemberment aren’t hard to come by. And if this was done with more purpose, or even more visual flair, I could potentially, possibly, consider excusing it. But for the most part, I just felt uncomfortable, and I doubt it was in the way that Aja intended.
Inevitably, these kinds of visceral depictions tend to divide people, which I imagine is the reason why Aja’s movie has landed a coveted spot in the 50% club. The effects may be well done, the makeup in particular, but this kind of artistry is understandably a little hard to swallow. As someone who can watch all manner of bizarre violence without feeling overly unsettled (what this says about me, I don’t want to know), the film ranks at around a 5/10; the performances are fine, some cool concepts are mentioned, but nothing is mind-blowing or innovative, and from what I’ve heard this remake contributes very little new. This rating would be far lower for anyone averse to violence, especially sexual violence (and I will say this is grossly overused in The Hills Have Eyes), and possibly higher for those who actively enjoy it.
To conclude: watch New Nightmare instead.