Friday, March 17, 2006

The Hills Are Alive...With Remakes

Last Friday I went to go see the big-budget remake of The Hills Have Eyes. For those who haven't seen the 1977 original, here's a brief plot synopsis: A family going to California accidentally goes through an Air Testing range closed to the public. They crash and are stranded in the middle of the desert. Miles from nowhere, the family soon realizes the seemingly uninhabited wasteland is actually the breeding ground of a blood-thirsty mutant family...and they are the prey.

In order to prep for seeing the remake, I watched the original again since it'd been so long since I'd watched it. Long story short: It stressed me out. Though it may have been what has now come to be termed as "low budget," it still managed to pack a wallop when it came to delivering suspense, atmosphere and skilled actors. Plus, on a purely superficial note, I found the actor Robert Houston (in the role of "Bobby") to be super-dreamy. As it turns out, he went on to become a documentary film maker, receiving multiple Oscar nominations, as well as winning an Oscar in 1995. AND...he's gay. Can I pick 'em or what? Unfortunately, his dreaminess has wained somewhat. Oh well, that's life. But I digress.

I show up at the theater for the "Early Bird Special" and pay a mere $3 to see the remake. Regardless of how the movie turns out to be, I've spent the equivalent of a rental price! Sweet!

For the most part, the movie's plot remains fairly loyal to the original's. Only the back story (instead of an Air Testing range, it is now a Nuclear Testing Range) and a few minor scenes were altered or removed altogether, while both the gore and the "freak" factor (all the mutants got the F/X treatment) got upped, as well as some tacked on extensions to scenes as well as an open-ended conclusion (I smell sequellllllllll!).

The remake starts out with a new scene: A group of men in hazmat uniforms are collecting samples in the desert. Naturally, one wanders off and before you can say Industrial Light & Magic! they're all brutally killed, feet bound with chains, attached to the back of their own vehicle and hauled away by the sinister mountain folk!

Though I enjoyed the opening sequence (one of the only times I was genuinely startled during the film), the opening credits had that all-too-familiar jerky editing (the obligatory flashing of washed up sepia-toned imagery: medical photos...newspaper clippings...archived footage) "technique" that seems to be the current trend in horror movies these days.

Fast forward to what I liked about the remake:
• The casting was pretty decent, though I have to admit I didn't feel as much of a "connection" to the characters as I did in the original. i.e. I didn't care who lived or died.
• I loved that nowhere in the movie was there a single sign of in-your-face-check out our eXtreme soundtrack!-music. From beginning to when the credits rolled, not a single note. NICE!
• The mutant that reprised Michael Berryman's role of "Pluto" was very creepy. I found him to be a lot more menacing and volatile than the original.

Now for what I didn't like:
• The kid they got to reprise the role of "Bobby" (Dan Byrd) was a total puss. Unlike Robert Houston, who makes the transition from boy to man over the duration of the film. Byrd gave the kind of performance I'd expect from someone who co-starred in a movie with Hilary Duff.
• Three things stood out like a sore thumb to me, not to say that it "ruined" the movie for me and which the casual viewer probably wouldn't think twice about, but I did: [1] A herky jerky CGI crow working double duty in the same scene...once flying east then flipped and flying west. Wow, it was so bad. Is it that hard to find birds? [2] The protagonist's baby, "Catherine" was wearing a really bad baby toupee in one scene. And [3] The horribly CGI'ed fish swimming upstream in the opening sequence.
• I thought the addition of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake-like portion of the film, where one of the main characters has a showdown in a ghost town left intact from the days of atomic testing, was a little too cliched. Have you ever seen the footage from one of those atom bomb testing films? The houses were annihilated, yet an entire town managed to miraculously be left intact for the sake of this movie.
• Whereas the original was relentless once it took hold, I found the remake to be lacking in suspense. Not unlike Saw, I went in prepared to be stressed out because of the trailer and the reviews I'd read. Unfortunately, the director opted for gratuitous gore & teen appeal instead of subtlety and tension.

Overall, I didn't hate the movie, but then I wouldn't buy it on DVD either. It's rental-worthy but if you want psychological scares in lieu of gore, skip the remake and watch the original.


Anonymous ocb said...

howdy mister magic pants..

this here comment is just a placeholder because I am about to watch said movie as well lol. so i didn't really read what you wrote..but i will after i watch it k? lol

Saturday, March 18, 2006 11:40:00 PM  
Blogger Kirkkitsch said...

Thank you for the "Mister." ;)

Hey! I wanna know what you thought about the movie! I had some other friends go and they really liked it. Maybe I'm jaded from seeing too many "old school" horror movies or maybe my standards are too high. It's all possible.

Looking forward to your take on it!

-Kirk :)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006 1:54:00 AM  
Anonymous ocb said...

ok so.

just no.

I found myself largely annoyed by the fact that 90% of the dialog was screaming and shrieking and whatever the hell those other things were doing. gurgling? lol

I went in expecting extreme gore. Sure there was some, but not anything like what I was expecting. Not that that is a bad thing really.

I read this in a review for the movie:

"Despite the truly traumatizing gore, "Hills" is surprisingly artful and, believe it or not, about as much fun as a grisly horror movie can be. It's the kind of extreme fright-fest that inspires an audience's bubbling nervous laughter, one-eye-closed cringing, and probably a pretty shaky call home to mom after high-tailing it out of the theater."

You reckon I saw the same movie??

I dunno hon..did you see hostel? I thought that was crap. But after this, I think I prefer hostel.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006 9:54:00 AM  

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