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This week sees yet another horror movie remake from the 1970s on Australian screens. Released in 1977, The Hills Have Eyes was Wes Craven's third feature film as a director, after beginning with soft-core-academia porn movie Together (1971) - co-directed with Friday the 13th' wunderkind Sean S. Cunningham - as a way to break into the movie business. He then delivered the eminently controversial rape-revenge film The Last House On The Left (1972), Craven's exploitation 'interpretation' of Bergman's The Virgin Spring (1960). His third feature, The Hills Have Eyes, instantly became a cult classic and a box office hit, making its paltry $325 000 budget back many times over. This remake sees Craven produce, while 27 year-old French filmmaker Alexandre Aja (High Tension) sits in the director's chair. He follows Craven's original story very closely, deviating only minimally to serve his updated version. The Carters from Cleveland are on a family holiday, crossing California's Mohave Desert with their deluxe Airstream caravan. The head of the family, Big Bob, (Monk's great Ted Levine), insists on going off the beaten track in search of a famous old silver mine, which also just happens to be a nuclear test site from the 1950s. Of course the decision proves fatal. After stopping for petrol at a very remote 'gas station', and being advised of a 'short cut' by the curmudgeonly old redneck who owns it, the Carters find themselves the prey of a mutant cannibal family, hell-bent on making their last few hours on earth as grisly as possible. Guess who's coming to dinner' Their only hope lies with son-in-law Doug, Aaron Stanford (Tadpole, Winter Solstice), who must transform himself from mild-mannered pacifist into a blood-thirsty, murderous gun-totin' freak-like-them in order to save surviving family members' Naturally not before half of the women folk have been shot n' violated, and a baby girl stolen from the almighty Airstream, the high symbol of Americana that it is'
This very faithful remake takes the original and magnifies everything.The family byplay and relationships are great, the cinematography glorious, the direction of the actors and their performances are absolutely terrific, and you really do feel it when bad things start to happen to them. Aja also pumps up the film's anti-nuclear subtext and brings more of a social critque to American society, only touched on in the original. (The film's pre-titles 'duck and cover' archival sequence is very entertaining, setting up the raison d'etre for the cannibal family nicely, and the scenes inside the nuclear test site village are simultaneously eerie and ironic). But the violence ' which has also been just as exponentially ramped up ' is so graphic and sadistic it almost cancels out the good filmmaking and smart subtext. You feel like you've run a marathon by the end. Such is the sadism and level of gore it really does becomes very, very difficult to watch. Not unlike local 'torture porn' entry Wolf Creek, a movie which clearly owes more than a passing nod to Craven's original.