Published Mar 01, 2006While horror remakes have mostly hit us with a gratuitous axe to the noggin, as bad as some of them are (House of Wax, I'm looking at you), fans can't really complain they're "remaking" films of yore, and rarely are they ever ambitious enough to improve on the original.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake came closest to matching its progenitor, and if you take into consideration just how good a film the original was, Aja's retelling of The Hills Have Eyes is as good as a remake by today's standards you're going to get
Based on Wes Craven's 1977 cult film, which was almost given an "X" rating because of its ultra-violence and intense subject matter, Aja's film sticks close to the original script, however he takes liberties with the setting and circumstances of the inhabitants by force-feeding the audience an opening montage of nuclear tests and the human deformities that resulted.
His California desert wasteland is the perfect breeding ground for depraved, subhuman monsters and even better, a hopeless setting for an All-American family to get stranded in. The game of "kill or be killed" (unfortunately not a Parker Brothers board game yet) at first takes its toll on the civilians, as the savages tease, torture and take life away from half of the Carter family.
Craven's idea for a revenge film where average city folk defy all odds and fight back was a good one, however when Aja sends the nerdy Doug (X-Men's Aaron Stanford) to save his infant daughter, it's then when we're transported into a true realm of fiction.
They say that when your life is on the line, you can exert superhuman strength, however, as a wireless cell phone salesman kicks the ass of every inbred behemoth in town, Aja loses the plot a little. The film also has another failing: the hill people.
In 1977, Craven obviously didn't have near the budget Aja does here for makeup and special effects, so he simply made his villains look mean and crazy Michael Berryman didn't even need makeup for his part of Pluto. But Aja goes overboard with the makeup, pushing the theme that his antagonists are severely deformed and impaired (i.e., the new Pluto is a giant, warped ogre who looks more like Jason Voorhees sans hockey mask), which does work in the opening montage, however, it reduces the characters to ugly cartoons the more it plays out.
Where Aja holds serve is in his portrayal of these beings. They are psychopaths, not abused guinea pigs; he leaves any sense of compassion at the door, going all out by making them one-dimensional, bloodthirsty degenerates.
If we've come to learn anything from the contemporary horror remake, it's to sit back and enjoy the bloodbath (like in Aja's Haute Tension), because that's what horror for the new millennium is, apparently, all about. And strangely enough, it's a wildly entertaining phenomenon. (Fox Searchlight)