Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

The Hills Have Eyes

Posted by CinemaPsycho on March 17, 2006

Directed by Alexandre Aja/written by Alexandre Aja and Gregory Lavasseur/starring Aaron Stanford, Kathleen Quinlan, Emilie de Ravin, Vinessa Shaw, Ted Levine, Robert Joy/Fox Searchlight Pictures

OK, this isn’t going to be a full-fledged review so much as a (hopefully) brief rant. I know, what’s the difference on this site? But I’m only going to talk briefly about the film itself as far as “what’s it about” and deal mainly with some issues that the movie has brought up which kinda piss me off. Mainly, that the majority of movie critics out there are complete fucking idiots. Bear with me. If you don’t know much about the film itself, there are plenty of places on the web to find out that kind of info.

All right, so this is a remake of the 1977 Wes Craven film of the same name, which actually happens to be my personal favorite Craven film. It’s not quite as out-there as his first film, Last House on the Left, but it’s still much more raw and disturbing than his later, more mainstream stuff. Not that there’s anything wrong with doing mainstream horror films, I just really like this movie more than any of his others. It’s one of those movies I refer to as an “accidental masterpiece”, a film that just works like a motherfucker, more than it actually should have any right to. Whether it was Craven’s budding talent or just pure luck, I’m not sure, but I hold it as one of the ‘70’s “extreme horror” classics, maybe a notch below the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Dawn of the Dead.

Now Craven himself has produced a remake of the film, with his handpicked choice of director being Frenchman Aja, who made the awesome horror flick High Tension (originally released in France under the title Switchblade Romance, which in retrospect actually makes more sense). Where most remakes of classic horror flicks are merely cynical cash-ins, Craven seems to have found a kindred spirit in the young Aja, who appears to have been the perfect choice to re-create this nasty bit of business for a new generation. The Hills Have Eyes 2006 is gruesome, grisly and shockingly violent even to hardened oldsters such as myself. It’s the modern equivalent of what Craven’s original was in its day – a genuinely upsetting nerve-rattler.

It’s also a fucking awesome horror movie, and at least in my opinion, the first great movie of the year.

This is where the stupid critics come in. I’ve read a few positive reviews, but mostly the response from the tired old guard has been, as it usually is with “extreme” horror films, “why do we need stuff like this?” The quote that set me off was when smug yuppie snob Richard “Dick” Roeper called the film “an ugly piece of splatter porn”. Never mind that there’s no such thing as “splatter porn” (I’m not sure Dick knows what the words “splatter” or “porn” actually mean). It occurs to me that too many so-called intelligent critics are perfectly willing to dismiss a movie like this simply because it contains elements that they, as individuals, disapprove of. And that’s bullshit.

These are the same kinds of people who gave negative reviews to such films as Night of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw, Last House and the original Hills, which are all considered genuine horror classics that have stood the test of time. Why were these films so reviled originally? Because they pushed the envelope of screen violence. Because they showed audiences things that some people didn’t want to see. They weren’t safe. They shook people up, and some people don’t appreciate being shaken up.

Never mind that these were all films that were about something, that were a response to the times in which they were made (the Vietnam era) and were released to an audience that understood them on a primal level. All certain people could see was the violence. And that remains true to this day – films ranging from Bonnie & Clyde to The Wild Bunch to Scarface have all been summarily dismissed on the same basis by people who should be smart enough to know better. It’s not just that they don’t like a movie – it’s that they don’t approve of what the movie represents. Forget about plot, character, style, artistry; if a film is “too violent” that’s enough to write it off as a piece of shit.

Here’s the thing that the tsk-tsk critics (and I use that word loosely, given that they’re obviously not using their critical faculties) don’t understand. Violence is ugly, repulsive and sickening. That’s the point. The violence in this film isn’t “fun” or “cool” – it’s brutal and horrifying. When the family members are attacked in this film, it hurts, because we like these people and care about whether they live or die. We’re shocked and repulsed by what happens to them. Calling the movie “splatter porn” insinuates that audiences are watching the film and jerking off (psychologically, at least) to the awful brutality in it like a bunch of depraved lunatics. That’s not the case. I guarantee you, not one person in the crowded audience I saw it with reacted that way. Nobody laughed or cheered when one woman is raped by a mutant and another is shot in the head at close range. That’s not the intention or the desired reaction. Maybe if these critics actually saw films with real audiences, they would understand that.

Horror movies are supposed to be horrifying. The point is to scare the shit out of you, to unnerve you and shake you up, make you feel like you’ve just been through an unsettling experience that you won’t soon forget. It’s a catharsis, a way to channel the kind of emotions that one hopes they will never have to process in real life. This has always been the case – it’s just that what scared audiences in the past is different than what scares us now. Where people were once terrified of “scary monsters” like the old Universal creatures, films like both versions of Hills remind them that the real monster is humanity. A lot of horror films don’t do that, and that’s why most of them are quickly forgotten almost immediately after viewing. It takes an “extreme” vision to truly freak people out these days – a guy running around in a hockey mask killing off stereotypical teenagers just doesn’t cut it. For violence to truly upset people, they not only have to see it – they have to feel it. They have to be taken to places that they don’t necessarily want to go.

Some people are willing to take that ride, and many are not. Those that aren’t just aren’t going to bother seeing the film. Let’s get serious, anyone who’s squeamish about screen violence is not going to buy a ticket to Hills, or any R-rated horror film for that matter. They’ll go see something else, probably anything else. But there is a large audience out there full of people who are willing to be taken to that dark place, not because they want to jerk off to carnage but because they want the experience of being unnerved, unsettled, shaken up. It’s that audience that critics should be reviewing these films for, based not solely on what the films contain but on whether or not they work. Does the film achieve its intended goals? Is it an effective piece of work? That’s what matters. And frankly, if a movie like this disturbs and upsets you, that means it’s fucking working!

Now, I’m obviously not trying to say that every violent film is a great work of art. Of course not. I’ve seen plenty of violent films that were total crap, and I’ve seen many non-violent films that were total crap. I’ve seen lots of films where violence wasn’t used effectively. Movies like those are generally the kind where nothing works particularly well. But a movie shouldn’t be penalized just because of violent content. There’s a difference between Faces of Death and Straw Dogs. You don’t have to like a movie because it’s violent, but you shouldn’t necessarily dislike it for that reason. And if you’re that kind of person, you just should not go see that film. If you’re that kind of critic, you should excuse yourself from reviewing that film, because you have no business claiming that you can watch it objectively. Calling a film like this “splatter porn” is a bit like comparing Last Tango in Paris to Cum Swallowing Cuties 5. It’s not just unfair, it’s inaccurate and inappropriate. And it’s pretty fucking stupid.

The ironic thing is, other than the nuclear-testing angle (which I thought worked really well), the plot of the remake (at least the first 2/3rds anyway) is virtually identical to the original. The same things happen for the most part, the same characters die and the same ones survive. Yet no one seems bothered by the original anymore, because it’s now “an old movie”. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same, huh? I guarantee you, Wes Craven is somewhere right now laughing at these disapproving assholes. All the way to the bank. Can you imagine someone remaking, say, I Spit on Your Grave or Cannibal Holocaust and having to listen to moralist shitheads complain about the violence? I mean, what the fuck did these cocksuckers expect, anyway?

Of course, no true horror fan is going to skip a film like this just because of what “Dick” Roeper and the notoriously horror-hating Ebert are going to say. And that’s the way it should be. These critics honestly wonder why so many films aren’t being screened for them anymore? Gee, maybe it’s because they’re in genres that are immediately dismissed by these annoying fucks, and that they have a built-in audience who don’t really give a shit what critics say anyway. In time, the foolish outcries of the moral guardians will be forgotten, and the films will live on. The original Hills has stood the test of time, and I believe the remake will do the same. Love it or hate it, it raises questions about ourselves, our country and our humanity, that are impossible to answer. That’s what’s really fucking disturbing, and that’s what makes it a great horror film.

But one word of advice: if the government ever tells you to vacate your home because they’re doing nuclear testing in the area, do yourself a favor and get the fuck out.

**** 3/17/06

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