Last week, I braved a double feature of Wes Craven’s seminal classic THE HILLS HAVE EYES followed by its 1984 sequel. This week, I decided to revisit Alexandre Aja’s 2006 remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES followed immediately by its 2007 sequel. So, how did the reduxes hold up? Did they make a good double bill? How do they compare to the original movies? Let’s discuss!
As I mentioned previously, while I can appreciate the early works of “master of horror” Wes Craven, I don’t celebrate those first few films too often. It was interesting to revisit the original HILLS with a fresh set of adult eyes and I still respect it as visceral piece of genre cinema filmmaking. But it remains a rather unpleasant movie and something I don’t necessarily like to watch often, especially on a Friday night. I surprisingly had more fun with the maligned sequel – I think because my expectations were so low and it was my kind of bat-shit crazy. But all that said, I hadn’t seen the HILLS remake since it played on the big screen in 2006, hot on the heels of HIGH TENSION, which I really loved (ending and all!), so I was tremendously excited for Alexandre Aja’s take. My vague memory of it was that I rather liked it a lot and thought it was both very faithful to the original and one of the better remakes to come out of that remake craze of the early 2000’s.
It’s just as great now, if not better than I remember. It follows the basic story and script of the original pretty closely, but opens with a more abrupt and violent introduction which features a small group of scientists getting eviscerated by the new and improved mutant Pluto and his giant axe! After that, the remake falls into the same structural beats as the original, only this time its crisper, grittier and there are stronger actors across the board. Where the film really picks up steam is during the first big trailer attack on the family at about the mid-way point.
Genre veterans Robert Joy, Michael Bailey Smith and Billy Drago make up the principles of this version of the family and thanks to the work of KNB, their appearances are completely amplified from their inspiration. This version of Pluto is much bigger and imposing with distorted features making him look very Jason Voorhees-like. A big chunk of Lizard’s lips and clef are missing exposing his gums and teeth & hence making the mere sight of these guys far more terrifying than any of the mutants in the original. The trailer attack is far more shocking here. While the rape was implied in the original, here it’s shown with all its ugliness to make for a really uncomfortable & awkward sequence just as the movie gets going. All you can hope for is that karma is going to swing back at these fuckers big time by the end of the movie – and thankfully, it does.
The remake deviates a bit when it comes to the third act, expanding upon the surrounding grounds and the fall out for all the bomb testing that took place in this part of the desert, hence causing all these mutations among this small community of the inbred. In the conclusion, the vengeance of the Carter family is carried out to the fullest extent, making it all the more satisfying when the mutants finally get their comeuppances. Judging from the finality of how they take out our main villains, it doesn’t seem possible for there to be a sequel, right? Well let’s face it! These days, ya gotta have a sequel!
A year later, THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2 came to theaters, this time scripted by Wes Craven himself along with his son Jonathan Craven. Sadly, Aja opted not to return and instead this one is helmed by Martin Weisz, who prior to this had directed the Fangoria / Frightfest release GRIMM LOVE. The original idea stemmed from a conversation Craven had with producer Peter Locke in which he imagined Brenda (Emilie De Ravin) would be traumatized by the events of the first movie and feel compelled to join the National Guard & return to the same spot with a group of troops to eradicate the remaining mutants. Unable to return, they wrote the character & actress out and instead shifted focus to a group of ill-equipped trainees to deal with the situation at hand.
What I remember most about the release of THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2 is that the first reel was accidentally slipped into a screening of THE LAST MIMZY at a theater in Holtsville, New York and a group of little kids and parents were horrified to see the violent and graphic birth of a mutant baby instead of a beloved animated kids movie. I’ll bet money that at least a few of those kids in that screening will grow up to be horror directors now!
Anyways, the sequel starts out strong enough, although for whatever reason, the new baddie Papa Hades (played by returning Michael Bailey Smith) bashes the new mom-to-be over the head while screaming out “DIE!” In case you were unaware of his intentions. So a group of trainee soldiers are out in the same neighboring hills of New Mexico where the first film took place looking for a previous group that had gone missing. The new mutants are pretty cool, in particular Derek Mears as Chameleon. But once the shit hits the fan, these trainees tend to be killing each other at a far more alarming and successful rate than the mutants! They also tend to make the poorest of decisions. The two girls of the troupe manage to set a trap for one of the mutants and when he comes out, they ambush and kill him. Literally a minute later, one of those girls wanders off alone to pee without telling anyone and swiftly gets kidnapped! What follows is pretty mean spirited and horrific.
Look. I guess what it boils down to is that I’m just not a fan of mutant rape. The scene depicted in this sequel is so graphic and awful, that it embodies everything wrong with horror of this era that got it stuck with the “torture porn” tag to begin with. It’s exploitive, nasty and serves no real purpose other than to shock. And the rest of it isn’t a good movie, so I guess it’s safe to say this franchise doesn’t really have a lot of luck with their Part 2’s. Hell, at least the 1984 sequel had the triumphant return of Beast the dog! I love Beast! And the Beast of the remake was equally as bad-ass too!
So how do they hold up? Aja’s movie is still strong and probably the best of all 4 HILLS HAVES EYES movies. It’s actually aged really well. How do they compare? Again, if I had to pick a more fun sequel, it’s be the original film’s sequel. How do these two play together? Well by the time you get to PART 2, you may have a few chuckles at the complete incompetence of the characters, but the dire direction of it will just bring you down. Plus side, nice seeing a young Jessica Stroup here who would later go on to lead 2 seasons of Fox’s THE FOLLOWING.
Final verdict: Check out the remake, skip the sequel.