Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
March 2006

Another roll of the 'Eyes'

'The Hills Have Eyes' remake signals one thing: Horror movies desperately need new blood

The Hills Have Eyes
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Director: Alexandre Aja
Screenplay: Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur, based on a 1977 script by Wes Craven
Starring: Aaron Stanford, Ted Levine, Kathleen Quinlan, Emilie de Ravin, Vinessa Shaw, Dan Byrd, Desmond Askew and Robert Joy
Rated R / 1 hour, 47 minutes
Opened March 10, 2006
(out of four)

Alright, that's it. Stop everything. Horror movie fans, horror movie directors, all champions of the horror-movie genre: Have a seat. We need to talk.

I have a plot outline for you - you know, just a "for-instance." A group of people, be it college-age friends or a big, happy family, set out on a road trip in the middle of nowhere, gets lost, happens upon a desolate gas station owned by a creepy toothless old man and proceeds to become prey for a band of bloodthirsty savages whose dietary habits are a little unusual.

I have just described the plot outline for the new remake of The Hills Have Eyes, but in doing so I have also described, in precise detail, the storylines for just about every horror/slasher film of the last 30 years, dating back to the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which is still one of the elite of this group, by the way).

Folks, you must stop this at once. You've been replicating this very same formula - to the extent that every new entry seems like a startling case of deja vu - for more than three decades now. It's time to move on. I'm calling for an official moratorium on this formula, starting now. Who's with me? It should last for at least 20 years - maybe by then, we can bring it back (in moderation, of course) as a sort of ironic relic from the past. Until then, no more. There are other ways to make a horror movie. There are other plot devices - I promise.

The Hills Have Eyes is inhabited by characters that clearly haven't seen enough horror movies. The Carter family is heading for San Diego via the vast, endless landscapes of the New Mexico desert. There was an easier route to California, as the kids constantly reminds us, but the head of the household (and the truck, and the trailer home attached to the back), nicknamed "Big Bob" (Ted "It puts the lotion in the basket" Levine) has insisted that they take the long, scenic route. Sounds like my dad. (Except my dad doesn't have that cool voice.)

Anyway, the Carters have three beautiful children - Brenda (Emilie de Ravin, otherwise known as the Pregnant Chick from Lost), Bobby (Dan Byrd) and Lynne (Vinessa Shaw), who has just had a child with her new husband, Doug (Aaron Stanford). This is the typical movie family, and they go on their way, cheerfully oblivious to the bloodshed and terror that lies ahead.

The gas station should have been their first clue. There it is, surrounded by nothingness, without any customers at its pumps, with scarcely any food on its convenience-store shelves, a gas station so rotten and disheveled it looks ripe for demolition any day now.

Which brings me to another point: Do they just use the same gas station for all of these movies? Because it always looks like the same one. Was it created for the sole purpose of being used in horror movies? Is it on wheels so they can move it from set to set? And what about the attendant - do they use the same guy for every movie? Is that his full-time job - the Horror Movie Gas Station Attendant Guy? Does he have a pension?

OK, I'm done hypothesizing. In this update of the 1977 Wes Craven film, the killers in question are actually genetic mutants, supposedly spawned by nuclear testing done in the area by the U.S. government. Some of the mutants look genuinely disturbing, so cheers to the makeup team and art department. Jeers, however, to writer/director Alexandre Aja (High Tension), who creates the kind of bloodletting and "horror" that inspires more laughs than screams. Aja is on auto pilot the entire time, ignoring certain aspects that could generate some creepy imagery - like the plastic mannequins inside the fake houses at the testing grounds - and focusing solely on blood. Lots and lots of blood.

This may satisfy the basic expectations of this type of movie - but really, horror fans should be asking for a bit more than this. Especially by now.

Aja also employs enough loud, random electronic noises on the soundtrack to put a Fox football broadcast to shame.

But you know what? Maybe it's not all Aja's fault. Maybe it's just the system - the system that turns horror films merely into carbon copies of one another. In 1973, this was genuinely horrific - not so much anymore. A few months ago, I gave a mild recommendation to Wolf Creek, which followed pretty much the same formula as this. Granted, it didn't have much more originality than The Hills Have Eyes, but writer/director Greg McLean infused it with realistic characters, solid dialogue and extraordinary atmosphere. And even then, with all that going for it, Wolf Creek still fell victim to its roots too often.

The fact is, despite the rare movie, like Wolf Creek, that works within this storyline, the horror movie genre as a whole needs a shot in the arm. We can't keep rehashing this plot. We've seen it all before. Even modern romantic comedies aren't this formulaic and bland.

This genre rarely gets a jolt of energy anymore - in recent years, it seems that only The Blair Witch Project, 28 Days Later and the zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead have done anything interesting with horror-movie conventions. (If I'm forgetting any, forgive me, but the point is there hasn't been much to write home about lately. Also, I'm not including suspense thrillers like The Sixth Sense - I don't classify those as horror.)

Is it too much to ask for something new?

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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