Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

In media studies there is a term called Intertextuality, which basically means that other bodies of work (or indeed the personal lives) of the directors, writers, and actors in a movie or television show can have positive effects on the finished project for the viewers. Examples include having someone play strongly against type – John Wayne playing Rooster Cogburn in True Grit worked partially because the audience expected him to always play the obvious good guy in every western, whereas his character in that film was a burnt out drunk. On its own the film would have worked fine, but with Wayne’s career in westerns behind it, it made for a new look at a classic star in his genre of choice.

I bring this up because the reimagining of The Hills Have Eyes, which came out in 2006 has not one, but two examples of Intertextuality. First off, the film has two stars I’m pretty familiar with in other venues. Emilie de Ravin (famous to most as Claire from Lost) and Dan Byrd (Travis from Cougar Town) star as the two teens on the terrible road trip that leads through some pretty horrible hills. Secondly, and this one was a little trickier to spot; Doug, the husband of the teens older sister is definitely dressed and made up to look like Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs a 1971 thriller about a quiet man pushed too far and his violent vengeance against his wrongdoers (hmmm… I wondered as I first noticed how he was dressed – I wonder if this film will play out in a similar way?)

I probably watched the original film when I was in early junior high (grade seven or eight) and at the time, it seemed shocking and really creepy. A family on vacation get into trouble when their car is wrecked (later shown to have been done on purpose) and they are set on by a family of cannibals and thieves. At the time I found the violence shocking and the back story of the horrible family seemed pretty engrossing as well. It wasn’t necessarily what I would call a horror classic, but it was definitely worth a watch.

The remake (again sorry, I assumed it was a reimagining, but within 30 minutes of the run-time it became very obvious this was pretty much a remake) follows roughly the same story; same family, same setup, but with a few changes: 1) The cannibal family is the descendants of miners who were mutated due to atomic testing, 2) There is very little back story given other than a vague “Your government did this to us so you deserve to die, and 3) The main villain is not the patriarch (father) of the family, but instead a giant mutant son, who, although pretty scary, has no lines and therefore loses some of the menace of the original.

As far as a thriller/horror goes, however, the film was quite good. You really hope the family will escape this horrible set up and when the tables are finally turned on the mutants you are definitely cheering for their demise. I didn’t end up keeping the DVD copy I had, but it was effective and would be worth a watch as a rental.

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