Thursday, October 4, 2012

30 Days of Fright - 03: The Hills Have Eyes

There are no super powered mutants and their absence from the world is as equally upsetting and simultaneously reassuring as the absence of flying cars, as both the mutants and the cars would probably kill a bunch of us. I count myself among that number of people who would meet their end at the hands of super-powered mutants or at the controls of a flying car. In the case of the mutants, I'd probably try collaborating if they were evil, even though it never ends well for those who try to join in; if, heaven forbid, they were using their powers for good, then I'd probably try going down the Lex Luthor route or some other type of arch-criminality, driven by my feelings of inadequacy caused by comparing myself to those super-powered do-gooders.

In the case of the flying car, I'd almost certainly crash it in an ironic way, like into a pillow factory or similar; something that would get a chuckle when the story was retold, though many people would have been killed in the tragedy (including the factory's health and safety officer, ha!).

The Moller Skycar: Utter bollocks, it doesn't work. Thank God!

Opening with a couple of lines of text that inform the viewer about nuclear tests in the 40's 50's and 60's and how the government deny knowledge of any side effects, The Hills Have Eyes (2006) gets right into the action with a small group of government workers researching the effects of radiation on the New Mexico desert, presumably near one of those test sites. As they go about their task they're attacked by someone who brutally murders the lot of them with a pick axe and then drags their bodies off for some unseen and unholy purpose.

Next we meet a family made up of a couple, their children, and their children's child who are on a road trip through the desert on their way to California as part of the couple's silver anniversary celebrations. The old couple are a set of die-hard right-wingers, with dad, Bob, a gun-toting ex-cop and mom, Ethel, a God-botherer type. The kids are made up of their teenage son Bobby, two daughters, Brenda and Lynn, and Lynn's husband Doug and their infant daughter, Catherine.

On route, they stop for petrol (that's "gas" to those from the US and "motion-lotion" to those who are truckers). The bloke who runs the petrol station, who appears to be mixed up in something altogether unwholesome, helpfully suggests a short cut that would reduce the journey by a couple of hours.

As they travel down the dirt road shortcut, someone throws a set of spikes across the road blowing out the tyres and making the family's SUV crash, stranding them all in the middle of nowhere. The family make camp using the caravan ("trailer" to our transatlantic cousins, "home" to those of you of a pikey persuasion) they were dragging with them and as soon as they get settled, Bob and Doug go in search of help, each heading in an opposite direction along the road.

Doug's wonderings bring him to a crater full of cars and SUVs filled with holiday related gear like fishing rods and camping equipment, but while interesting it's of little help and the road dead-ends with the crater. Bob, meanwhile goes back to the petrol station and finds the bloke who gave them the bum directions in a state of hysteria right before he commits suicide. Bob figures out that the short-cut was part of a deliberate plan to attack his family, like several others had been in the past, so he makes to head back to his brood. However, poor old Bob runs into some of the locals - a bunch of hideously deformed mutants - who have some nasty dinner plans for Bob and his family...

 It's not everyday you come across a little American flag sticking out of the head of your father-in-law's charred corpse, but when you do...

Based upon the 1977 film by Wes Craven, who returned as a producer for this outing and provided the production company also, The 2006 Hills Have Eyes is a mightily entertaining film considering how little there is to it. Like films that fit into the pro-torture genre there are a handful of potential victims and a handful of potential torturers and the scene is set for the sole purpose of putting the two groups together as messily as possible. However, The Hills Have Eyes doesn't feel like a torture porn movie. There's a fair amount of bloody violence and even a rape and a half (don't ask) but it's not as mean spirited as some other efforts.

The Hills Have Eyes doesn't develop the characters any more than absolutely necessary leaving them not quite one-dimensional but not far off, so that everyone's back story can be explained in as few words as possible. Dad is a tough ex-cop. Mom is religious. The eldest daughter is a mother. The youngest daughter is a slut. The son is a skater. The son-in law is a liberal. The baby is a baby.

Not much more thought is put into the villains but the mutant's back story is still pretty good, making them local miners who eventually resurfaced after those cold war nuclear bomb tests and went to live in one of the abandoned towns where the testing was done. Those places are remote and at the same time attract a trickle of tourists who would keep the mutants both entertained and fed. The anger felt by the mutants towards the norms who destroyed their homes and caused their disfigurements feels justified; for a moment after you hear the mutant explain their story you almost feel sorry for them, it works that well.

Doug, the lilly-livered liberal pussy son-in-law, is the hero of the piece (there's so little to the tale that this sort of detail doesn't really amount to a spoiler) which I found to be a nice change from movies of this kind where it's usually one of the daughters who has to step up and become a badass. The cause of Doug's transformation from pansy into no-holds-barred fucking murderer is both understandable and believable.

The Hills Have Eyes is well made with the desert setting doing it's job brilliantly. This is a time where I'm glad the director decided not to show off the beauty of the desert with gratuitous shots of sunsets and other bullshit like that. The whole production has a slick well-made feel to it with the effects completely over the top but well done at the same time. While computer effects must have featured (unless there's a bunch of terribly deformed Screen Actors Guild members out there (Sarah Jessica Parker excluded, obviously) ) those effects were well done and not overly noticeable. Even the pretty disturbing opening credits are well constructed and set the tone perfectly from the outset.

The acting is more than functional and there are some very well played scenes. I liked Ted Levine as Bob - you may remember him as Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs or as the general in Evolution. Kathleen Quinlan as Ethel was pretty decent too (her horror experience includes a good turn as Momma Bear in Event Horizon), but the stars of the show were Aaron Stanford as Doug and all the freaks who played the mutants, of whom there were too many to mention.

At first glance The Hills Have Eyes is a slasher flick that borders of torture porn, but to categorize it that way is to do the film a great disservice as it's much more entertaining then you'd expect either of those two types of film to be.

Two Thumbs Up for The Hills Have Eyes

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