After the critical (but not American box office) success of "High Tension," French director Alexandre Aja was recruited to film an American remake to the 1977 Wes Craven classic "The Hills Have Eyes." Craven was even attached as producer.
Following the storyline of the original somewhat closely (this is far less a "reimagining" than the superior "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remake that no doubt inspired 20th Century Fox to bankroll this movie), Aja's version does feature more politics around the subject of nuclear testing and hatred of America. The American flag even becomes a deadly weapon in the story. The film also borrows liberally from other '70s fear films about travelers under siege, most notably "Tourist Trap" (with the addition of a city of manicans) and Steven Spielberg's "Duel."
A family on a road-trip drive through the New Mexico desert where cel phones conveniently don't work, and while taking a short cut are stranded when a trap set in the road blows all their tires. There's an angry old ex-cop as the patriarch of the clan; his whimp son-in-law (Aaron Stanford); two daughters, one of whom is the wife with baby (yes, there's a baby), the other a young hottie (Emelie de Ravin); plus an angry younger son, even younger than the one depicted in the original. Oh yes, and the mother/matriarch of the clan.
Perhaps not too surprisingly (particularly if you've seen the original), there are mutants living in the hills of the desert where they've been stranded, hence the title of the film. Thanks to modern make-up, the mutants this time around look a lot nastier than they did in the Craven original. Thanks to a larger budget, we are also treated to images of nuclear craters and an entire abandoned town populated now only by manicans and, of course, a few redneck mutants.
Also not surprising is the fact that many other travelers had swung through these parts, never to make it out alive.
Some say this remake is better than the original, but it ain't so. You can't beat 1970s fear, even with a bigger budget. The bad guys are now more monstrous -- the female character of Ruby is depicted as a mutant Red Riding Hood -- but less believable. Ultimately, it is a solid redo and, unlike so many other remakes these days, it is a proper remake, bringing us for the most part the same characters and concepts of the first production. The new "Hills" is at its best in its opening half, and we genuinely feel for these characters during the first attack on their encampment. Aja makes these people human. Excellent make-up makes the mutants even less human than they were in the original movie. Then, the film falls into horror cliché's during the second half. The fact that Aja is a non-American making a distinctly American type of horror film also hampers it. He seems to be delivering his impression of what American movies are like when he transforms the whimp son-in-law into a powerful killer who has finally discovered his manhood, while an electric guitar plays "Once Upon a Time in the West" style music in the background. The audience of teenagers I saw the movie with thought it was ridiculous.
The "Hills" remake is also hampered a bit by the fact that so many redneck horror films had made it to theaters in recent years, among them "Wrong Turn," "House of Wax," and of course the "Texas" remake. In recent years we had seen this story many times before.
Ultimately, "Hills" is less than that "Texas" redo and certainly inferior to Aja's now-classic, "High Tension." But all in all, a fun ride at the movies. The film was cut to get an R rating in theaters, so expect the DVD to feature tons more gore. buck.