Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Remake Comparison Project - Wes Craven's Nuclear Family Meltdown

Cody and Priscilla honor the late, great Wes Craven by taking a look at his 1977 film The Hills Have Eyes and its 2006 remake.

On August 30th, the horror genre suffered the unexpected loss of one of its masters when Wes Craven passed away from brain cancer at the age of 76. It was made all the more shocking by the fact that Craven was still very active, making business deals, developing new projects, and interacting with fans on social media, with no indication that he was ill. As Priscilla and I began to plan our next Remake Comparison, there was no other option. We had to pay tribute to Wes Craven by taking a look at one of his films and its remake. So here we go...


If it weren't for producer Peter Locke, Wes Craven's filmmaking career might have gone quite differently. Perhaps he would have even faded into obscurity, known only as the guy who made that 1972 rape/revenge shocker The Last House on the Left. Craven wanted to make more movies after Last House, but because of the controversy that had surrounded his directorial debut and the way the subject matter had caused people to question his morals and his sanity he had no interest in making another horror movie. There was a five year gap between Last House and The Hills Have Eyes because Craven spent those years trying to get non-horror projects off the ground, to no avail. It was Locke who convinced Craven - who was now broke - to give horror another try. Locke also suggested the setting: his wife was working in Las Vegas at the time, so he and Craven could go off and make an independent movie somewhere out in the desert.

Craven found inspiration in the 16th century story of Sawney Bean, a man who was said to have lived in a coastal cave in Scotland with his wife and multiple children and grandchildren. The Bean family survived by ambushing people, killing them and eating them, keeping their belongings. When they were finally caught by members of "civilized society" their executions were brutal and torturous.

There is debate over whether or not the Beans actually existed, but their story was a perfect one to base a horror movie on.

I hope the Beans were just a myth.

In the initial script Craven wrote for The Hills Have Eyes, under the title Blood Relations: The Sun Wars, it's clear that he was still upset by how he was viewed after the release of The Last House on the Left. It starts with a crawl of text: "In 1973, following the release of Last House on the Left, the writer/director of that film was committed for psychiatric observation. He was treated extensively with drugs, group therapies, electroshock programs and a final lobotomy. Despite these efforts at reform, Craven killed his nurse, Maura Heaphy, and escaped to the Mohave Desert. At the end of 1000 days of meditation he was taken up by a jetblack saucer and trained in Secondary Media Infiltration and parametaphysical survival on the Planet Jupiter. Upon his graduation he was returned to the planet Earth at Exeter. This Film is his first since his return, and is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Maura Heaphy."

This, wisely, did not make it into the final film. 

Thankfully. Sounds so bizarre.

Locke and budget constraints also caused Craven to drop an unnecessary element of the story being set in a dystopian, futuristic (1984) United States that has crumbled so much that passports are required to travel from state to state. They ended up keeping it simple and modern.

Another very good choice.

Following an atmospheric title sequence, the film opens on Fred's Oasis, a rundown gas station out in the middle of the Nevada desert. The last chance for gas for two hundred miles. It's a place that's about to be abandoned by its owner, Fred himself (John Steadman), who seems nervous as he closes up and packs his truck.

Fred's Oasis is an incredible location. You can tell this was a real place they just happened to find. Robert Burns was the production designer, a job he also had on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so you know he can make a place look like Hell, and they did do some set dressing and added the gas pumps, but there's no way to fake the sort of natural clutter and disrepair seen around the Oasis. 

Very true about Robert Burns. Some of the set even has a similar vibe to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to me.

Before Fred can leave, his granddaughter Ruby (Janus Blythe) stops by, seeking food. Ruby isn't your typical youth, she's dirty, dressed in animal skins. She's part of a "pack" led by someone called Jupiter. A pack that lives out in the desert and is growing desperate, struggling to survive because no travellers go through their stretch of land anymore. Ruby has never been part of regular society, and she wants Fred to take her out of the desert, too.

Fred and Ruby's chat is interrupted by the arrival of a family in a station wagon pulling a camper trailer, seeking gas. This family consists of Big Bob Carter (Russ Grieve), a retired detective with heart problems; his religious wife Ethel (Virginia Vincent); their teenage children Bobby (Robert Houston) and Brenda (Susan Lanier); their twenty-something daughter Lynne (Dee Wallace); Lynne's husband Doug Wood (Martin Speer); and Lynne and Doug's infant daughter Katy (Brenda Marinoff). A couple caged birds and German shepherds Beauty and Beast are also along for the ride.

Craven partially based these characters on his own family - their poor communication with each other, the religion aspect, even where they're from. While most of the family resides in Cleveland, Ohio, where Craven was born and raised, Lynne has gone off to be with Doug in New York City, where Craven was living when this film was made.

I hope they were a little less intense than some of the characters!

Ohio characters are always a plus in my book.

The family's final destination is California, but along the way Big Bob and Ethel are interested in checking out an old silver mine that has been gifted to them by Ethel's Aunt Mildred for their silver (25th) anniversary.

Despite Fred's best efforts to warn the family away from searching for the mine - telling them it's been empty for 40 years and that the Air Force uses the area for a gunnery range - they still leave the main road, taking a dirt road off through the vast desert countryside.

The locals tell you not to ditch the main road, you listen. Simple as that. Knowing not only that the place is abandoned, but also risk being shot at... I don't get their decision at all.

As the family drive continues, Big Bob gets very upset when the women suggest that he has gotten them lost and Brenda fears that they've wandered onto the Nellis Air Force Base nuclear testing site, but he really freaks out when fighter jets fly low overhead. He steps on the gas in a panic.

It's no wonder Big Bob has heart trouble, he's a temperamental jerk. He's also a total idiot, speeding down a dirt road with his whole family in the car, pulling a trailer, a baby in the backseat held in its mother's arms.

Something else that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Was he trying to outrun the plane? What was he thinking? I'm guessing he wasn't.

While speeding and risking his family's life, Big Bob swerves to avoid hitting a rabbit in the road, crashing the station wagon into some brush, snapping the car's rear axle.

Stranded in the desert, unable to radio for help with their CB because the surrounding hills are full of iron, the Carters and Woods are well aware of how dangerous their situation is. Lynne finds a tarantula in the camper within minutes of the crash. The temperature is Brenda's worry - they're going to become "human french fries" out here. Ethel is obsessed with the threat of rattlesnakes.

His mom's fear of snakes gives Bobby an opportunity to mention Freud. A very Wes Craven line.

Big Bob and Doug decide to walk in opposite directions to seek help, Doug toward what appears on the map to be a military installation, while Big Bob is going to make the fifteen mile trek back to Fred's Oasis. The family has two guns with them. Big Bob takes one, giving the other to Bobby, who will stay behind with the women. After a group prayer, Big Bob and Doug head out.

Doug's "we only have two guns" line is pretty hilarious. How many more guns were they supposed to have?

By now, it has been established that the situation is even worse than the family realizes. The pack Ruby belongs to is a very dangerous group of people. Someone else was lurking around the gas station when the family was there. Someone we hear Ruby call Mercury, a man (Peter Locke) dressed similar to a Native American, headdress and all. As soon as the travellers left the Oasis, Fred's truck burst into flames courtesy of Mercury. The pack knows Fred was planning to run, and now he's trapped. "There'll be Hell to pay now."

Someone else has been keeping track of the family's progress, spying on them with binoculars from up in the hills, reporting on their status through a walkie talkie. Someone who declares that they are now "easy pickings"... and who is perving on Brenda.

Beauty and Beast are clearly aware that they're not alone in the desert. While they discuss the dogs' agitation, dialogue among the family members reveals that Beast lives up to his name, having once killed a woman's poodle during a trip to Florida.

Their remembrance of this terrible event is very lighthearted. If I were that poodle's owner, I would hate these people.

Same here. And they don't seem to be great pet owners themselves. The first thing they do is let both dogs out, unleashed, loose in a completely strange and dangerous place.

Brenda unthinkingly lets Beauty out of the camper and the dog runs off into the hills with Bobby in pursuit. Before Bobby can catch up with her, she has reached the man who has been spying on them. By the time Bobby gets there, Beauty is a gutted corpse. Bobby knows that there's something dangerous out there, but this is information he keeps to himself.

Craven says that Bobby keeps the secret because he's too embarrassed by how scared he is. I've always taken it that he didn't want to worry the women, especially after they've already demonstrated that they are very worried already. So he takes the burden of worry upon himself while he waits for Big Bob and Doug to return... Is this a good decision or a bad one?

I've always assumed that he just didn't want to worry anyone as well. It was a very bad idea. Maybe if everyone knew there was a real threat out there from the beginning, they'd have stood a fighting chance. There were five of them at one point, so if they knew, they could've fought back.

Lynne and Ethel get their own hint that someone is lurking when their CB calls for help get a response - heavy breathing like on an obscene phone call.

Ethel saying that Lynne didn't curse before she moved to New York is something I can imagine Craven might have heard from his own mother.

When Lynne tells Bobby about the heavy breathing, Ethel brushes it off as nothing but static.

Secrets are revealed when Big Bob reaches Fred's Oasis after dark. Fred is so scared when he hears someone coming in, fearing that it's the man named Jupiter, that he tries to hang himself rather than deal with the leader of the pack. Big Bob saves his life, and in return Fred tells him the back story of the desert dwellers.

The line "Do you always try to stop trespassers by hanging yourself?" always amuses me.

Fred's Oasis opened in 1929, at which time Fred and his wife had a beautiful baby daughter and another child on the way. Things fell apart when that second child was born - a twenty pound boy that was hairy as a monkey. The kid started killing animals as he grew up, and in August of 1939 even set fire to their house. Fred's beloved daughter was killed in the blaze. In retaliation, Fred split his devil son's face open with a tire iron and left him for dead... But he didn't die. He took up residence in the desert hills and eventually started a family with a former prostitute. The pack. Fred is the father of the man known as Papa Jupiter.

As soon as his story has been told, Papa Jupiter (James Whitworth) makes his entrance, smashing through a window and dragging Fred outside. Killing him.

Big Bob makes a mad dash back toward his family, Jupiter mocking him from the darkness all the way. The run and the fear is too much for his heart to handle. Jupiter captures the weakened man, gags him, and crucifies him to a Joshua tree.

Doug gets back to the camper, carrying a bunch of random junk he found at a military dump site, an hour after Beast has broken his chain and run off into the night. The dog's howls can be heard at the cave home of the Jupiter pack, where Beauty has been turned into supper and Ruby has been chained up in punishment for wanting to run away, being watched over by her Mama (Cordy Clark).

Bobby's secret is eating away at him. He desperately wants to tell Doug, but can't get the words out, and they keep getting interrupted. Everyone settles in while they wait for Big Bob's return, Doug and Lynne opting to stay in the station wagon so they can have some intimate private time.

Their private time lasts a while. You'd think that they'd be at least a little worried that Big Bob hadn't returned. And it seems weird to me that they had to have sex right then, considering they're not exactly teenagers anymore, and that Lynne's family is so close, and that they basically left the baby alone for the night.

By the time Bobby interrupts Doug and Lynne to tell them that Beauty's dead, he has kept the secret for too long. Jupiter's sons Mars (Lance Gordon) and Pluto (Michael Berryman), the one who killed Beauty and perved on Brenda, have moved in on the family.

A series of really bad choices puts the family where they are. Starting with ignoring Fred's advice, then the speeding nonsense that leaves them stranded, then Brenda letting Beauty out and then Beast, then Bobby not telling everyone else what happened, and finally he runs away leaving the camper wide open and unattended. Pluto wasted no time.

Michael Berryman's unique natural look makes him the standout among the pack, and when combined with his performance earned him a spot as a horror icon. He was born premature with multiple birth defects, but certainly hasn't let it hold him back, and he's one of the nicest guys you can meet.

Pluto has syphoned the gasoline out of the station wagon and it's used to set Big Bob and the Joshua ablaze. The ignition of that fire is the beginning of a nightmarish sequence - Big Bob burning to death while everyone except Brenda runs to his aid, Brenda trapped in the camper as Pluto and Mars ransack the place... and Mars famously tears off a bird's head to drink its blood.

When this sequence has ended, Big Bob is dead, Lynne has been murdered (but she fought hard, even managing to stab Mars in the leg), Ethel is slowly dying of a gunshot wound, Brenda has been molested, if not raped, and nearly killed, and baby Katy has been kidnapped, taken back to the pack's cave as their version of a Thanksgiving turkey.

It's a great sequence, very intense and horrific. Susan Lanier and Dee Wallace really sell the terror their characters are going through, as does Virginia Vincent when she's so shocked to see Big Bob that she denies that it's him. Martin Speer also does wonderful work when Doug sees the aftermath of what has happened - his wife dead, his baby missing.

Every one of the actors was at their best during this extremely brutal sequence. It could've been a mess, but it worked out. It's really deep and it gets to me every time I watch The Hills Have Eyes '77.

On their way back home, Mars and Pluto pass by their dimwitted brother Mercury, standing watch on a tall rock. Mercury is excited that he might get to amuse his family by eating baby toes "like last time", but he won't get the chance. After Mars and Pluto have gone, Beast arrives on the scene and rushes Mercury, jumping up on him and clawing his chest, knocking him off his perch. Mercury falls to his death.

Papa Jupiter is enraged to find out one of his kids has been killed. He vents his anger by ranting at the severed, burned head of Big Bob, telling the dead man how stupid he was to come out into the desert and that he's going to wipe out the rest of his family.

I love this monologue. "You come out here and stick your life in my face? ... I'm gonna watch your goddamn car rust out. I'll see the wind blow your dried up seeds away." Great lines.

This scene is so gross. Just the look on his face and the way he delivers the lines. It almost beats Mars' nastiness in the camper... almost.

Trapped and devastated, Doug, Bobby, and Brenda can't just sit there and wait to die. Even though their weapons have been taken away by the pack, they have to prepare to fight back and defend themselves. They're emboldened to do so when they find out that Beast killed one of their attackers, news they hear over the walkie talkie that the dog somehow knew was something worth bringing to them.

As Jupiter and Pluto make their way back to the camper, Doug sets out toward their cave to rescue his child while Bobby and Brenda use the items available to them - including the random stuff Doug brought back earlier - to rig booby traps.

Booby traps are a recurring element in Craven's early films. Last House, Hills, A Nightmare on Elm Street. He sure had a fascination with "improvised anti-personnel devices".

And the characters that set up the booby traps are truly fast and resourceful. They come up with the craziest, most elaborate traps within minutes.

Doug's rescue mission becomes even more desperate when Beast takes Pluto out of the equation and Jupiter responds by radioing back home: "Mars, kill the baby."

Bobby and Brenda are on their own against Jupiter, but as Doug fights Mars for his life and the life of his daughter, he finds that he has an unexpected ally...

The Hills Have Eyes is a simple, well paced story. The crash happens 11 minutes into its 89 minutes, and from then on it's just a harrowing, brutal struggle for survival. There is some questionable dialogue, Craven wasn't always the best at that, and I feel like there are some shaky acting moments from Robert Houston, but I find that the good, make that the great, far outweighs its flaws.

It's a great story. Makes me want to know more about the less fortunate people who dealt with, but didn't survive the pack. The movie isn't perfect, but it works just fine. I really like the cinematography by Eric Saarinen, Don Peake's score and Craven's directing.

The dialogue doesn't really get to me, and neither does Robert Houston. I actually find his performance one of the best in the movie.

The intensity and brutality of some of the attack sequences can be jaw-dropping, and the performances of the actors as they deal with these terrible moments are really striking to me. It's effective and involving, and I get totally drawn in by the family's ordeal. Craven beats them into the ground until they're forced to rise up.

I wasn't very impressed by some of the actors. Some scenes are great, like the camper attack, but for the most part, I find Russ Grieve, Virginia Vincent and Susan Lanier kind of weak as Big Bob, Ethel and Brenda. Grieve and Vincent look at least 10 years older than what the movie suggests, and they're just not all that great. And Lanier's annoying high pitched screams get distracting after a while. The rest of the cast is pretty solid though.

Craven was inspired by the idea that what society had done to the Beans was just as awful as what the Beans had done to their victims, but I have to say, I don't feel sympathy for the pack. Every time the family strikes back, I'm rooting for them. Pluto, Mars, and Jupiter deserve everything that Beast, Doug, Bobby, and Brenda do to them.

If Craven really wanted to make the pack sympathetic, then he failed. They're despicable characters, and there's just no way to feel bad for them, not even for a second. Everything that happened to them, they more than had it coming.

Other than that the movie is very effective. One thing though...I think it ended rather abruptly. After everything Doug, Bobby, Brenda and Beast go through, I feel like we should get to see them being rescued. Also, I wonder what happened to the remaining members of the pack.

The Hills Have Eyes is a classic, and one of my favorite all-time horror movies. It may be my favorite Wes Craven movie. Craven made a lot of great stuff in his career, I love several of his films, but Hills is the one that appeals to me the most. The concept of these desert dwelling cannibal characters has captured my imagination ever since I read a Fangoria retrospective on the film in early 1994 and watched it for the first time soon afterward. I've watched it many more times over the last twenty-one years, and will continue to revisit it often.

I don't know if I'd call The Hills Have Eyes one of me favorites, or even my favorite Wes Craven film - since there are so many great ones - but it is a very disturbing movie that I like a lot. It's one of my brother's favorites, so he showed it to me years ago. I've watched it a bunch of times after that, and it always leaves me with the same feeling "wow, this movie is brutal!". I can only imagine how people reacted to its brutality back in the '70s.


Wes Craven famously said that the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street was his least favorite installment in that franchise, but he certainly wasn't an anti-remake guy. When the modern trend started, he dove right in and started developing remakes of the properties that he still had some creative control over. He and The Last House on the Left producer Sean S. Cunningham produced a remake of that film in 2009, Craven intended to produce remakes of Shocker and The People Under the Stairs (the latter eventually evolved into a TV series that's in the works at Syfy), and with Peter Locke he produced a remake of The Hills Have Eyes.

The filmmaker Craven and Locke hired to bring a new version of their 1977 collaboration to the screen was French director Alexandre Aja, who had recently made a big splash in the horror genre with his twisted home invasion film High Tension. Aja updated Craven's screenplay with his High Tension co-writer Grégory Levasseur, moving the setting from Nevada to New Mexico.

Craven and Locke had the thought that they might be able to shoot the remake in the same area where they shot the original, in the desert outside of Victorville, California. When they went out there to scout the location, they found that what had once been the middle of nowhere has been taken over by the construction of condominiums. Their search for a replacement took them all the way to the desert of Morocco, the native country of Aja's wife.

Craven's Hills occurred not too far from an Air Force base, there were references to the pack robbing a base exchange, jets flew overhead, areas were said to be gunnery ranges and nuclear testing sites. Aja and Levasseur play up that element even more, as evident from the text that opens the film giving background information on the United States' atmospheric nuclear tests and the denial of genetic effects caused by radioactive fallout.

Three government workers in hazmat suits are checking radiation levels in the New Mexico desert when a bleeding man in torn up clothes stumbles up, asking for help. There is no time to give him any aid before a hulking, deformed, immensely strong man named Pluto (Michael Bailey Smith) brutally murders all of them with a pick axe. Pluto then chains the corpses to the back of the workers' truck and drags them off across the desert.

Begin the title sequence, which is all about nuclear tests and deformities.

This is another example of something we've come across before while doing Remake Comparisons - instances where the older films chose to build up to the violence, while the newer ones have to put some violence in there right away. Seeing Pluto smash these guys around is thrilling for a couple seconds, but I could do without it.

I agree. Also, it doesn't go with the rest of the movie. It feels out of place. But I get why they chose to go that way... different times.

Kudos for putting an old country song over the titles, though.

Showing those clips of nuclear tests and deformities suddenly makes me feel very uneasy with the country song on the background.

At a 1950s-style gas station in the middle of the New Mexico desert, located not far from a stretch of land fenced off by the Department of Energy, the attendant (Tom Bower) wakes from a nap certain that someone has been snooping around the property. He goes outside with a gun, calling out for someone named Ruby. He walks to a mine shaft and calls down a threat to someone named Jupiter.

No one shows themselves, but the attendant is being watched, and when he gets back to the station a bag has been left in front of the door. A bag containing the personal belongings of murder victims, things which the attendant is to sell. Including the multiple earrings on a severed ear.

The watcher continues to lurk around when a family shows up in a truck pulling a camper trailer. The family members: retired detective Big Bob Carter (Ted Levin), his wife Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan), their teenage son and daughter Bobby (Dan Byrd) and Brenda (Emilie de Ravin), twenty-something daughter Lynn (Vinessa Shaw), Lynn's husband Doug Bukowski (Aaron Stanford), and Lynn and Doug's baby daughter Catherine (Maisie Camilleri Preziosi). A couple caged birds and German shepherds Beauty and Beast are also along for the ride.

As we start to learn who these people are, the watcher seems especially drawn to Bobby, stealing his red hooded sweatshirt out of the truck and spying on him in the outhouse.

When Beauty gets out of the camper and runs into the gas station, Lynn follows her back into the attendant's living quarters... and the attendant catches her in there. Before, the attendant had been trying to make sure the family would stay on the road, but now, fearing that Lynn has seen something incriminating, he suggests they turn off onto a dirt road a couple miles down. A "shortcut".

The guy wants to keep his butt safe, and it doesn't matter how. As soon as he feels threatened, all morality goes down the drain. And Lynn never even mentioned it to anyone.

This is quite a change from the original. Fred desperately wanted the family to be safe. This guy basically sacrifices them.

They didn't trust Fred at all in the original movie, and here they trust the guy too much. What we learned is... it needs to be somewhere in the middle, and you should never take detours or shortcuts, especially when the place isn't familiar.

The family takes the detour, and when they're far down the dirt road the truck's tires hit a strip of road spikes that send the vehicle careening out of control, smashing into a boulder. Totaled.

They have reason to take the detour, they trusted the guy, and the crash finally makes sense now. Those two things are really off in the '77 movie, so it was good to get some plausible explanation this time around.

The decision to take a dirt road through the desert may not have been too bright, but at least the cause of the crash makes this Big Bob look smarter than the original one.

Some of the same lines are used from Craven's original script as the characters go through similar motions, but some of the character dynamics are quite different from the 1977 film. The family is on a road trip from Cleveland, Ohio to San Diego, California to celebrate Big Bob and Ethel's 25th anniversary, and Doug is absolutely miserable over the fact that he had to come along. He's not comfortable riding in the camper trailer, he's worried about how his cell phone store is running in his absence, frustrated that he can't get a cell signal. Big Bob doesn't seem to be overly pleased by Doug's presence, either. There's friction between the two because they are very different types of people; their differing political views are even mentioned in passing. Doug is so unhappy that he badmouths his wife to Bobby, is sneaking cigarettes behind her back, and even gets caught ogling Brenda when she decides to do some post-crash sunbathing.

I don't like Doug much at all in the remake. He's such a douchebag at the beginning. It takes a long time for me to even care about him.

Given what Doug goes through, it makes sense to paint him as an unlikely hero early on, but I'm not sure they needed to make him look like an ass in the process.

Just like in the first film, the family says a prayer before a gun-toting Big Bob sets off on the eight mile hike back to the gas station and Doug goes looking for help in the opposite direction. A second gun is left behind with Bobby and the women.

Someone is watching them from the nearby hills. Knowing someone else is around, Beauty and Beast are agitated, and when Brenda unthinkingly lets Beauty out of the camper, the dog runs off into the hills with Bobby in pursuit. After finding Beauty's gutted corpse, Bobby takes a tumble and hits his head.

A much bigger tumble than the '77 Bobby took. The remake is always trying to make things bigger and flashier.

People seem to survive a lot more in the remake.

Then, something different. A young, severely deformed girl named Ruby (Laura Ortiz), wearing Bobby's red hoodie, appears and looks over Bobby's unconscious body.

When Aja was casting his remake, a lot of horror fans were hoping that he would at least find a spot for Michael Berryman in it. Personally, I would have been glad to see a sequel of sorts with Berryman as "Papa Pluto". But the filmmakers' response was that Berryman "looks too normal" for what they were going for, because their characters were going to be radiation mutants. That is proven with the reveal of Ruby. She is so deformed that her look wasn't just achieved through makeup, there is CG trickery on her face as well.

Ruby is interrupted by the sound of another deformed desert dweller, Ezra Buzzington as Goggle, sitting on a nearby rock, chewing on one of Beauty's legs.

There is no help in the direction Doug walked. The road dead ends at a vast bomb range that is now used as a vehicle dump.

Arriving at the gas station after nightfall, Big Bob learns some history on the bomb range via newspaper clippings on the attendant's wall. Stories of miners refusing to leave the bombing site, the military trying to force them out. Then Big Bob discovers that the attendant is suicidal, having been driven too far by the desert dwellers. Unlike Fred in this original film, this guy succeeds at taking his own life, blowing his own head apart with his shotgun.

Wait... there's still plenty of food in the gas station's store. What did the guy mean when he said he couldn't help the pack anymore? Do they only eat human flesh, and dogs?

As soon as the attendant is dead, the voice of Jupiter (Billy Drago) starts crying out from the darkness, mocking Big Bob. Big Bob attempts to get out of there in the attendant's car, but Jupiter is waiting for him in the backseat.

Michael Berryman looks too normal but they can put Billy Drago in here with nothing but long hair and a beard? Lame.

Very lame indeed. Though if they did bring Berryman back, I would've wanted him to play someone else, instead of having Pluto survive the original somehow.

When Bobby gets back to the camper, he doesn't tell the women what happened to Beauty, but Lynn tells him that they heard something weird over their CB. Breathing, like a perverted call. Ethel brushes it off as nothing but static.

Movies are supposed to show you things like this, not tell you about them later. The CB breathing was shot but got deleted, and having characters just talk about something like that makes the finished film feel sloppy.

Beast has broken his chain and gotten loose by the time Doug gets back, carrying a bunch of random junk he got out of the dumped vehicles. Bobby attempts to tell him about Beauty, but he can't get the words out. It isn't until after he has heard someone laughing out in the dark that he's able to confide in Doug and Lynn, telling them he kept the secret because he didn't want to upset the women.

The series of mistakes made in the '06 movie also include Doug not realizing what he found wasn't simply a vehicle dump. All of those cars had things inside and other indications that they weren't just "old". He was too dense to see it. If he had seen it and alerted the others, they might've had a better chance to fight back.

It's too late now. Pluto and another mutant called Lizard (Robert Joy) have already moved in on the family... in fact, Pluto is already inside the camper and perving on the sleeping Brenda. When Pluto yells "Now!" into a walkie talkie, a nearby tree bursts into flames. A tree that Big Bob has been crucified to.

When the fire is ignited, the camera begins on Doug and Bobby, whips away from them, speeds across the desert up to the tree, ending in a close-up shot of Big Bob writhing and screaming, surrounded by CG flame. I don't like this shot, it's way too showy. Sometimes having a bigger budget can be an impediment to a film's effectiveness because the filmmakers go too far.

I'll always pick simple and effective over big and flashy, but this scene didn't bother me at all. Even though it is showy, it served its purpose.

The burning of Big Bob begins a raid sequence that plays out very much like the one in the '77 film, but our protagonists get it even worse this time. The camper is ransacked, bird blood gets drank, Brenda is raped, Ethel is mortally wounded, the baby is abducted, Lynn is murdered... But before Lynn is killed, Lizard holds the baby at gunpoint so Lynn will allow him to suck milk from the new mother's breasts.

I thought it was impossible, but they managed to make this part even more disturbing and gross than in the original.

I bashed the CB breathing moment, but I will hand it to Aja - he is good at setting up weaponry, like establishing the screwdriver Lynn uses to stab Lizard in the leg by showing it earlier when characters were working on the camper's air conditioner.

Goggle stays behind to keep watch on the camper as Pluto and Lizard make their escape with Catherine, but it isn't long before Beast finds him and rips into his throat. The dog then chews his arm off and carries it, and the walkie talkie it's clutching, back to the camper.

Hearing his daughter's cries coming over the walkie talkie finally snaps Doug into hero mode. With Beast on a leash, armed with a baseball bat, Doug heads out on a rescue mission, leaving Bobby and Brenda behind at the camper with a gun and a clip and a half of bullets.

Bobby and Brenda use some of the stuff Doug brought back from the vehicle dump to get prepared for the arrival of the oncoming Jupiter. When Jupiter does show up, he doesn't attack them outright, instead he steals Ethel's body to snack on. It isn't until Bobby interrupts him that their confrontation plays out.

I really don't like how the Jupiter sequence goes in this one. It's completely ridiculous, from him munching on Ethel's raw guts to the gas still causing the camper to explode even though a window has been busted out. 

It really makes no sense that he'd go there just to get Ethel's body and eat it right then, when he was supposed to go there to off Bobby and Brenda.

In their audio commentary on the remake, Craven and Locke mention several occasions when they questioned Aja about the logic of things, the broken camper window being one of them, and Aja just brushed it aside. He should have listened to his elders, but logic was less important to him than getting more action, loud noises, smashed objects, blood, and corpses into the film.


Doug's mission takes him through a mine shaft, which exits on a small village populated with dummies. A nuclear test village. This little town is also populated by mutants, several of whom Doug and Beast have to kill along the way. He encounters a bald woman called Big Mama (Ivana Turchetto); a couple deformed children (Judith Jane Vallette and Adam Perrell); a wheelchair-bound man called Big Brain (Desmond Askew), whose head is so large he can't even lift it; and a hideous, head brace wearing fellow called Cyst (Greg Nicotero).

Big Brain confirms that the mutants are the descendants of the miners who refused to vacate the land before the nuclear tests were conducted.

Dummies of a different kind.

Within one of the village homes, an epic battle is fought between Doug and Pluto.

Doug takes a beating... too much of a beating. One that not many people would have survived, if any. I feel like they almost took it too far.

This sequence is really the only reason I went to see The Hills Have Eyes '06 in the theatre. I was very anti-remake at the time, but an element of this film was tied in to something I love even more than I hated remakes: There was a lot of talk in the online horror community that Michael Bailey Smith should be the new Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13th movie that was being developed at the time. So to watch Smith in action and evaluate whether or not he would make a good Jason, I went to see this movie.

Cody always knows everything about a movie before actually watching it. I'm the opposite... unless I know as little as possible about a movie prior to watching it, I don't see the point. I don't like spoiling things for myself. So, I didn't know much about the remake before I got to watch it.

Smith had played Freddy before (he was "Super Freddy" for a scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child), but he didn't end up playing Jason. The next Jason performer, Derek Mears, was in a Hills Have Eyes movie, but he didn't show up until the following year's The Hills Have Eyes II, where he played a character called Chameleon.

I was impressed by Smith's performance as Pluto, but it does bother me how the end of the fight is lifted right out of True Romance. Given how much True Romance screenwriter Quentin Tarantino takes from other movies himself, maybe it shouldn't bother me.

Smith's performance was great, but it didn't exactly scream "Jason!" to me.

As brutal and lengthy as the Doug vs. Pluto fight is, it's not the last. To save Catherine, Doug has a climactic brawl with Lizard, and gets help from an unexpected ally in the process...

The Hills Have Eyes '06 is a technically well made film and all, but for me the sequence in the nuclear test village is really the only part that has any merit. The rest of the movie is basically just a weaker, scene-by-scene retelling of the original film. There are good changes here and there, like the road spikes, but whenever the remake copies a scene, I prefer the '77 version. I prefer when it's doing something of its own, and the test village is the biggest example of that.

It's the other way around for me. The test village makes it feel too much like a Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets Wrong Turn meets House of Wax (2005), and I could definitely do without it. The action is really cool, but it's like that part belongs to a completely different movie. It just feels off.

The remake's biggest failing for me is that I don't feel like the mutants are nearly as interesting as the original villains. We got to know the members of the '77 pack as characters, to see how they functioned as a family. These new guys are just monsters.

I feel like the original kept it all very basic, and it worked. With the remake, they couldn't exactly do that, so they went big, and big isn't always better. If I had to pick a favorite The Hills Have Eyes, I'd go with the original, and that's mainly because I feel like some of the remake's added elements, like the mine, the nuclear test village, the mutants and the CGI weren't as effective as the original movie's simplicity.

That being said, The Hills Have Eyes '06 is one of my favorite remakes, because even though it didn't beat the '77 movie, it still had a lot of great elements - acting especially - and the right pace that made it interesting on its own.

Ruby is given some character, despite not being able to speak, but they build up this interest she has in Bobby just to throw it aside. He never gets to consciously meet her. They could have done much more by having them connect and interact.

I wasn't pleased with Ruby's fate. A lot more could've been done as far as the character goes. Not only including Bobby, but overall.

The remake isn't terrible and I'll revisit it occasionally, but for the most part it feels like it's just a lot of flash and noise to distract from the feeling that it's empty compared to Craven's film. If I want to watch The Hills Have Eyes, chances are I'm going to put on the version I enjoy much more and find to be a better film all around, the 1977 one.

Like I said, I actually like the remake. Comparing the two is kind of weird, not because they're basically telling the same story, but because the atmosphere and aspects are so different. The original told the story better, but the remake still has merit for keeping it interesting and being well made. The added elements aren't my favorite things about it, but the acting, score and pace make it enjoyable for me. So, I feel like watching the remake as much as I do the original, which isn't a whole lot, but still... fun to watch every now and then.

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