C-

The Hills Have Eyes

Two very different kinds of nuclear families battle it out in The Hills Have Eyes, Alexandre Aja's nasty remake of Wes Craven's 1977 classic. As in Craven's original, a vacationing family faces attack from within as well as without and the film plays as something of a warped Western with suburbanites and murderous mutated freaks replacing cowboys and Indians. Aja made his international reputation with 2003's High Tension, a reverent homage to the grindhouse scuzziness of classic '70s horror. So it seems like a natural progression for him to tackle one of the towering landmarks of Watergate-era horror. But, on the heels of The Fog and House Of Wax, the film doesn't do much to set itself apart from other fright-flick remakes.

Here Aja piles on the kitschy Americana, at one point literally ramming an American flag down a jugular. He also goes overboard with the violence. Craven's original was threatened with an X rating, and its remake is even more gratuitous. Unfortunately, it's also far less scary and resonant. Leading an overqualified cast, Ted Levine stars as the brusque, authoritarian patriarch of a bustling family traveling through the scenic American countryside via motor home. Aaron Stanford co-stars as Levine's son-in-law, a bleeding-heart pacifist who takes charge after the motor home crashes and mutated cannibals hunt the family down.

Just as the recent remake of House Of Wax somehow segued into Texas Chainsaw Massacre territory, Aja seems at some point to have lost interest in remaking Hills, since his movie eventually morphs into a retread of Straw Dogs, with Stanford tackling the Dustin Hoffman role of the nebbishy man of peace forced by circumstances to become a man of violence. But Aja botches the movie's Straw Dogs strand just as badly as its horror aspect. The mutated cannibals look like the Toxic Avenger's extended family, and they get less frightening the longer they linger onscreen. Aja remains a talented craftsman, but his fetish for retro sleaze unfortunately extends to an interminable sexual assault, that most loathsome staple of '70s cinema. Thanks to assured direction and a fine cast, Hills isn't terrible, only terribly unnecessary.

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