Remakes have become a very touchy subject amongst horror and even film fans in general over the past few years. The term itself has become a dirty word in our nerdy lexicon. Some are downright against them, some open minded, others are somewhere in the middle. I guess I’m in that middle category, I’ll always check out a new “re-imagining” and I’ll try to keep an open mind, but some movies just should be left alone. These aren’t anything new; many classic, cult favorite horror flicks are in fact remakes such as The Fly (1986), The Thing (1982), and even Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (1972) to a certain degree. Then in 2003 Platinum Dunes put out The Texas Chainsaw Massacre which was well received and after that Hollywood took notice and started putting out more takes on established horror films; re-doing classic like A Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Dawn of the Dead, the aforementioned Last House on the Left, as well as every Japanese horror film ever made. It’s been ten years since this remake craze started and it’s snowballed out of control with announcements made every other week it seems of new modernized versions of our favorite films being put out. Theaters have already been graced with the new Evil Dead, Maniac, and Texas Chainsaw 3D with Carrie and Oldboy coming out soon, and a slew of rumored remakes on the horizon; everything from Child’s Play to Gremlins to Mad Max and even another Friday the 13th reboot. Just hit up Google and there’s an insane amount of movies supposedly in the works. As much as I’m not too optimistic about the new Maniac movie, I’ve been wanting to check it out to see how it holds up to the original, but I ended up watching the original Hills Have Eyes the other night and decided to start my new set of articles comparing the new and the old on a positive note.
As much as I can be kind of a horror snob sometimes, some remakes do actually pan out. Some of them I even get excited for. I was there on opening night with some friends to watch the new Evil Dead with high hopes. Unfortunately that was shortly before I started this page, so I’ll have to rewatch that for the next Faceoff article. Alexander Aja’s 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes was one of those movies I was excited for. I had seen Wes Craven’s original, and it was just another horror film, not a bad movie but not one of my favorites. I honestly didn’t remember too much of it when I went to see the new one, and didn’t watch it again until the other night. By the way I watched Aja’s version immediately afterwards so everything was fresh in my mind, I always listen/to watch something shortly before I review it, even movies I’ve seen a hundred times since I like to nitpick every little detail.
Aja’s storyline (and the whole movie in itself) holds very true to the original. The Carter family is taking the scenic route through the desert en route to California. After stopping at a sketchy gas station they head out, take a detour then crash their whip. Everyone’s okay, but their car is totaled. Big Bob, the family patriarch, heads back to the gas station to phone for help, while the nancy boy son-in-law Doug heads the opposite way to see if the road leads anywhere. The rest of the fam: Ethel, her kids Brenda, Bobby, Lynn, and Doug and Lynn’s infant daughter Catherine plus the family dogs Beauty and Beast try to make the best of the afternoon. They set up camp, make some grub, and try to be optimistic. The dogs are clearly wigged out by something, when Brenda accidentally lets Beauty out of the trailer the german shepherd takes off with Bobby heading out to retrieve her. He starts to realize that they’re not alone in these desert hills. After that shit hits the fan pretty hard.
[There will be spoilers from this point on]
The Carter family is pretty much the same in both movies, the difference is that in the 2006 version we have better actors. Big Bob is much more likeable being played by Ted Levine than by Russ Grieve, plus he’s more of a boss. Emilie de Ravin’s Brenda is nowhere near as annoying as Susan Lanier’s portrayal, the same is the case with Bobby’s characters. Ethel and Lynn’s counterparts are pretty similar, the modern versions being a bit more reserved with their acting, although I do love Dee Wallace as an actress. Doug’s character is still kind of meek, and dorky in the remake but his transformation into total BA is much better character development than in the original. In the original Doug goes to get his daughter, fights Mars and by the end of the fight goes a little nuts and stabs him repeatedly until the screen freezes and fades to red in classic grindhouse style. It all happens so fast though that you don’t really appreciate his change of character. In Aja’s version he’s passive aggressive towards Big Bob (who shits on him all the time) and even points out that he’s doesn’t like guns. Then when he sets out to get Catherine that dude goes through the ringer for about 20 minutes, getting the snot beat out of him and even losing some fingers and by the end of it he’s totally ruthless.
The hill people and their unwilling accomplice Fred, the gas attendant, are a bit different. In Craven’s movie Fred, an angry curmudgeon, has clearly had enough of luring travelers to their doom and wants no part in it, he even tells the Carters to stay on the main road. In the remake he seems miserable and helpless, he’s said he’s had enough and even heads out to tell them so, but returns to his home to find the belongings of the last group of victims waiting for him, mostly jewelry but also a severed ear in a Styrofoam to-go container. The Carters arrive as they did in the original, and Lynn runs to retrieve one of the dogs as it ran into Fred’s shack. She kind of pokes the satchel of remains open but doesn’t see the contents. Noticing that his satchel was disturbed he appears to worry that she might’ve seen what was in the bag so he runs out and tells them to take the detour, leading them to the hill people. When Bob returns to his gas station in the 70’s, he saves Fred from hanging himself, who then tells him the origins of the hill people before Papa Jupiter pounces through the window F13: Part II style and later kills him. In the remake Fred is clearly distraught over all the blood on his hands and blows his dome off.
The hill folk are far more menacing in the remake than in the original. In Craven’s film, they’re merely a tribe of inbred hicks trying to survive in the desert hills. They kind of looked like deranged Indians, with a few of them suffering from some kind of mental handicap. They get quite a bit of screen time, almost as much as the Carters. They also get a fairly fleshed out back story. All the suspense is sort of lost since you see them so much, and you know when they’re going to strike. I think the antagonists are more menacing the less you know about them, which is why they’re so much more intimidating in the remake. We see some newspaper clippings about miners refusing to leave their homes when the government decided to test their bombs on their hometown, so we can conclude that they’re the deformed offspring of these survivors. That’s about all we get for back story, nor do we see too much of their side of life like we do in the original. Also the modern hill people are much more brute and animalistic in behavior, displaying much less humanity. Papa Jupiter, who gets a good amount of dialogue throughout the original barely says anything but “Daddy” creepily in Aja’s film. His role is actually very much downplayed which is unfortunate. Pluto on the other hand gets a much larger role. Michael Berryman’s Pluto, while the actor actually suffers from hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia, giving him a very odd appearance, isn’t very intimidating in the original. He’s rather thin, appears to be mildly retarded, and spends most of the moving getting fucked up by a dog. All he really accomplishes is kidnapping Catherine. Pluto in the remake is a fucking beast. He very much resembles Sloth from The Goonies, and has that childlike disposition mixed with wild, psychotic rage. He’s a terrifying juggernaut of destruction and he has a pretty rad fight scene with Doug where he fucks shit up. Mars and his modern day counterpart Lizard are similar in character, both are agile, sadistic warriors and the main antagonists of both films. Ruby’s character is about the same in both movies as well, albeit with no dialogue in the remake, a young member of this clan who wants nothing to do with their violent, cannibalistic behavior. The scout for the clan, originally named Mercury is a severely retarded goon who wears a large chieftain headdress with a goofy, upbeat disposition is much more well played in the new film as Goggle who merely acts like a wild animal, although neither of them get much screen time. There’s few new mutants in the remake, the most notable being a wheelchair bound hydrocephalic called Big Brain who seems to be running the show.
The reason I think Aja’s version of the film is so much more powerful is because of a sense of tension and suspense he adds to it. Plus the focus is on the Carter family, not everyone, so we connect with them more. The film is pretty true to the original, spiced up with better effects, loads more gore, and more terrifying antagonists. We also get to see Doug’s journey to the dumping grounds that he finds, plus his venture into the hill folks’ home turf is much more interesting and fleshed out, with more fight scenes with other mutants added in. This gives him enough time to go from a snide, melvin to a badass hellbent on getting his daughter back by any means necessary. The gore is gratuitous and well done, I was very much satisfied with it. Aja has been accused of turning this movie into a torture porn; while being plentiful, I think the gore was appropriately done. The characters weren’t sacrificed for the sake of blood and guts, I think the character were actually handled much better in the remake. Also I preferred Aja’s ominous ending.
Somehow Alexander Aja has found a way to make a cult classic feel new and fresh without having to alter the movie too much. With that said, I don’t think he really made it his own movie, like what John Carpenter did with The Thing, but his trademark gritty, gory style does shine through and the movie was done very well. I think that’s another thing that made this remake work where others haven’t. So many look very modern, slick, and clean with attractive, young, model-esque actors, movies that are all about looks and lacking substance whereas this film still has that gritty feel and the family feels like a real, typical American family. While Wes Craven’s film is good and a classic staple in horror history, I think Aja’s film trumps it and still remains one of my favorite films since I first saw it when it came out. So therefore, Alexander Aja comes out the victor, in my eyes at least.
Which film do you prefer and why? How do you feel this wave of horror movie remakes?