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20th Century Fox presents
The Hills Have Eyes: Unrated (2006)

"Something is going on around here. There's like people, or something, living in those hills!"
- Bobby (Dan Byrd)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: June 20, 2006

Stars: Ted Levine, Kathleen Quinlan, Emilie de Ravin, Dan Byrd, Aaron Stanford, Vinessa Shaw
Other Stars: Tom Bower, Michael Bailey Smith, Robert Joy, Laura Ortiz, Billy Drago, Ezra Buzzington, Desmond Askew, Maisie Camilleri Preziosi, Ivana Turchetto
Director: Alexandre Aja

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, gore, horror violence)
Run Time: 01h:48m:16s
Release Date: June 20, 2006
UPC: 024543247470
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ AA-A+ B+

DVD Review

Cannibalistic mutants hunt and eat a wayward family in the desert. That's the thumbnail plot for this remake, as well as the 1977 original from Wes Craven, in what was probably his horror masterwork. Director Alexandre Aja (Haute Tension) jiggered the screenplay slightly, along with art director Gregory Levasseur, and with Craven serving as one of the film's producers there was also that sense of a blessing or symbolic torch passing from one director to another. Aja and Levasseur weren't trampling on a classic as much as they received a holy sacrament to proceed from the man himself.

And without screwing with what works, the core elements of what made Craven's film so chilling are all still here, with the vacationing Carter family (dad, mom, teenage daughter, teenage son, married daughter, son-in-law, baby, two dogs) traveling through New Mexico on their way to California. A promised shortcut from a grizzled middle-of-nowhere gas station owner (Tom Bower) proves troublesome, but we already knew that something bad was coming after an opening sequence reveals his true weirdness. An unseen spike strip in the road is all it takes to strand the Carter family deep in the desert (actually Morocco doubling as New Mexico), unbeknownst to them smack dab in the heart of the hunting ground of a family of human mutants who also happen to be cannibals. So family dad Big Bob (Ted Levine), a retired cop, heads off in one direction while liberal pacifist son-in-law Doug (Aaron Stanford) heads off in the other to look for help.

After a crazy pickaxe opening sequence to tell us something ain't right in them craggy hills, it takes about an hour for all manner of hell to finally get unleashed on the Carters, but when it does it rains down like a mother. Aja shows a reverential adoration for Craven's original by not softening the ugly at all, and in spots going more than an extra notch or two in the other direction. The trailer attack sequence shows Aja firmly in the zone as a horror director with the right kind of vision, and it is where the rest of the Carter family (Kathleen Quinlan, Emilie de Ravin, Dan Byrd, Vinessa Shaw) get a late night visit from the deformed killers. The scene just layers on the uncomfortable mayhem in increasingly intense doses, setting up the film's second half revenge plot as the surviving Carters take on the flesh-eating hill dwellers.

The sweaty desert horror benefits from some great visual effects work from K.N.B. EFX and Greg Nicotero, and their talents allow Aja the leeway to go forward with the brutality, making things like horribly disfigured humans (the chairbound Big Brain), a self-inflicted shotgun blast to the head or a person burning alive while tied to a tree appear believable, startling, and, most importantly, horrific. There's lots of blood and gore here (certainly a bit more so with this unrated cut), and I'm really glad to see that Aja was given the free reign to push things hard, and not to turn this remake into a wimpy homage in name only.

At one point frantic daughter Brenda (Emilie de Ravin) screams "We're so f***ed!" and that is really an accurate summary of the scenario that Aja reinvents here, taking the best parts of Craven's film and then going just a little farther. As a rule, the recent batch of remakes of horror "classics" (things like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Omen) are enjoyable but at the same time unnecessary, and I had the same reservations about Aja's intrusion on what I always considered to be one of those untouchable genre titles. But for all its charnel-house excess, Aja proves himself adept at channeling that same kind of bold horror ugliness that only a guy like Craven delivers.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: All of the hot, dusty gore comes through in well-defined clarity courtesy of the solid 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, even with a fairly limited color palette (think a steady flow of dirty browns, reds, and yellows). Everything looks above board—contrast, fleshtones, black levels—for the duration, making the dark desert night scenes as easy to follow as the sweltering daylight sequences. And as expected for such a current title, the print is pristine, with no evidence of damage or debris

Excellent.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The principle audio choice is a wonderfully aggressive Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix. For me, the fun part of this track isn't the louder, more obvious surround cues that go on during the bigger, noisier scenes, but rather the subtle ambient ones that occur in the early part of the film. These small, discrete elements—assorted creaking, jingling, whispering—get well used to develop a mood of unease, and their placement widens the soundstage dramatically. Voice quality is clear at all times, and the deep .LFE presence provides the expected punch to things like the frequent shotgun blasts.

A Spanish 2.0 surround dub is also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Alexandre Aja, Gregory Levasseur, Marianne Maddalena, Wes Craven, Peter Locke
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. music video
Extras Review: Extras begin with a pair of commentaries, the first coming from screenplay writer/director Alexandre Aja, art director Gregory Levasseur, and producer Marianne Maddalena. Aja keeps the discussion moving along, spewing little details here and there (where a lantern was bought, how long it took the Airstream trailer to turn around), and drawing Levasseur into commenting on the distinct visual elements.

Personally, I found the doc Surviving The Hills: Making of The Hills Have Eyes (50m:22s) to be a more succinct and cohesive production/effects compendium than the Aja/Levasseur/Maddalena commentary. Done very well and truly worth a viewing, this one offers behind-the-scenes footage, and an extensive look at the creation of the visual effects, whether it be in-camera, CGI or some in-between combo. In particular, the segment on the development of mutant Ruby's odd facial structure—and the process used—was the highlight for me. Which of course means there was no inside look at Emilie de Ravin's sunbathing scene.

The second commentary features producers Peter Locke and Wes Craven, and is interesting from a historical perspective just based on Craven's presence. Some of the chatter is a bit dry, but when Craven does a compare/contrast on his original and Aja's remake, things take on a film geek cool. Or maybe I'm just a nerd.

A set of Production Diaries (11m:07s) contains very brief fly-on-the-wall sections on certain production elements (bomb building, stunt doubles). Lastly, a standard-issue band-performing-intercut-with-scenes-from-the film music video for Leave the Broken Hearts (03m:36s) by The Finalist is included.

The disc is cut into 24 chapters, with optional subtitles in English, French or Spanish.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Unlike some horror remakes, Alexandre Aja's updating of Wes Craven's high watermark doesn't dilute or back pedal on the nasty stuff. Harsh and brutal are on tap in large quantities, and the visual effects do not disappoint at all.

I'll always love the manic intensity of Craven's original, but I have to say this one has won me over big time. Stellar image and audio transfers just sweeten the deal here.

Highly recommended.

 


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