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by Willie Waffle

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The Hills Have Eyes

For the past few years, horror movies are Hollywood studios' favorite products because they can be made cheap with actors who don't command huge paychecks. Horror remakes are even more popular with the studios because the concept is already known to moviegoers, so it's easier to sell to kids who want a good scare on a Friday night, and geeks who want to see the movies they worship brought back and treated like serious films. Unfortunately, we get lots of half-baked horror remakes where no one is trying very hard to be groundbreaking or very good. Instead, the makers amp up the blood and gore in an attempt to "modernize" the product. Luckily, the folks behind The Hills Have Eyes are trying to do something more, even if they don't always succeed.

Ted Levine stars as Bob Carter - a middle aged, former cop and 2nd amendment supporter traveling across the country to San Diego with his family. After stopping for gas in the middle of the New Mexico desert, a strange gas station attendant (Tom Bower) suggests a short cut to help them save time on the journey. Bob decides to head down that isolated road with his wife, Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan); son, Bobby (Dan Byrd); oldest daughter, Lynne (Vinessa Shaw); son-in-law, Doug (Aaron Stanford); teen daughter, Brenda (Emilie de Ravin); and baby granddaughter, Catherine (Maisie Preziosi). However, when the car's tires come across some sort of spikes, the short cut reveals itself to be a trap. As the family tries to find help, they are surrounded and terrorized by strange mutant victims of nuclear bomb testing conducted years ago.

Who will survive? Who will die? Can they escape? Why do the mutants want to do this?

The Hills Have Eyes is an interesting concept, but director Alexandre Aja takes too long to get to the good parts, and is saddled with villains who look more goofy than menacing. The film is co-written by Aja and his collaborator Gregory Levasseur (based on a 1977 movie by Wes Craven), so they get the blame for the slow build up to the action we want to see in the movie. Aja desires to establish some sort of mysterious, creepy and tense mood, but not enough happens to contribute to that sort of mood. He provides us some mystery as the victims start to sense someone is watching, and personal items disappear from their vehicle with no apparent explanation to the family, but the audience already knows what is supposed to happen and who is supposed to do it based on all of the trailers, commercials and knowledge of the original film, so Aja just wastes time with these establishing scenes. Along the way, he shows us flashes of newspaper articles detailing the villains' origins, but, if he wanted to set the tone and give us some sort of strong explanation or wrongheaded justification for their actions, he could have taken us back in time to see the events that led our characters to where they are today. Seeing who the mutants were, and what they have become, would have had much more impact than a few bumps in the night.

Once the action starts, The Hills Have Eyes is a good horror/slasher movie, but that action needs to be spaced out better. In what feels more like one long scene, almost all of the big action takes place. The audience knows someone is going to die, so Aja should have taken time to bump people off one by one, instead of in one sequence like we see in The Hills Have Eyes. Watching people go down one by one would have built up more frights and tension (and given Aja a chance to be creative with their demise) as we watch to see who gets theirs next, and how it happens. Of course, the movie's biggest downfall is the look of the villains.

The supposedly creepy, frightening, killer mutants look goofy and comical rather than menacing. Aja does his best to hide the creatures for as long as he can, but we have to see them sometime, and, when we do, it is underwhelming. Each mutant looks silly with makeup and masks that look like they were purchased at Wal-Mart not created by a top notch Hollywood special effects team. They have their moments, especially when one sneaks into the family's trailer with bad intentions for the most vulnerable characters in the film, but I couldn't get past the big rubber heads.

The Hills Have Eyes is not a total waste, but needed more skill behind the camera when filming, the computer when writing the script and the makeup chair when developing the look of our creepy mutants.

2 Waffle (Out Of 4)

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