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Director Alexandre Aja’s Terrifying Remake of The Hills Have Eyes

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The effects of nuclear testing have had a long lasting and devastating effect on a desolate mining community in the hills of the New Mexico desert.  One thing’s clear – someone has to pay.

On their 25th wedding anniversary, Bob (Ted Levine) and Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan), traveling across the desert in their Airstream trailer with their entire family, are about to cross paths with a pack of mutant cannibals hell bent on exacting revenge.

hhe_4This 2006 remake of the original Wes Craven film, is helmed by Alexandre Aja, the director responsible for terrifying (and delighting) us with High Tension.  Aja dares to take the audience into some very palatable dark places.  Places where real terror resides.  Forget the supernatural.  Forget the inexplicable.  In Aja’s vision, there is reason everywhere, and the dangers are very tangible.

When I saw this film years ago, I swore I would never watch it again.  The Hills Have Eyes evoked such terrible feelings, such fear, such disgust, that I could barely make it through the film.

Gah!!  Fine.  Challenge accepted.

The sense of dread is absolutely overwhelming as I wait for that little red Netflix envelope to arrive.  The anxiety ishhe_0 so acute that I can barely sleep the night before I know I will wake up and have to watch it.  In fact, I wake early, on a Saturday, at around 7 in the morning.  No longer able to stand it, I pop in Alexandre Aja’s version of The Hills Have Eyes and again live through what is probably the most terrifying ordeal ever faced by a celluloid family.

The trailer attack.  God.  All I have to say is – kudos on performances from Aaron StanfordVinessa ShawEmilie de Ravin, and Dan Byrd.  After all, special effects help flesh out a movie, to make it more real, but without the blood, sweat, and fears of its cast, a horror film is little more than gore.

The horrors this family faces are completely astounding and only surpassed by their drive, their will to survive.

hhe_1All of this, all of these things, these feelings, these emotions, this reaction – in essence, it means Aja has made a masterpiece of horror.  True horror.  Not of the teen scream variety.  This is a film for adults about the horror of reality.

Aja’s tapped into the very nerve of what terrifies an audience and he manipulates it to the fullest extent possible, utilizing every tool in his toolkit to ratchet it up until you can barely take it.  Effects crew on the film included the genius of Greg Nicotero (GREG NICOTERO!!), CGI-a-plenty, true blue cinematic fakes, 1-shot real deal car crashes, and foam latex character design galore.

What I’m saying is that The Hills Have Eyes is no joy ride.  You want to be scared?  Fine.  The Hills Have Eyes is the film is for you.  Just be careful what you ask for because Aja will give it to you – in freakin’ spades.

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Trailer:

Event Horizon…still viable science fiction/ horror thirteen years later

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Not many horror films from the nineties held up as well as the P.W.S Anderson science fiction/horror Event Horizon. Having just dusted off my copy and given it another look for MITNG’s 31/31…it still gives me the creeps. The film contained a strong cast, an excellent soundtrack and a stunning art director. Often times, with films set in the future, the difficulties lie in trying to convince the viewer that the world exist, but with Event Horizon the execution was flawless. In the late nineties we were only testing the waters of our computer animation prowess and with the budget that this film had, it would have been easy to over play a hand, but the end result was a beautiful blend of cgi and practical effects, thus creating one hell of a scare.

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The film opens on our anti hero Dr. William Wier (Sam Neill) as he violently awakes from a horrendous nightmare. He’s aboard a vessel commanded by Captain Miller (Lawrence Fishburne). The two, along with a crew comprised of a doctor, an engineer etc, have been pulled out of a long furlough to conduct a search and rescue on a vessel, The Event Horizon, that has been missing for seven years. Where the ships been for that long, no one knows, but what we do know is the vessel was  the subject of a new piece of machinery, that would allow for light travel, by means of folding space. The machine aboard the vessel used to do it was invented by Dr. Wier.

As they search for survivors and clues to where it’s been, they soon realize that something supernatural is aboard the ship, something that was brought back from wherever the ship was. This “something” begins digging into the crews worst fears, slowly turning them on each other.

I’ll be the first to admit that the film does tap into the Ridley Scott Alien franchise with certain scenes and positioning of characters, but it does so in a way as to not disrupt the storyline. If the script or it’s actors teetered one iota during pre and production, this would have been a travesty, but in the end, honesty will out.

As I said in the title of this post ,”the stakes are still high”, what I mean by that is, and some may disagree with me, but I was invested. I was invested thirteen years ago and I’m invested now. It still strikes at the core of super creepy cinema and here’s why. I am a fan of time travel and I’m also a fan of the unexplained or anomalies. I remember watching the 1984 film Buckaroo Banzai and totally being turned on by the scene when Peter Weller‘s car drives through the mountain. Something snapped inside me and had I had the brain capacity, it might’ve sent me on a path toward a degree in quantum physics, but I think I was more in awe of the potential for us as humans to stumble upon other universes within our own, a quest that I’m not alone in. Even Tibetan monks believe that inter dimensional travel can be achieved through meditation. Of course I’m talking about science, but you get my meaning.

Event Horizon touches on this subject, albeit lightly, but it added to my bubbling curiosity over this theory and thus I was sold the minute Sam Neil mentioned anything about dimensions. I don’t believe that makes me bias cause there are millions who enjoyed this film for both it’s horror and it’s science fiction.

Now about the Gravity Machine…

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Conceptually, it’s one of the prettiest and most horrific props I’ve ever seen in film. Everything about the machine, as well as the room that houses it, looked like it could kill you. With everything being so science fiction up to this moment there wasn’t anyone who didn’t expect to see something sleek with fancy buttons and digital displays, but what we got was quite the opposite and totally sets the tone for what happens. I like films that makes me think outside the box and this one did with this machine. Along with that, there was this huge hallway that attached the gravity machine to the rest of the ship, that although simple, was a nightmarish bit of science fiction, that I remember took me a few days to shake off and I don’t know why. Either it’s coincidence or the art director has a masters in human psychology cause every frame was eerie.

The last thing I want to bring up about this film is the body count. Horror films tend to always push the envelope when it comes to killing and in actuality director P.W.S Anderson would have been right to give us every kind of kill imaginable, but he didn’t. He did what a lot of horror films don’t, he gave everyone a fighting chance. Several scenes in this film could have ended with supporting cast members dying horrific deaths, but that would’ve cheapened things and in my opinion, death isn’t scary in horror films (contrary to popular belief)…we’ve scene it all before. If not on the internet, then in real life…no, what’s worst is loneliness. Death is so absolute, but when characters are kept alive, for whatever reason, it tricks the viewer into believing that the characters “hell” is only beginning. This is mindful and not thoughtless, film making.

Without spoiling the plot, for those who haven’t seen this classic, it will constantly surprise you with the choices the director made with regards to who survives and who dies. It’s clever and not cliche. I can’t remember the last time I’ve ever watched a viable horror film like this one, but this will always stand as one of my favorites.

It’s this and everything else I mentioned, that makes this one of MITNG’s 31 films for the 31 days of Halloween.

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