Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Hills Have Yawns

A family stranded in the desert, surrounded by cannibalistic mutants left over from the Atomic Age. Spooky desert nights and hideous things that lurk in the dark. The claustrophobic confines of a mobile home in dramatic contrast with the vastness of the New Mexico desert. These are the makings of one hell of a chilling movie.
Unfortunately, the hills may have eyes, but the biggest challenge for you will be keeping your own open while this predictable yawner rolls on for two hours. It's not that the movie is bad. It's just no friggin' good. If you've seen just a few classic horror movies in your time, you will predict each new scene before it arrives. This is a formulated script written according to a tired cinematic playbook.
Sometimes glaringly, sometimes not, Hills is a composite of several older movies. The theme and many of the scenes flagrantly rip off the more disturbing "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." The setting is reminiscent of a lesser known but infinitely creepier movie titled "Race With the Devil" from the 1970's. Save your $7.50, skip this one, and rent one of those earlier flicks. Or get your hands on an episode of the X-Files called "Home." In one hour, the X-Files creators deftly present a truly unnerving look at genetic freaks and the disturbing dynamics of their society. You will remember it a long time. With "The Hills Have Eyes," you will forget the movie and all of the characters ten minutes after you walk out of the theater.
Like the original 1977 version, Hills of 2006 tries to sneak in a few political messages about the consequences of government testing in the Cold War era. Politics and horror sometimes pair up well, but not here. The message is as weak as the back story of the atomic freaks, whom you never get to know very well. Should we sympathize with them at all? Feel guilty about our own history as Americans? Nah, screw 'em. Pitchfork right between the eyes!
A few saving graces: pay close attention the role of the father in the movie. Roughly twenty minutes in, I recognized his voice. It's Ted Levine, the troubling, twisted serial killer Jaime Gumb from "Silence of the Lambs." Sadly, he doesn't plant anyone in a deep hole and insist that they rub the lotion on it's skin.
Also, there is some superb acting in the movie. None by a star listed in the credits, however. The only award caliber dramatics in this clunker comes from a German Shepherd, whom the producers do not use nearly enough.
"The Hills Have Eyes" has roughly 30 minutes of fun in the form of gratuitous violence and a fair share of gore. If you're hankering for an old-fashioned stake burning, you will find one here. Otherwise, the reality of the Atomic Age is far scarier than anything shown in this movie. In fact, the biggest failure of all in this film is that they show too much. They should have stuck with the strange noises from the desert night and left the rest to the imagination.


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