Revisiting the Hills Pt 1 (The Hills Have Eyes, 2006)

In the early part of the aughts, studios started to remake Wes Craven’s films. To a certain extent, this was, I believe, an attempt to give Craven more financial benefit from his work. He was tangentially involved in these films as a producer, they were all written and directed by different people.

The Hills Have Eyes was probably a good place to start. It is a film known mainly to fans of Wes Craven and horror. However, a lot of people in the mainstream are likely to have simply heard the name.

Bringing in Alexandre Aja to write and direct. He had made a real impression with 2003’s High Tension, and honestly, was probably a strong choice. High Tension was part of the French Extreme trend in horror where stories could be messy and plot twists do not make sense. Here, the extreme violence of his work really is at home.

The core story is there. A family is on vacation in their RV. They go on a detour to shorten their drive time and the car appears to break down. They discover there are other people hiding in the hills and those people attack them and kidnap their baby. And then the family must fight back.

The original film is about a family from civilization versus the feral family. The film plays up the family divisions, with Big Bob’s tough Republican versus Doug’s “weak Democrat” played up big time. In fact a lot of the film is devoted to Doug becoming a violent badass. This is not an exaggeration. Doug goes from a guy barely able to think of using a gun to hand to hand violent killer. The film is pretty good at manipulating the viewer, because Doug is trying to save his baby.

The remake’s biggest alteration is that the feral family are ravaged by radiation. They are basically mutant monsters. Visually, this is really effective, though it loses something to make the Jupiter family outright inhuman monsters.

This is a decent remake and I think gorehounds will find it enjoyable.

Apex Predators (Crawl, 2019)

Crawl_PosterHaley is somewhat estranged from her parents, but when her father is unresponsive to calls from her and her sister in the face of an impending hurricane, she drives into the storm to find him. When she finds him wounded in a crawlspace beneath the home, she discovers they are trapped by alligators. As water fills the crawl space they struggle to find a way out.

Director Alexandre Aja delivers a very tight thriller.  It is exciting and dramatic, rarely slowing down.  The performances from Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper are quite effective.  Their relationship feels real as a father and daughter whose relationship is strained by unspoken issues-but they still love each other.

Really, Crawl is a great B-Movie in the man vs nature vein. It has some good scares and keeps a brisk pace. I definitely recommend this for folks wanting a good thriller.



Fishies Pt 4 (Piranha 3D, 2010)

piranha_2010_posterIt is spring break in Lake Victoria and the kids are hear to party…get drunk, flash people, have sex…you know regular spring breakin’.  The local sheriff (Elizabeth Shue)is trying to keep things in control, and needs her son Jake (Steven R. McQueen) to watch his younger brother and sister.  Except he has been hired by Derrick (Jerry O’Connell) to take him and his crew around to the best Spring Break Locations.  Derrick runs a website called Wild Wild Girls* and wants to take advantage of the crowds at Lake Victoria.  Jake schemes, leaving his sibling home alone so he can hang out with Derrick and his group (including two Wild Wild Girls).  Unexpectedly, the girl he has a crush on, Kelly, gets brought on to the boat.

A research team headed by Novak (Parks and Rec’s Adam Scott) arrives to investigate a recent earthquake.  With the help of the Sheriff, they discover the earthquake opened an underground lake and has freed carnivorous fish.  And then the race is on to find the fish and stop them.

Of course, you know they will not succeed and spring break is an all you can eat buffet.  The fish work their way through the winding lake until they get to gorge themselves on swimmers.   In spite of not being shown for critics, the critics were pretty generous with this film.

The reason is, the film does not take itself seriously.  It is gleefully trashy and has fun with that.  There is no message about ecology or anything.  It is just about big and hungry fish.  And people in swimsuits.  The big sequence is a ridiculously over the top gore sequences as the Sheriff and Novak work alongside the deputies trying to save the Spring Breakers.  The effects are largely very good (though some digital moments are pretty obvious) and the film is carnage candy.

The movie has a very firm tongue in cheek attitude.  This is shown in it’s cameos, which are pitch perfect.  Eli Roth is an obnoxious Wet T-Shirt Contest Host.  Christopher Lloyd is a Doc Brown styled ichthyologist and the film opens Richard Dreyfuss slyly portraying his Matt Hooper character from Jaws.

The performances are really fun.  Ving Rhames is enjoyable Shue’s right hand man Deputy Fallon.  Paul Sheer is a goofy crony of of Derrick’s.  And Derrick?  O’Connell has one of the best lines of the entire film.  He plays Joe Franc-uh Derrick with no fear of the edge of the ledge.  I am a big fan of Adam Scott, and he is a lot of fun…it is kind of like he is playing a Action Ben Wyatt.  Kelly Brook’s performance is no major star turn, but her character Danni is likeable and seems keen on getting Jake and Kelly together as a couple.   Jessica Szohr is a lot of fun as Kelly, who is the kind of person to step up to the plate when challenged and when it is suggested she is maybe a bit uptight, shows Jake she is more than willing to cut loose.  Probably the supporting cast member to get the short end of the stick is Crystal, played by Riley Steel.  She has very little personality and pretty much is there to look good in a bikini.

This film should fall squarely into terrible, yet it has a lot of personality and makes for a real fun “Guilty Pleasure” movie.




*Girls Gone Wild creator Joe Francis wrote an angry letter to the producers and Jerry O’Connell repeatedly said he was playing Francis…upon threat of a lawsuit, O’Connell changed it to “For Legal reasons I play someone loosely based on Joe Francis”.

Spoilers to Destroy the Tension (High Tension, 2003)

High-Tension-PosterHigh Tension seems like one of those films where every shot had the creators thinking about how edgy and gritty they were being. And shocking. We’re gonna shock you! Lots of blood spraying, our lead sitting on a bed masturbating! We’re gonna shock you, baby!

And maybe the shocks would work if the story was not such a convoluted mess. It makes zero sense. Early on we are treated to a sleazy guy in his run down service truck getting oral sex. The shocker is that he starts the van and drops a woman’s severed head out the van window. So, we have a psycho sexual killer established. We also get introduced to the female lead… a young woman who awakes from a dream where she is hunting herself. Ooooo…foreshadowing. They get to her friend’s remote farm home for the weekend. We establish our heroine doesn’t seem to have much time for boys, while her friend maybe has to much.  So, I am going to spoil the crap out of this film (I also spoil the Sixth Sense and Fight Club).

They get to her friend’s house and go straight to bed. Later in the night the run down van drives up to the front door. When the friend’s father answers the door, his face is bashed in. He sputters why as he crawls up the stairs. The large brutish character takes it a step further and beheads the father. The mother is dispatched by a near beheading while our heroine hides in the closet. After the brute leaves, she goes to the mother’s side in tears, and the mother asks “Why?” and dies (more foreshadowing). Our heroine stumbles upon her good friend who is tied up and gagged. Our lead hears the little brother outside. She goes to the window and sees the brute wander through the field until he finds and shoots the boy.

She keeps promising to help her friend. Eventually, the brute loads the friend into the truck and drives away, unaware that he carries an additional passenger. He stops to get the truck gassed up and our lead slips out into the gas station. She asks the clerk for help and then has to hide as the psycho walks in. Of course, after chatting with the clerk, he kills him. The heroine stays hidden, watching the killer use the restroom, worried he will see her. She waits for him to leave, but waits to long. She gets out to the parking lot to see the truck pulling away.

So she steals a car and pursues him-after calling in the police. She decides it may be obvious that she is pursuing, backs off only to find the truck seems to have vanished from the road-BUT WAIT!!! It’s behind her. She is run off the road. She crashes. She gets out of the car and is pursued by the brute. She hides in a little run down green house and has a bloody battle to the death with the psycho brute. It appears she has won. She runs back to the truck. In the mean time, we jump to the police, where the inspector is watching the surveillance camera…and here it comes…are you ready for the twist?

No brute walks in. Just the girl. And she is the one who plunges an ax into the heart of the attendant. We switch back to our heroine saving her friend-but her friend pulls a knife on her asking why she killed her family. Our heroine is confused, she saved her friend-killed the bad guy! What’s going on? Suddenly we see flashbacks. No brute…just her. She kills her friends dad. Her friend’s mom. Her friend’s little brother.

OH MY GOSH!!!!! SHE’S THE KILLER! She’s in love with her friend and is angry at her friend’s rejection in favor of boys! I NEVER SAW THIS COMING!!!

And you know why? Because the film is a mess. See, in Fight Club and the Sixth Sense, the big reveals cause you to look back through the movie. And it makes sense. Holy crap, no one BUT the kid sees Willis! No one saw Tyler Durden except Ed Norton! But it all fits together. Here, we have scene after scene establishing contact between the heroine and her friend several times where her friend is clearly aware she is in front of her…while the brute is nearby. He is driving the truck. He goes out and shoots the boy why she is with her friend. Plus, in Fight Club, which has a similar plot twist, you never see Tyler without Ed Norton. But here, you get shots of the brute right at the beginning…it establishes him as an entirely separate character at the beginning of the film. He comes to the door in the truck… the “heroine” road in her friend’s car to get there-where did the truck come from? I mean, it just doesn’t work.

This film is not even a great mess. Hear is a hint for film makers…a twist for the sake of twist is just annoying if it doesn’t fit into the rest of the film. And the “It’s all in their head!” twist is the worst of all if done incorrectly. Which is where this film fell completely apart.

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