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.

New In Town (Mortuary, 2005)

Mortuary_CoverDenise Crosby is Leslie, recently widowed, has moved her family cross-country to a small California town.  She has bought a local mortuary (right next to a graveyard).  The Mortuary has a past and there is a lot of legend regarding the land it is built on.

As the tale goes, the first owner was a farmer who found nothing would grow on the land.  It was as if the ground was cursed.  Eventually, they built the mortuary and cemetery.  The last owners had a dark history and a handicapped son.  They hid the son away, and then when he got older, as the story goes, he killed his parents and hid beneath the cemetery.

Of course, something evil lives in the mortuary and it possesses people, turning them in zombies.  It is up to her son Jonathan (Cougertown’s Dan Byrd)  to stop the evil (with the help of his girlfriend) and save his little sister from the sinister force.

The plot is kind of a mess.  What exactly are the evil force’s goals?  Why is salt a perfect weapon?  Is it some sort of slug?  Why is it a terrible look digital monster?  The characters are the under-developed stock character type and the film lacks any scares.  This is pretty much a failure on every level.

An Easy Mess (Easy A, 2010)

easy-a-movie-posterI had high hopes of this being a clever teen comedy in the 10 Things I Hate About You Vein.  It starred Emma Stone, who seems to be able to brighten up the lamest of films.  It was a fresh take on a dusty classic.

And there are things I found in the film to be praiseworthy.  It’s likable cast, for instance.  Everyone does well, even though some character roles are terribly thankless(more on that later).  There are some solid laughs, and the interaction between Olive (Stone) and her carefree liberal parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) have their moments.  I liked the framing structure (Olive is broadcasting her story to the web).  I liked how they dealt with the potential fallout of the situation in Olive’s life.  Olive is a very likable character.  Smart, sarcastic, yet compassionate and supportive of her friends (it is this aspect of the character that creates the situation of the movie).

What is that situation?  Basically, Olive makes up a white lie to satisfy her friend Rhi (Aly Milchaka).  She find’s Rhi’s family uncomfortable and does not want to go camping with them, and says she has a date with a college boy.  Rhi presses for details, convinced Olive has lost her virginity.  So, rather than come clean, she tells Rhi what she wants to hear in the girls bathroom.  Which is overheard by Exaggerated Southern Christian Stereot-uh- Marianne (Amanda Bynes).  This spreads across the school like wildfire.  A friend (Dan Byrd) is facing bullying at school.  He’s gay and people suspect it…weary of the abuse he begs Olive to pretend they had sex together.  So at a party, they stage an elaborate sequence to convince everyone that the pair hooked up.

From there it snowballs, other guys start trying to get her okay to say they have done various sexual acts with her.  It snowballs until she is taking credit for things to protect a teacher and losing her friends.

And it is this area where the film just gets messy… for instance, Olive and Rhi have a falling out- resulting in Rhi disappearing for much of the film.  And Marianne…dear God, Marianne.  First, I have a hard time buying that someone that conservative and pious would wear outfits that are all that tight.  I would expect the character to be more modest.  Plus, she has this thick southern accent that nobody else seems to share.  It’s as if they think becoming a Christian results in developing a Texas Accent.  The character is cut from the cloth of a long line of Conservative Evangelical villains, and is so deathly cliched it is insulting-no matter what you believe.

On the positive side, there is no absurd comeuppance sequence revealing Marianne to be some secret slut in an attempt by the movie to shame her.  So, I guess we should consider ourselves lucky.

The end is a terrific mess.  I get why they ended it the way they did.  Earlier in the film, Olive laments that her life is not more like an 80’s teen romance, set to a montage of John Cusack, Patrick Dempsy and John Hughes flicks.  And the film’s final moments touch on that, including the montage of characters having a moment of realization.  But much is unresolved in this ending.  And not in a what happens next makes you want more, way.  But rather that you are watching the filmmakers cheat.  What exactly is Marianne’s revelation?  We don’t know.  But she seems sad.  Same with Rhi…and is their friendship salvaged?  Who knows…apparently Olive patching things up with her best friend did not strike the film makers as important.  It feels as if they had no idea how to resolve all their dangling threads…so they just show us the characters looking pensive and assume that allows them to end the movie.  But it just feels like a massive cheat.  So, the film is just a mess of good and bad… it’s a slapdash of humorous scenes and thoughtful moments adrift in a storm of bad storytelling.

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