Why 17 days? Because 17 is my favorite number.
When I finally saw the remake, I was pleasantly surprised.
Not much is changed about the story, although Aja does inject a pinch of political irony. In the remake, Bob Carter (Ted Levine, a.k.a. Jame Gumm of Silence of the Lambs) is established as something of a hard-line gun-toting conservative while his son-in-law, Doug Bukowski (Aaron Stanford), is a peace-pimping liberal. When Bob, arguably the most capable of the family in a crisis such as this, is taken out early and Doug is forced to rise to the occasion, not even a low-information voter would miss the irony. I was reminded of John Boorman's Deliverance and how Ed (Jon Voight) is forced to take matters into his own hands regarding an external threat when the alpha male Lewis (Burt Reynolds) is incapacitated. I found this internal conflict interesting and wanted to see it developed further, but soon the movie degenerated into a series of vicious set-pieces designed to push the audience to its limits of tolerance.
Hey, I’m not complaining. I liked this film. The story is essentially the same, but the ante has been upped as Aja gleefully splatters us with buckets of blood and brutality. From the opening scene (added for the remake), where Pluto (Michael Bailey Smith) kills a group of scientists in the desert, swinging the last victim above his head on the end of a pickax, I knew we were in for a wild ride. Violence notwithstanding, this film is all about tension, as was the case with Aja’s first film, which of course had “tension" in its title. Because the atrocities committed by Papa Jupiter (Billy Drago) and his family are so extreme, the Carter family's desperation clings to the viewer like pig sweat, and our heart rate does not drop below 150 until well after the closing credits.
Now, I’m not saying this is better than the original (it isn’t), just different, more balls-to-the-wall, and one of the few films to make me, a grown-ass man, scream aloud in the theater. Some of the scenes might send viewers groping for the eject button (when Lynn, played by Vinessa Shaw, is raped while her assailant holds a pistol to her baby to keep her pliable, I had to hide my eyes). Other scenes are so white-knuckle nerve-racking that my screams in the theater were downright cathartic.
Another fine moment also occurs late in the film, after Doug has gone through every manner of hell to rescue his child, only to be brutally beaten to a bloody pulp and left to die in the desert. Doug lies in the dry wasteland, every inch of his body covered with blood, and his eyes flicker open to catch the sun glinting off his wedding ring. Like Rocky rising for one last round with Apollo Creed, Doug pushes himself to his feet and stumbles back to the village for another go.
Bottom line, if you like extreme horror, you’ll probably like this film. If the original was too extreme for you or as far as you want to go, then you’d probably want to steer clear. The Hills Have Eyes remake isn’t art but it isn’t garbage either, and in my opinion, it offers a blueprint for how to do a remake right, staying true to the spirit of the original while remaining aligned with the energy of the current times.
Previous Days of Halloween:
Day 1 – Baby’s Breath
Day 2 – Phantom of the Paradise
Day 3 – The Shining (miniseries)
Day 4 – 28 Days Later
Day 5 – 28 Weeks Later
Day 6 – Dawn of the Dead (original)
Day 7 – Dawn of the Dead (remake)
Day 8 – The Howling
Day 9 – Saló or the 120 Days of Sodom
Day 10 – Romper Stomper
Day 11 – The Valley of Gwangi
Day 12 – Kolchak: The Night Stalker (entire series)
Day 13 – The Hills Have Eyes (original)