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The Hills Have Eyes Unrated - The Version to Die For

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Adam Scott, Jun 20, 2006.

  1. Adam Scott

    Adam Scott Stunt Coordinator

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    Picked this up at Best Buy today, and wished to share some of my thoughts on this outrageous remake of Wes Craven's creepfest centering around mutated cannibals in the desert; I know there was a request or two for a review anyway, but this may sew up some queries about the release.

    Before I get into some thoughts on the technical specs of Fox's DVD release of The Hills Have Eyes (which we're all here for, right?), let me say that Best Buy had a display for this title up at the front of store which featured these "Unrated To Die For" versions of the disc, and these included a special plastic clear jacket over the keepcase of the DVD with a red fluid simulating blood floating around in the bottom. Every time you move the disc, the "blood" squishes around the cover and this clear jacket; it is pretty damn cool and I haven’t seen something like this on a DVD release before (yes, there have been wild collectible "head busts" and such for massive movie franchise collections, but I've never seen a slipcase like this). The "blood fluid" fits the theme of the film just right.

    To be honest, I don’t really know what to make of Hollywood's latest trend of recreating some shocker classics. Sometimes, I adore them, such as in the case of Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead (which feels, in many ways, very much like this retelling of Hills Have Eyes) or William Malone's House on Haunted Hill. Other times, I lose all respect for motion picture making when (in my opinion, of course) garbage like Paris Hilton in House of Wax hits the screens, or absolutely inaccurate renderings of old facts just ruins a story like in the horribly inaccurate and miscast Amityville Horror remake, or when tight bodies and breast implant shots are substituted for genuine common sense, as evidenced by the G-d awful Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But then, Alexandre Aja's The Hills Have Eyes hit the theaters, and I got that same little kick in my gut that I did after leaving the aforementioned Dawn of the Dead remake: that this was the kind of horror film we need to go back to making to compensate for garbage like I Know What You Did Last Summer.

    I recently rented Craven's original Hills just to see if I was missing anything and walked away from it simply not understanding what all the hoopla was about; then again, I am the same person that felt this way about Romero's first cut of Dawn; to me, the effects were laughable, the pacing was lethargic and there was just no excitement at all to Craven's vision. Watching the remake, in retrospect, just provided that much-needed boost of excitement and edge-of-your-seat terror -- not to mention the boatloads of gore the remake team poured on for this one. I am not just saying this, folks, because I'm an advocate for "well, it's modern, so it must be colorful and better!" Believe me, I know and understand an original cut of a film as compared to its redo, and there are times the original seems much more intellectual or "dynamic" of a concept; this happened with Tobe Hooper's Chainsaw Massacre, where the remake couldn’t even come close to achieving the raw, visceral mood created in that dark kitchen flooded with Leatherface, Grandpa and Sally -- who was tied to a chair being viscously attacked by these cannibals. Hooper just got it right. The remake did not. In my collection, I keep both the black and white Vincent Price version of House on Haunted Hill and William Malone's remake for Dark Castle Productions as a comparison project because I think they both creep out audiences in different ways.

    But I digress; Wes Craven's original Hills is not so different from Aja's telling of the story, which finds a family driving through the New Mexican desert en route to California, and then running into a creepy gas station attendant, breaking down on the road, and who are then picked off one by one by a colony of mutated lunatics who seem to live "in the hills" outside the desert they are stranded in. If this sounds all too familiar, well, it should: the topic has been covered in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the awful Paris Hilton version of House of Wax, Wrong Turn, Cabin Fever and the aforementioned remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre....you know the drill...teens are attacked by ghastly disfigured inbred creeps who lure them in during a road trip they are on...yada yada yada. But Alex Aja's vision of The Hills Have Eyes just turned up the ante as compared to Craven's original, creating (with Craven himself on hand as co producer) a shocking, gory, exciting modern-day horror film that genuinely keeps you jumping in suspense. The premise of the film is set up in the opening sequence for us, which suggests the government had been conducting some kind of atmospheric nuclear experiments near the New Mexico desert, but that they denied any leakage or damage had occurred to any life forms. The film then jumps head-in (with a strange, Dawn of the Dead-like title sequence with music that simply does not fit this material as flashes of atomic bombs fill the screen) and we find our family on the road with their camper house behind them, running into the creepy gas station guy who has something to hide, and then the eventual attack of the deformed "mine people" who were affected by the radiation when the government was doing their tests; some of the attacks on the family are downright gruesome, especially one where two mutated freaks attack the younger sister in the back of the camper and steal a baby from its crib (the attack sequence mimics a scene in the original, but that one was nowhere near as effective). Robert Joy turns in a weird role as one of the leaders of this creepy group of savage mutants who ends up doing hand to hand battle at the end of the film with this abducted baby's father. Where to me the original fell flat and just didn’t work, this remake works for shocks and thrills alone. And Joy's makeup job is wild!

    But The Hills Have Eyes really is the most shocking horror film in a long time, as is quoted on the back of the DVD box by a critic for WCBS TV and People; I recommend it for true gore and horror buffs who like their human flesh eating sequences in spades.

    I cannot really tell where much more gore was added to certain spots in this cut of the film, as the rear of the keepcase exclaims quite boldly, as compared to what I noticed in the theaters when seeing it. Like Snyder's Dawn of the Dead, here we get more hammers and weapons to the head, perhaps, creating more brain matter on the walls and a great deal more blood splashing and sprinkling whenever the time is right, but it's really gory enough regardless of the "unrated" badge on it. Let's talk some specs...

    20th Century Fox/Searchlight Entertainment presents The Hills Have Eyes in a pretty damn rich-looking 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer; for standard-definition, people, this disc looked good. The shots of the family in the desert come off extremely clean and detailed, with skintones and earthly hues of the desert landscape boldly jumping off the screen. There are some moments -- notably in the dark portions of the film, such as night shots and the darkened areas the creatures live in -- that I detected a brief grain running through the image. It got a bit murky, but then jumped back to a startling crisp image when colors of the sunny outdoors reappeared. Because of the Dawn of the Dead-like quick-shot editing especially towards the end of the film, we get that broken up, gritty result -- much like Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later or even Saving Private Ryan; you get the picture. But overall, a nice modern transfer from Fox.

    I was a bit disappointed to see the lack of a DTS audio option on this release, as Fox has been nice enough to drop one on more than a few of its catalog and modern releases -- The Day After Tomorrow, I Robot, Man on Fire, Predator Collector's Edition, Speed...here, on The Hills Have Eyes, we are regulated to a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 track that gets the job done, but I cannot help but think could have been a touch better. From the moment the soundtrack begins, there is a good heft of LFE that announces this is going to be a bass heavy mix; while that remains true, dialogue stays on the kind of quiet side and the track just has that overall "typical Dolby Digital feeling" to it, as if a blanket could have been taken off portions of the audio. It's no slouch -- don’t get me wrong. Universal had me scratching my head, too, when it decided not to put DTS tracks on titles like Van Helsing and Dawn of the Dead but instead gave it to titles like Along Came Polly and Meet the Fockers.....okay.

    At any rate, wallops of LFE shock this track throughout the film's running time, while surround channel usage is constantly present and there, just not in an awfully alarming way....atmospheric cues like wind, rustling, birds, etc. make their way full time into the surrounds, but because most of this film finds characters lurking around trying to stay away from these crazy cannibals, there is not much for the audio track to do but wait and then explode for a real loud stinger every now and then, so the surrounds don’t have that much to do, either. Yet, when used, the effects were pretty top notch, with the demented, tormenting voices of the ghouls terrorizing the family coming from the surround channels at one point, or the occasional gunshot which pings into the back. The track gets front heavy most of the time, but then will suddenly get full and wrap around you. I suppose if there were any other complaints about the audio track it would have to be that it seemed to need a bit more volume power on my processor than is normally needed for, say, a DTS mix of the same caliber; of course, DTS mixes are typically mixed at a hotter level, but this Dolby Digital track surprised me in that it needed a bit of cooking to get going.

    But this, by no means, is a bad 5.1 mix.

    Audio commentaries by just about everyone you'd want to hear from (including Wes Craven), a making-of feature, production diaries and a music video round out this solid package with a downright awesome cover concept (the fake blood).

    I recommend this to horror buffs and suspense-seekers alike; just make sure you have someone to hold on to while you're munching your popcorn in that sweet spot!! [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Thanks fellas; fire away with any comments/discussions!
     
  2. Joseph J.D

    Joseph J.D Cinematographer

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    A very nicely detailed review. [​IMG] It certainly answers a lot of my questions. Up here in Canada, Futureshop has the 'squishy blood' cover version as well (that type of cover has also been available on the Saw:Uncut DVD for a year now).....this review may be the deciding factor for me buying this one.
     
  3. Adam Scott

    Adam Scott Stunt Coordinator

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    Thank you very much for the kind words, Joseph! It's much appreciated. I didnt know the Saw Uncut disc had that squishy blood cover; very interesting. It was the first time I had seen anything like that.

    Thanks again for reading, and I am glad this helped you decide on a purchase; I can recommend this for a collection, and the only negative thing I had to say about the package was that I was expecting just a TAD bit more from the audio track. I would have really applauded Fox for dropping a DTS track on this, but, like Universal with thrillers like Van Helsing and Dawn of the Dead, we receive a Dolby Digital mix that...well...simply "does the job" without really standing out in any way.

    I also meant to add in my original comments that this Dolby track is sure as hell atmospheric and directional -- directionality is actually performed excellently and with precision here, putting voices calling from behind, noises, ambient cues and all kinds of subtle effects where they belong when they're placed in the rear channels....there was outstanding use of these directional cues on this mix. It just didn't floor me with hit-you-over-the-head dynamics or raw "heft," which I expected from a new release like this, and it required me to turn up the receiver volume past what I expected to play this track at going into it.

    Otherwise, an excellent example of a keeper for a DVD collection!

    Thanks again for reading Joseph. Glad I could help with your decision. [​IMG]
     
  4. Jordan_E

    Jordan_E Cinematographer

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    I liked the movie, but if the family had been cast with unknowns rather than faces I've seen (although it NEVER hurts to see more Emilie de Ravin) I think the fear factor may have been higher.
     
  5. Russell G

    Russell G Fake Shemp

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    I've skimmed the review, very nicely detailed, as I already know I'm gettting this. My question is: Is the unrated a directors preffered version?

    The reason I'm asking is: Every movie that comes out now is Unrated. Now in horror, this is almost always a great thing. I'm just wondering how this differs from the theatrical and if it's actually a director preffered cut. I just watched the Hostel unrated disc, and I didn't see anything different from the theaters.
     
  6. Darcy Hunter

    Darcy Hunter Stunt Coordinator

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  7. Ryan L. Bisasky

    Ryan L. Bisasky Second Unit

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    also, for me at least, Emilie de Ravin is not the most convincing american teen, as anyone who has watched lost knows that she has a very thick austraillian accent. while she does her best to cover it up, you can still hear it in certain scenes.
     
  8. Chris Tedesco

    Chris Tedesco Second Unit

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    Ah, great detailed review of movie and video/audio specs. That's what I'm talking about! I'm pumped this movie is now on DVD. Saw it in the theater and yes, shocking in parts, but that's why you go to see a movie like this yes?
     
  9. BrettGallman

    BrettGallman Screenwriter

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    Great review. Now I'm even more excited to watch this one this weekend. I enjoyed it in theaters and can't wait to give it another look. I was surprised by the lack of DTS as well, but it sounds like the DD track does a good job.
     
  10. Justin_S

    Justin_S Producer

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    I don't think this film comes anywhere close to being as good as Craven's original or Aja's own Haute Tension, but it was a pretty enjoyable and brutal little film, which is a hell of alot more than I can say about the other horror remakes (of the ones I've bothered to see) of the last few years.
     
  11. Stephen Brooks

    Stephen Brooks Second Unit

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    Did anybody else need a shower after watching this movie?
     
  12. Adam Scott

    Adam Scott Stunt Coordinator

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    Hello Jordan and thank your for replying!

    I agree about unknowns making a film much more fear-inducing, especially for a thriller like this -- in fact, I was saying that to my girlfriend as we were watching this -- but I think, and its just my opinion, that Aja and casting team did a pretty good job with keeping this rather "un-Hollywood" in terms of the roles; I mean, imagine Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds....AND THIS? [​IMG]

    But I think the faces were "uknown" enough that this just worked; but thats just my two cents.

    Thanks again for reading the writeup! [​IMG]
     
  13. Adam Scott

    Adam Scott Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks a million Chris, for the kind words (and everyone else who joined the discussion)....as a home theater surround/audio enthusiast, I KNOW the importance of the specifications on these discs, and so I wanted to share them with the members!

    Absolutely agreed about the shock value of these films! [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  14. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

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    Yep. That's why I didn't enjoy ALL of this film and the same holds true for the director's previous movie. This might seem strange as a life long horror fan because we all love the violence and gore but I think there's a line horror films shouldn't cross and this director LOVES to cross that line. Even with all the horror, gore and violence, the film needs to remain fun but HAUNT and HILLS were just too brutal to have any fun with. I think this brutality is there because the director isn't talented enough or the script isn't good enough to get scares. The original HILLS, HALLOWEEN or even TCM were disturbing films due to mood, atmosphere and other items. Graphic, brutal violence wasn't a part of them. I think this director has talent but it's being ruined by the overly graphic violence, which makes the films hard to enjoy or have fun with. I don't have an issue with seeing someone get killed because that's what horror films are about. I do have an issue with watching someone being tortured or brutally violated not for an emotion but instead to make up for a lack of being able to scare someone.
     
  15. Adam Scott

    Adam Scott Stunt Coordinator

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    Hey Brett,

    Thanks a million for the kind words on the writeup! I appreciate that!

    Indeed, I was a bit shocked and pissed [​IMG] at Fox for deciding against giving The Hills Have Eyes a DTS track, as it could have made this a REAL treat, especially after their pretty stellar releases (with DTS) like Man on Fire and The Day After Tomorrow, but the Dolby Digital track isn't TOO bad....for real DTS fanatics like myself, I can tell where the track could have used a bit more oooomph, but that is if you are REALLY listening closely with almost golden ears; I suppose, like most modern Dolby Digital tracks, it does the job and provides the atmosphere required.

    Let us know what you think when you watch the disc!!
     
  16. Adam Scott

    Adam Scott Stunt Coordinator

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    Hey Justin,

    Thanks for the input! While I disagree -- absolutely respectfully -- that this did not come close to Craven's original (I had a hard time staying awake through it, actually, and I do not say that about most any originals!) I do indeed agree that this was an enjoyable brutal film -- one of the most shocking, as the rear of the box claimed, to come out in a real long time....and I agree totally that it surpassed most of the other remakes that have come along. Out of all of them (the rather recent ones), I only really liked Hills Have Eyes, Dawn of the Dead and The Fog (which was nowhere near as effective as Carpenter's, but kind of worked because of Carpenter's input on the remake and other tid bits; it warranted a DVD purchase for me anyway).
     
  17. Adam Scott

    Adam Scott Stunt Coordinator

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    Indeed, Stephen, indeed....[​IMG]
     
  18. Adam Scott

    Adam Scott Stunt Coordinator

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    "This might seem strange as a life long horror fan because we all love the violence and gore but I think there's a line horror films shouldn't cross and this director LOVES to cross that line."

    Agreed; there was indeed a line that was crossed which made this film cross into "nasty" and even "absurdly graphic" at times, but I think the genre needed a kick in the pants like that.

    "Even with all the horror, gore and violence, the film needs to remain fun but HAUNT and HILLS were just too brutal to have any fun with. I think this brutality is there because the director isn't talented enough or the script isn't good enough to get scares. The original HILLS, HALLOWEEN or even TCM were disturbing films due to mood, atmosphere and other items. Graphic, brutal violence wasn't a part of them."

    You are absolutely entitled to your opinion about the film missing a "fun" factor, replaced by shocking violence, but again, I think it was what the horror sect of Hollywood needed; I respect your view though. I dont know enough about Aja to know if he wasnt "talented" enough to produce an effective film, but there is one thing you are absolutely right about: Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre were genuine diamonds in this film genre, defined by their raw, visceral use of mood, atmosphere, score and LACK of graphic material -- in fact, what makes Carpenter's Halloween just so damn good is what he DID NOT show....modern-day audiences do not understand this concept; the average teenage population pouring into cineplexes today are there for cheap shock value with no core intelligence required for their entertainment -- Carpenter's Halloween relied on the creepy score, the atmosphere, the sense of dread whenever you saw Michael's mask on the screen....this all worked to create an absolute classic. I just still thought this remake of Hills gave a bit of a kick to a sadly lacking genre....

    "I think this director has talent but it's being ruined by the overly graphic violence, which makes the films hard to enjoy or have fun with. I don't have an issue with seeing someone get killed because that's what horror films are about. I do have an issue with watching someone being tortured or brutally violated not for an emotion but instead to make up for a lack of being able to scare someone."

    I can see this, and I can see how there were areas of this exploited and used by Aja; I dont think his intention, though, was to suggest that he wanted the audience to "have fun" with this material; this was a more in-your-face shock ride which did not pretend to be horror....one of the more shocking sequences in the film was of course the attempted rape scene in the camper; this was based on a similar scene in Craven's and I think Aja was looking to go over the edge with it and do what was not accepted back when Craven's was released....it is indeed brutal and hard to sit through, as are the parts when the deformed creeps are eating body parts and such, but in a way, I think thats what makes it stand out for real hardcore horror buffs.

    Anyone else feel this way, or disagree?
     
  19. todd stone

    todd stone Screenwriter

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    awesome review. I picked this flick up on a blind buy and WOW, this sucker is GORY as heck. Best horror film in a long time. I am not sure why ebert and roeper gave it two thumbs down...
     
  20. Adam Scott

    Adam Scott Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks so much for your enthusiastic words, Todd! Glad you enjoyed it on a blind buy; I agree that it is the best horror film to come along in awhile....

    As for ebert and roeper, well....I dont think they are partial to horror flicks; I didnt even see their rating of two thumbs down...

    Is this true? [​IMG]
     

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