Horror movies. Bit of a giggle, right? Perfect date-fodder for a Friday night: popcorn and snuggles as plastic teens swap the attentions of the surgeon's scalpel for a psycho's butcher knife. Pop goes the wisecrack; clackety-crack go the backward limbs of some lank-haired girlie ghost with a US passport; CG fog (sugar)coats Antonio Bay; that dude with the leather face got bullied bad as a kid...
You can type that shit but you sure as hell can't make it resonate. Diet-horror, horror-lite, the margarine of horror... Call it what you will, it doesn't nourish. It doesn't stick. It doesn't lodge in your brain like a rusty nail.
Wes Craven's 1977 schlocker still beds deep, oozing trickles of grue down constricted throats. The Hills Have Eyes is not a classic - it's ragged, arrhythmic and heavily indebted to several genre flicks of the early '70s, including Craven's own The Last House On The Left - but by god, it registers.
The same can be said of Alexandre Aja's timely remake. Granted, it's riddled with flaws, niggles and missteps, the most regrettable of which is Aja's decision to foreground the backstory of nuclear testing; give the enemy heart and reason and you give the viewer a comforting hand where there should be irresolvable chaos. But his Hills suck up any misgivings like the desert drinks blood.
Taking time to set up his characters, Aja will have you wincing as the Carters - including Aaron Stanford (Pyro from X2 and the forthcoming X3) and Emilie de Ravin (Claire from Lost) - snake down a dirt track towards the New Mexico hills. We know what's coming, muffled alarm bells set ringing by scratchy montages of jagged rocks, filthy dust and scuttling scorpions. Even the sand looks soiled, sifted from David Lean's id.
Then it happens: a repugnant, scandalous assault by the misshapen hill people. Strong language? Tick. Extreme violence? Tick. Sexual humiliation? Tick, tick, tick. And the good folk at the BBFC had best keep those pens unlidded 'cos it just gets worse, Aja finding icky-sticky uses for guns, bats, rocks, saucepans, knives, screwdrivers and axes. Lots of axes.
Scrape the blood out your eyes and there are subtexts to be spied. Like Craven's post-'Nam original, this taps into America's fear of the unknown, a strange-looking enemy attacking fearlessly, without warning. The French director also has great fun spiking the ideal of the, ahem, nuclear family - our clean-cut heroes finally resorting to acts of barbarity beyond their aggressors' muddled comprehension.
Who cares if Aja's Hills lacks a bogeyman to match Michael Berryman's original Pluto? And so what if it doesn't come close to Switchblade Romance's frankly dangerous levels of suspense? It hurts - drilling deep, deep red.