Tuesday, October 31, 2006

'Tis the season.

Who knew that writing about psychotic mutant hillbillies would be such a problem? I've been meaning to write about Alexandre Aja's remake of Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes for months now. With Halloween upon us, I figure it's now or never.

I'm a little embarrassed over how much I love the film. It's such an unapologetically ugly film, full of extreme violence and an unrelenting pace. But that's why I've always loved the classic horror movies of the '70s and the early '80s: they're ruthless in execution (unintentional pun, I swear) and full of anxiety. I don't have a lot of love for the recent spate of horror films because most of them are so poorly paced and ineptly made. (Hello, Eli Roth.)

The Hills Have Eyes is all momentum and sick fluidity: it's smartly shot, judiciously cut, and competently acted. Sure, there's little to the plot (all-American family gets stuck in the desert, hillbilly mutants descend, chaos and carnage ensues) and the characters are all stock (former police detective Dad, loving Mom, two hot daughters, bumbling son-in-law). Honestly, that's what I want in a horror movie. I want a compendium of phobias rubbed in my face; I want it to be outlandish and unbelievable; above all, I want it to be scary. Hills is all of those things and a little more. Like those 70s/80s classics, it's all jittery about current events. This is where that I have problems whole-heartedly endorsing the film. (Deep breath) You see, I'd argue that Aja intends this film to be a pro-Iraq War/anti-insurgency rallying cry.

Consider the frame of the story: a Midwestern family makes a fatal error when they take seriously bad advice from a man they thought they could trust. They wind up stranded in the desert and quickly realize they've made a huge mistake. As night falls, the hillbilly mutant killers descend and really, really mess things up. (Arson, rape, torture, dog-killing, you name it.) It's kill or be killed now. Up until this point, the nebbish--i.e., liberal Jewish--son-in-law was a pacifist who refused to hold a gun. When he realizes exactly what's at stake (namely the safety of his wife and child), he picks up that gun... and an ax... and flammable liquids and learns to love warfare. He realizes that, yes, he's been lied to and should never have been in this situation, but by God, the threat is real and he's got to get some blood on his hands.

And exhale.

Before you think I'm insane and an asshole film nerd making shit up, Aja's flirtation with conservative politics emerged in his debut film, 2004's High Tension. That movie I can't abide by. Technically savvy: yes. But also illogical and plain dumb. Without really spoiling the film's much-touted shock twist, I'll just say that I'm not alone in thinking the entire film amounts to a crazed rant about how the gays are destroying the traditional family.

This is the point in the post where I suddenly ask myself: Wait, why do I like this movie again? Then I say: Oh yeah, because its primary objective (to make me really uncomfortable and scare the bejesus out of me) is more than met. The fact that the politics are repellent and naive is secondary to me. (I like that George Romero wrangles with Vietnam and consumerism in his Zombie movies, but that's not what makes them great; first and foremost they're effing creepy.) I don't need to be constantly coddled, I'm OK with debate. And I'm not going to lie: I'm amused that a 28 year-old Frenchmen seems to have the same world-view as Bill O'Reilly and he used Hollywood money to craft a hardcore exploitation film to express it. Then I realize that if O'Reilly ever saw the film, he'd probably consider it a sign of the apocalypse and try to have it banned. It's the gift that just keeps on giving.

Happy Halloween.

And on November 4th 7th, please vote against lying gas station attendants who tell you that the quickest way to California is on an unpaved road that goes through the desert. They're assholes and they need to go.


At 2:30 PM, Blogger Cardboard Cut-Out said...

I loved this nasty piece of work when it first came out and I've been searching for people who can verify that I'm not a crazy person with bad taste, er, that I'm a worthy cinephile, too. It's such sweet justice that it's someone like you (you can back up your worthiness, obviously) who I can point to as an example.

I cupped my hands over my eyes, peeking through the fingers every now and then, for almost the entire movie and it definitely left a lasting impression. I had to calm myself down with beer and pizza, afterwards.

This still doesn't explain why I haven't been able to watch The Devil's Rejects, though...

At 3:23 PM, Blogger Ben said...

Loving--or even admitting to enjoying--this film is a lonely endeavor. Welcome to the team.

Funny you should mention Mr. Zombie's film. I haven't seen The Devil's Rejects, but I'm about halfway through House of 1,000 Corpses. (Yes, halfway. Too much rum causes my mind to wander. I think I'm going to finish it sometime tonight.) I'm actually really enjoying it. I'm not usually one for comedy-horror films--sorry, Shaun of the Dead just isn't my cup of tea--but Zombie seems totally at ease in the genre. It's like a really evil, gory cartoon.

Speaking of horror-comedies that I actually like, Slither is actually worth its buzz. Legitimately hilarious and creepy/revolting.

At 9:47 AM, Blogger Ben said...

So I finished House of 1000 Corpses. I think I should've left it unfinished. At that point I thought it was kind of goofy and sick and surprisingly mild-mannered. Then it had to go all uber-sadistic and mean on me. (I'm still kind of interested in The Devil's Rejects as its supposed to be a marked improvement on the first.)

At 10:21 AM, Blogger Dashiell said...

i liked it when i saw it in the theatre.

At 8:46 AM, Blogger Cardboard Cut-Out said...

Funny you should mention Slither because both that flick (I'm a Nathan Fillion fan and was pleasantly surprised at the script of the Dawn of the Dead remake by James Gunn, so he was on my list of "horror dudes to watch") and The Devil's Rejects are on their way to my mailbox via Netflix...

I've heard that Zombie is a capable horror filmmaker from my other friends who are fans of the horror genre and that this newest one was a huge improvement over the evil, gory cartoon.

At 1:28 AM, Blogger Joshua said...

Stop spreading disinformation! Election day is November 7.

At 7:02 PM, Blogger Ben said...

Oops. My bad.


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