Review: The Hills Have Eyes (dir. by Alexandre Aja)

Many people have issues about remakes and reboots. They see it as unnecessary and a proof that the film industry has run out of ideas. I can’t say that either points have no validity to them, but I disagree with both.While all genres of film have had it’s share of remakes and reboots its the horror section of the film aisle which has seen the most. This shouldn’t come as a shock since horror has always been ripe for remakes. The stories in horror films have always been quite simple and producers take advantage of this by remaking them for a new generation. Take the simple set-up, change the time and setting with a new cast of cheap, unknown actors and you got yourself a horror flick which should make back its budget and make its filmmakers a profit.

While most horror remakes usually range from average to truly dreadful there comes a time when one comes out of the horror remake heap to actually show promise and quality not seen in its remake brethren. One such film is in the Alexandre Aja directed and Wes Craven produced The Hills Have Eyes. Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes is the rare horror remake in that its more than a match to Wes Craven’s original and, at times, surpasses it.

Alexandre Aja first burst onto the horror-cinema scene with his ambitious and grisly homage to grindhouse horror: Haute Tension. Haute Tension was one nasty piece of horror filmmaking which brought to mind 70’s and early 80’s horror exploitation and grindhouse mentality. Aja’s directorial debut was a no-hold-s-barred punch and kick to the stomach that was overtly violent and sublimely painful for the audience to watch. Aja was soon tapped by Wes Craven to lead the remake project of his own The Hills Have Eyes and to Aja’s growing reputation as a rising star of horror, he grew as a filmmaker and more than earned this reputation.

Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes follows pretty much the very same story and characters as the original. This remake has abit more of a political sense to its storytelling in that it doesn’t just pit the basic premise of civilized humans versus the primal inbred, mutant hill dweller, but also the different demographics of red state versus blue state. This theme was hammered through to the audience through the subsurface conflict between Big Bob Carter’s (well-played by industry veteran Ted Levine) red state gung-ho ex-detective and his son-in-law Doug’s (X2‘s Aaron Stafford) pacifist mentality. I think this new wrinkle in the original’s sparse and tight story was unnecessary and unsubtly done. I really didn’t want to know what political leanings and motivations the Carter family members followed. What I did care about was how they would react to the outside forces that was soon to menace and attack them.

The first half of the film was very deliberate in its set-up as it slowly built up the tension and dread as the Carter family’s journey through a supposedly short-cut through the desert put them closer and closer to the dangerous people who dwelt amongst the hills bordering the desert road. Once the family becomes stranded in the middle of nowhere the fun begins for horror-aficionados. For those who have seen the original this remake doesn’t deviate from the main story. The hill people who, up until now have only been glimpsed through quick shadowy movements across the screen, were the true cause of the family’s predicament attack in a brutal and grisly fashion. None of the Carter family members were spared from this attack. From Big Bob Carter, his wife Ethel, their three children, son-in-law and young granddaughter they all suffer in one form or another. The night attack on the camper is the main highlight of the film and shows that Aja hasn’t lost his touch for creating a horror setpiece that doesn’t hold back. From the brutal rape of the Carter’s youngest daughter Brenda to the sudden deaths of several Carter family members. This sequence was both fast-paced and chaotic in nature. It also helped push the definition of what constitute a very hard R-rating. Just like Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects and Roth’s Hostel, The Hills Have Eyes pushed the limits and boundaries of what the MPAA has allowed so far in terms of on-screen violence when it was first released in 2006. I’m very surprised that some of the violence and deaths in this film made the final cut. This film definitely brings back the 70’s style horror.

The cast for this remake was one high point that the original didn’t have. Where Craven had a very inexperienced cast for the original film. Aja had the luxury of a bigger budget to hire a more competent and able group of actors. A cast that was led by Ted Levine who shined in his role as the patriarch of the civilized Carters. Kathleen Quinlan as the mother of the bunch soldiers on even though its almost predestined in films such as this that she would be one of the doomed. The two daughters as played by Vinessa Shaw and Lost’s Emilie De Ravin were quite good in roles that involved some very graphic rape sequences. Much kudos must go to De Ravin for having to perform through her scene during the trailer-camper attack. But the two actors who excelled in the film has to be pacifist turned avenging angel Doug as played by Aaron Stafford. We see in his character Doug the lengths a civilized human being would go through to survive and protect those he cares for. Even if this means resorting to becoming more brutal and primal than the inbred, mutant hill dwellers. It’s in Doug’s character where the basic premise of the clash of the modern with the primitive comes close to matching the same theme in the original. To a smaller degree this was also echoed in the Carter’s teenage son Bobby. Dan Byrd of Entourage plays Bobby Carter and its in him we see the level-headedness of the family. Despite all the horror and carnage he has seen the hill dwellers have inflicted on his family, Bobby remains somewhat calm and even-keeled to protect what is left of his family. The only drawback as to the cast itself was that the opposing family seemed to have been shortchanged. In the original we actually got to understand some of the motivations that drove the hill dwellers to prey on unsuspecting travelers through their area. In this remake the hill dwellers seem more like superhuman monsters and boogeymen. It didn’t bother me as much, but then it also lessened the impact of the story’s basic premise of civilization versus primitives.

Lastly, the look of the film helps add to the grindhouse nature of Aja’s remake. The film has an oversaturated look and feel that took advantage of the desert location and the high-sun overhead. This oversaturation of the film’s look also lends some credence to its grindhouse sensibilities. It looked, felt and acted like something made during the late 70’s and early 80’s. For most fans of horror it would really come down to the special-effects used to show the death and violence’s impact on the audience. Once again, Greg Nicotero and his crew at KNB EFX house show that they’re the premiere effects house. The make-up used to show the mutant effects on the survivors of the original inhabitants of the hills was excellently done. The same goes for the gags used to show the many brutal and messy deaths of both families.

There’s no denying that The Hills Have Eyes was all about pain when boiled down to its most basic denominator. This film is all about pushing the boundaries and piling on violence upon violence. The Hills Have Eyes is not a film that tells us violence solves nothing. Here it does solve the problem for the Carter clan and is also the only avenue of survival of the remaining Carters. The same goes for the nuclear survivors and their offspring who stayed in the irradiated zones that was their home. This film is all about survival and the levels and heights individuals would take to achieve it.

The Hills Have Eyes might not be the original second helping some have expected from Aja after his brilliant, if somewhat flawed first major film with Haute Tension, but it does show his growth as a filmmaker and his clean grasp of what makes horror cinema truly terrifying and uncomfortable. Two ingredients that makes for making a genre exploitation fare into something of a classic. I’m sure that outside of the horror-aficionado circles this film will either be met with indifference or disgust, but for those who revel in this type of filmmaking then it’s a glorious continuation of the grindhouse horror revival that began with Aja’s own Haute Tension, continued by Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, Roth’s Hostel  and continues to live each and every year with the many direct-to-video releases of cheap, but very good horror films. It truly is a great time to be a fan of horror and Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes more than holds its own against Craven’s original.

Probicus Parley 001

Probicus Parley
A Starcraft 2 Daily


I would like to start writing a short daily article on Starcraft 2. I will try to play at least one game, maybe a ladder match, maybe a co-op, maybe a custom, every day, and if I learn something new in that match I will write about it. My advantage: I am not very good yet. I will occasionally watch replays, play UMS maps, and seek tutorials, and if they are entertaining or informative I will pass them along. I am not particularly active in any Starcraft 2 communities, so I won’t be choosing the best of the best. I will be choosing what I find useful.

I’m mainly doing this for kicks/to track my own progress, but hopefully this should serve as a tool for players who take the game at least somewhat seriously but are by no means experts – players who have probably heard of Team Liquid but feel a little overwhelmed and subsequently discouraged when they go there. If I write about something that makes you roll your eyes and go “everyone knows that”, good. If I write about something that should make you roll your eyes etc. but doesn’t, better. I will try to throw the meat of my post out early and save my rambling for the unnecessary paragraphs that may follow.

About me: As of this post I am ranked 1st in a lowly Bronze league division, playing only enough to hold onto my lead and training against the computer for a while before I make a move to advance. I currently hold a 22-16 1v1 record, with 10 of those losses coming in my first 12 games. I am in a Platinum league 2v2 team, but have not done much since placing there. I played Brood War obsessively, but seldom competitively.

So without further ado, today’s topic: Training on Very Hard: Don’t Outsmart the AI

Playing against Very Hard AI seems like an excellent way to start preparing yourself to be at least a Gold league level player. You don’t wrack up 1v1 losses and you can learn to break out of your stalker (or in my case void ray)/marine/hydra shell at your own pace. Two key points here:

Stalker/marine/hydra massing will win most Bronze league games, but only because your opponent is playing beyond their means or trying to cheese. If you want to have any chance of winning later on, it’s a good idea to start diversifying now. Don’t spam your way to a higher league and then go oh shit, what do I do now, my opponent actually knows how to micro sentries.

The computer at Very Hard AI can force you to improve, but only if you let it. Play 1v1c custom games, and lots of them, but resist the urge to outsmart the AI when it’s beating you outright. The minute you start tricking it you’re learning nothing. Oh cool I can make it rally all of its marauders to my void ray army. A total waste of time. If you reach a point where you can’t win conventionally, lose and try again. If you feel like you can win without taking at least one expansion, expand anyway. If you know that zerg AI always goes roaches/hydras and you just saw an overlord, scout their base anyway. Maintain map vision coverage even though their expansion order and attack routes are predictable. Force yourself to go through all of the precautions necessary against humans that you wouldn’t take against the computer until you can do so and win consistently in a conventional manner. Only play on ladder maps and always set the computer to Random.

I have only won I think seven Very Hard matches, so if this article was useful we’re probably still in the same boat. The first thing you’re going to catch on to is that you need to pump out units early. A closing point:

Don’t be satisfied with your defense of the Very Hard AI’s opening rush until you can defend it with most of your units still standing. Whether this is directly applicable in high league ladder matches or not is irrelevant. The skills you develop in managing your base quickly early on and microing against the rush effectively without tricking/confusing the AI should be beneficial at all stages of the competitive game.

For tomorrow’s topic I’m kicking around the idea of highlighting techniques that work in Bronze league that you should stop using. The focus: If it doesn’t work against Very Hard AI it’s probably not going to work against higher league human players.

If you have any questions there are probably better people to ask than me, but I would be thrilled to attempt to answer them. Comment away.

Review: Piranha 3-D (directed by Alexandre Aja)

Yesterday, I had two concerns about going to see the new horror film, Piranha 3-D.

First off, I know that 3-D has been hailed as “the future of movies” and that apparently, Webster’s is considering whether to recognize 3Dgasm (which is the response that certain film goers have to 3-D regardless of whether the movie itself is actually good or if it’s just Avatar) for inclusion in the next edition of the dictionary.  However, 3-D often makes me sick to my stomach and I mean that literally.  3-D makes me feel car sick.  Considering that I love movies, if 3-D is the “future” than I’m probably being punished for something.  That’s right.  Avatar was just a result of my bad karma. 

As for the second concern, I can’t swim and I am terrified of being underwater.  Hanging onto the edge while wading in the shallow side of my uncle’s swimming pool is about as submerged as I can get without having a major freak out.  It’s not just drowning that scares me.   When I was 17, my family spent the summer in Hawaii and my sisters (being the meanies that they are) had a lot of fun with the fact that I’d spend hours lying out on the beach but I refused to even step into the ocean.  It made sense to me.  There were jellyfish and sharks and those weird little black coil things just floating around in the ocean.  Thanks to seeing Piranha 3-D, I now know that there are also cute little fish that will eat you.

I dealt with my fear of the water by asking my sister Erin (who can actually swim because she’s cool and I’m not) to see the movie with me and to keep me calm if I started to have a panic attack.  She agreed and she did an admirable job.  She also helped me deal with my fear of 3-D when, during the coming attractions, she said, “Why don’t you take a Dramamine?”  Now, according to Erin, the only reason she said this was because apparently I was “going on and on” about it.  That’s not how I remember it but I just happened to have some Dramamine in my purse and I quickly popped a few.

If you’ve ever taken Dramamine then you know the way that it works is by basically kicking your ass until you pass out for a few hours.  (I occasionally resort to using it whenever I’m getting hit with insomnia.)  Within minutes of taking it, the Dramamine was saying, “Sleep, Lisa…”  “But I want to see the movie,” I replied.  “That wasn’t a request,” the pill responded.  “Dammit, will you two shut up!?” Erin snapped.  (That may have not actually happened.) 

The point of all this is that I stayed awake through the entire movie, despite having taken the most powerful sleeping pill in existence.  True, my mind did go a little bit goofy (Erin says I was “babbling” through the entire film) but it never shut down.  That’s the type of movie Piranha 3-D is.  The story moves so quickly and the mayhem is so over-the-top and excessive that the brain never gets a chance to relax enough to check out.

Piranha 3-D begins with an earthquake in Arizona.  The earthquake opens up a passageway to an underground lake.  As look would have it, the underground lake is full of a bunch of prehistoric piranha.  These piranha quickly move up to an above-ground lake where they promptly eat Richard Dreyfuss.  Having gotten a taste of Dreyfuss, they apparently decide to eat every other human being they come across and who can blame them?

Actually, the bloody and graphic demise of Richard Dreyfuss was the first clue I had that this film was going to work.  Needless to say, Dreyfuss is the last surviving star of the original killer fish movie, Jaws.  In Jaws, Dreyfuss is plays a character named Matt Hooper.  In Piranha, he’s just named Matt.  By introducing him and then promptly killing him off, Piranha lets us know that it understands the legacy of previous horror blockbusters (like Jaws) but that it has no intention of respecting it.  In other words, this scene lets us know early on that the film is on the side of the fish.

Anyway, it turns out that its spring break and as a result, Lake Victoria, Arizona is full of stupid, drunken college students who are determined to hang out in the water no matter how many people get eaten.  Sheriff Julie Forrester (Elisabeth Shue) struggles to maintain order on the streets with the help of her loyal deputy (a very likeable Ving Rhames).  Julie is also a single mother and, the morning after ol’ Richard Dreyfuss gets devoured, her oldest son Jake (Steven R. McQueen, grandson of the star of Enemy of the People) blows off his baby-sitting duties and agrees to help sleazy Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell) film the latest installment of Girls Gone Wild on the lake.  Sleazy, speedo-clad Derrick (and the fact that O’Connell looks really good in it doesn’t make that red speedo any less ludicrous) attempts to initiate Kelly (Jessica Szhor), the “good” girl who Jake likes into the world of straight-to-video, jailbait porn.  Kelly, by the way, kinda has a boyfriend, a guy named Todd who will eventually end up killing a lot of people with a motorboat.  Even before this, we know he’s a bad guy because he’s named Todd.  Nobody named Todd or Tad is ever good in a horror movie.

Director Alexandre Aja doesn’t take much time introducing his cast of characters and he takes even less time in letting the fish devour them.  So, no, the characters aren’t exactly all that developed.  But it doesn’t matter really.  With what little they have to work with, the cast works wonders.  They know exactly what type of film that they’re in and they know why they are there and they embrace their roles as piranha fodder with an impressive sense of commitment.  Best of all is O’Connell who turns sleazy, coke-fueled egomania into some sort of art form.

The real star of the film, of course, is director Alexandra Aja who takes a mainstream genre piece and who, much like his fellow French director, Jean Rollin, transforms it into a piece of pure grindhouse exploitation.  Aja may use the clichés of the genre but he never blindly embraces them.  Instead, he uses them to comment on both the genre and the audiences expectations of what those cliches mean.  Aja takes everything we’ve come to expect — the blood and gore, the standard plot device of Shue’s children being stranded out on the lake, and the sudden death of nameless extras — and he then pushes them just a little further than the audience is expecting,  As a result, he not only comments on those expectations but he forces the audience to question them as well.

This is never more apparent than in the film’s climatic piranha attack.  This is when the piranha finally get around to attacking all of the swimmers at once.  This is the scene that we all know is coming and that we’ve all been expecting and Aja does not disappoint.  Things start out as you might expect.  Close-up of bikinis.  Drunk idiots in the water.  A wet t-shirt contest.  Rhamas and Shue come up in a boat and start yelling, “Everybody out of the water!”  Because they’re a bunch of drunk dumbfugs, everyone responds by jumping into the water.  Cut to an ominous piranha point-of-view shot.  Suddenly, one woman — floating out in an inntertube — shouts, “Something bit me!”  And suddenly, all Hell breaks loose.

This is the scene you knew was coming and you’ve seen it a hundred times before.  What makes it memorable here is just how far director Aja takes things.  These fish don’t just bite their victims.  They literally devour them while the camera lingers over every piece of flesh that floats through the ocean.  As everyone struggles to get out of the water, they get their skulls split open by passing boats.  In the background, we see various feet, hands, and other body parts randomly floating in the water.  One older man pulls his friend’s torso onto the beach and cradles it while screaming, “I love you, man!  I love you!”  As Shue tries to pull people out of the water, we see a teenager that’s already on the boat start to shake as his life expires.  As I mentioned before, Todd tries to escape by forcing his motorboat through the crowd of terrified swimmers and graphically dismembers a lot of people in the process.  It’s an incredibly graphic sequence, one that starts out as fun but which just keeps going and going,  Director Aja understands that the audiences is expecting — probably even looking forward to — seeing a little blood.  So, instead he assaults us with a lot of blood and he does so in such a way that the audience is forced to question why a little blood is fun but a lot of blood is disturbing.  It’s as if Aja is saying, “You wanted to see people die, well — here they are, dead.  You feel better now?”

As for the 3-D, Aja proves himself to be one of the few filmmakers to understand that 3-D is not the future of movies.  It’s just another gimmick to be exploited and exploit it he does.  However, he does so brilliantly and he is so shameless about it that watching Piranha 3-D simply serves to reiterate just how silly the whole 3-D craze really is.  Every short is a tracking shot.  The CGI piranha float across the screen, stopping momentarily to stare straight out at the audience and almost wink.  The men in the audience seemed to be especially happy about all the boobs that literally seem to swing out of the screen and across the theater but they were a bit less enthused when a disembodied penis came floating out of the screen.  By not only fully embracing the ludicrous possibilities of 3-D but by also doing so without any shamefaced attempts to justify its use, Piranha 3-D is perhaps the greatest 3-D movie ever made.


I will hold my incredible taste and not my complete lack of social contacts to “blame” for having never before heard of the supposed pop sensation Justin Bieber. But I remember NSync, the Backstreet Boys, and similar disasters: These unforgivable icons who severed unscrupulously from the first rule of popstar trash ethics. (If you suck horribly as a musician, you must compensate with nice tits.) It would appear however, as recently discovered by ambient artist Shamantis, that this Bieber fellow has had you all fooled. Those vile record producers took his 35 minute Sigur Rós-esque ambient masterpiece U Smile and sped it up into some five minute trashy pop single.

Or maybe the moral of Shamantis’s experiment is that sound is all relative. The worst garbage on the market can speak in tongues. The complete version of U Smile 800% slower can be found and downloaded below. An abbreviated youtube version follows: