Wow, I haven't seen so many pickaxes plunged into skulls since Pride & Prejudice. I can't say that Wes Craven is spinning in his grave

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The Hills Have Eyes

Opens at Varsity and others, Fri., March 10. Rated R. 107 minutes.

Wow, I haven't seen so many pickaxes plunged into skulls since Pride & Prejudice. I can't say that Wes Craven is spinning in his grave at this remake of his 1977 stranded- in-the-desert horror flick (on DVD from Anchor Bay, $29.98), since he's not dead yet. In fact, he helped produce it. Which begs the question why he farmed out the job to young French yeoman Alexandre Aja (High Tension). Craven's recent plane thriller, Red Eye, wasn't great, but it would've been interesting to see how he'd have updated Hills from its Vietnam-era context. Originally, ordinary decent family members fall into a bloodthirsty trap set by mutant cannibals in the old nuclear test grounds, lose their cohesion and moral certainty in a cloud of bickering and panic, and only survive—a few of them—by becoming savages themselves. Hmmm, how does that sound familiar?

Good horror always reflects its times. Here, there are some red state–blue state tensions among the God-fearing, flag- waving clan led by ex-cop Bob (Ted Levine), since his eldest daughter has married a wimpy liberal (and Jew), Doug (Tadpole's Aaron Stanford). And Hills is the kind of film where the pole for a U.S. flag is used as a weapon, and director Aja swells up the music heroically when Doug starts acting like a virile Republican man of action. (He's also acting to protect his infant daughter.) It's also the kind of film where the mutant leader, his head like a big mildewing zucchini, tells Doug: "You destroyed our homes. You set off your bombs and turned us all to ashes. You've made us what we've become." Which might sound a little more convincing today said in Pashto or Arabic.

These stranded tourists aren't ugly Americans, like the brats in Hostel who practically deserve their dismemberment; nor are they the dreamy innocents of Wolf Creek's slaughter. They're just average and imperfect—doubled in a dark mirror by the A-bomb mutants, who are rather hard to differentiate. (It's like everyone's Lennie in Of Mice and Men, only with worse teeth.) So the parallels between these two families don't mean much, and Bob really isn't such a bad guy for leading them off track. So who made us what we've become? With so little modernizing (DNA, gene-splicing, cloning, hello?), there's no point to Hills, unlike the new wave of engaged zombie film (28 Days Later, Land of the Dead). Pointless horror can be funny (the Final Destination series) or stylish (the Ringu series), but this hack job isn't sharp enough to penetrate anyone's brain.

 
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