The Hills Have Eyes. If you know me, you know that I rarely ever tolerate Craven slander, but I found that it was a little difficult to get through his 1977 original upon re-visiting. I was afraid the same would apply to Aja’s remake (which was produced by Craven himself), but what I found was only the most pleasant of surprises.
For instance, Brenda (the youngest daughter) is much more of an unlikable brat towards the beginning of the remake, but her character develops into someone the audience is able to sympathize with by the end. Come on, she just wanted to go to Cancun with her friends! I didn’t get the same effect watching Brenda in the Original from Brenda -- or any of the other characters, for that matter. In 1977 and 2006, the most significant development happens in Doug. While in 1977, we do get to see Doug evolve from schmuck to badass, the transformation is WAY more dramatic in 2006. When we meet him, Doug is an extremely passive pacifist who refuses to even shoot a gun, but is stabbing mutated people with an American flag in the name of his family by the time the credits roll.
The remake’s transformation lies much deeper than that, though. It asks the question Craven loves to ask more effectively than the original: what is the normal person capable of when pushed to their boundaries? We see it in Last House On The Left, and even in Scream, but is more effective when the transformation from everyday person to revenge-seeking victim is as drastic as it is in the 2006 remake. We also are introduced to Fred (John Steadman), a senior who runs a gas pump and is in cahoots with the “hill people” (his name is Jeb and is played by Tom Bower in the remake, but for the sake of this article let’s call him Fred to avoid confusion). Fred is also the character I feel has the most distinguishable differences between his 1977 version and the one we see in 2006, but a lot of those lie in his role in the plot, which we’ll touch upon later. Still, it’s important to note that in 2006, we are presented with a much more malicious Fred (or Jeb, whatever) as opposed to the Fred we get in 1977, who doesn’t want any more blood on his hands and chooses to warn the Carters to get back on the highway. This is vital because it makes the family in 2006 feel more like victims, as opposed to the family in the original who are, in reality, just dumb-asses for not listening to a local.
This leads me to our “antagonists”: the hill people. I can honestly say these are some of the scariest villains I have ever been met with because at the end of the day, they’re human. What exactly makes them “monsters” varies from 1977 to 2006. In the original, the hill people are inbred cannibals that rely on Fred to lure families into their trap for food, while in Aja’s remake they seem to be victims of mutations caused by nuclear testing from the '50s. This makes it feel like they display less humanity and are therefore more menacing. While I feel like both of these are equally terrifying, the hill people in 2006 are slightly more effective because we see much less of their side of life, meaning that we subsequently know less about them (and everyone knows there is nothing scarier than the unknown). I still really love the hill people in 1977, but I feel we were exposed to their world too much to really be scared of them.
The Other Stuff
Both movies are also extremely generous when it comes to the ruthless gore and brutality they provide us with. The original was initially granted an X rating and deemed too violent, but the remake is just as (if not more) violent and gory, despite facing less criticism than the 1977 version. I feel like this is because Aja justifies the violence with intense storytelling elements that allow for the gore to make more sense. The movies are also almost identical in terms of atmosphere. Being set in the desert, both filmmakers adopt a bright color scheme that makes it feel HOT. The Carters' frustration as a result of the heat translates effortlessly to the viewer, which creates a significant amount of tension in both versions. Not to mention, the 2006 remake uses "California Dreamin’" by The Mamas & The Papas (one of my favorite songs) on its soundtrack, which works really well because the California dream the Carters were headed toward is abruptly turned into a New Mexico nightmare.
The Final Verdict