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'These Hills' should be a hit with the young horror fans


Published: Wed, March 8, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


The director shows no mercy and spares no detail.
By ROGER MOORE
ORLANDO SENTINEL
"The Hills Have Eyes" is "Wolf Creek" with Geiger counters instead of "G'days." The plot points are close enough that you'd think a lawyer would have taken note.
Except that we know Wes Craven made the original "Hills," a movie about lost suburbanites stalked by mutant victims of nuclear testing, back in 1977.
This "Hills" was made by Alexandre Aja, who directed the relentless, bloody and tricky French horror film "High Tension." He brings his eye without pity to this story of a hapless family made to pay a gory price for America's decades of above-ground nuclear testing. It's a bloodbath of exploding heads, pickax pokings, finger choppings and guns that are never big enough to stop the terror.
The original, effective but kind of silly, had a not-at-all-subtle anti-nuke political subtext. There's something about Red State/Blue State America's gun-toting role in the world in this one, though it doesn't quite pay off. It was directed by a Frenchman. He didn't get that.
The trap
You know the formula. A road off the main drag, an extended family in an SUV and Airstream trailer. The stop at the remote gas station -- the trap.
Next thing you know, ex-cop Dad (Ted Levine) is pulling out the pistols. Teenage son (Dan Byrd) is entrusted with one. Bespectacled son-in-law (Aaron Stanford) is mocked.
"He's a Democrat. He doesn't believe in guns."
Mom (Kathleen Quinlan) prays. Sullen teen daughter Brenda (Emilie de Ravin) pouts.
And married daughter Lynne (Vinessa Shaw) tries to look after her baby and keep the peace. Especially since Republican Dad has taken a shortcut, gotten them lost and wrecked the SUV in the worst place on Earth. Not that anybody's casting blame.
Don't get too attached to any of these folks. Not even the pets (two German shepherds, two parakeets). Because "there's something out there."
Gives away mystery
Aja's style is to try and make us feel for his victims by showing us extended death throes. It's very unpleasant going. He shows no mercy and spares us no detail -- heads exploding, impalings, dismemberments. As in "High Tension," a coward must be vilified by the audience before he or she can turn hero.
But Aja gives away the mystery too easily here. We get close-up peeks at the freaks doing the nastiness, right from the start. The best scares are a shadow flashing in front of the camera. Aja is into blood.
It can't touch "Saw" or "Hostel" in terms of agony, or "When a Stranger Calls" or "Final Destination" for wit. "These Hills" are more to be endured than enjoyed.
But what is almost certain to be the top film at the box office this weekend will earn that cash honestly -- off young horror fans.
There's a release in these movies in which characters are picked off, and then start to fight back. It's primal, and best of all, it's communal. Horror movies don't work on DVD. So maybe we are creating a new generation of moviegoers -- one exploding head at a time.


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