Week 4 of Remaketober arrives, with a pair of movies I’m…not all that attached to actually. This should, if anything, make me more open to the remakes. Of course it doesn’t help if they’re not good movies in their own right, but hey at least I won’t be complaining about the difference from the original. So, with that in mind, let’s get going.
The Hills Have Eyes:
Hey did you know there’s a hentai named after this movie? It’s called The Hills Have Size. Now you know.
The original Hills Have Eyes is not a good movie. I don’t know if that’s an unpopular opinion or not, I just know that I don’t like it. I mostly chose it for this list because I wanted a Wes Craven movie for the list, which sort of limited my options.. I didn’t have the stamina for the Nightmare on Elm Street remake and I respect The Last House on the Left too much to suffer through that remake. So, Hills it is.
And rewatching it, I remembered why I didn’t care much for it. I mentioned my love for Last House a moment ago, and the best comparison I can make between House and Hills is the difference between Clerks and Mallrats. The first movie is cheaper and more obviously amateurish, but there is a depth and realness (and in House’s case, a certain raw horror). The second has more money and is less amateurish, but, there’s less to it and it feels more like empty entertainment.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t good in it. The scene in the camper is really intense, the guy playing Papa Jupiter is incredibly committed to his role and he’s actually pretty good. It’s got a couple of interesting sequences, but it’s overall just not very good; No depth, not exceptionally scary, not a very good story, even the eventual reveal of the family’s backstory is just sort of dull. I get that the idea was to make an American version of the Sawney Bean story, but the end result is a weaker version of The X-Files episode Home. There’s a lot of potential in this concept, it just doesn’t do much with it.
So, with me not exceptionally fond of the original and with a lot of potential in the concept, you’d think that this movie would be more primed for a remake than most. So, let’s see how that turned out…
I’m gonna be honest, the first third of this movie is pure torture. I’m not even kidding, it’s just an irritating chore to watch. This version was directed by Alexander Aja (who’s most famous movie is still probably High Tension, a textbook example of how to ruin a good movie with a shitty third act twist) and while he’s very good at directing violence, he’s yet to prove he knows how to do anything else well. From literally the first moment (IE, a montage of nuclear test footage over a slow moving ballad that had me thinking “Yes Alexander, I too liked Dr. Strangelove.”) I was rolling my eyes.
And it only gets worse from there. The characters are so arch that they become unintentionally funny and a lot of the setup is so telegraphed that it gets boring (Parakeets have only ONE USE in this genre guys, so stop pretending that’s interesting). And that’s before we get to the weird way it treats it’s early kills. The way a lot of the violence is framed is designed to make us sad that these mutants are tearing down American culture (one kill is literally done with an American flag, followed by the mutant singing the Star Spangled Banner…REALLY) but that’s heavily undercut by the derision the film shows for that exact same culture before the violence starts, making the whole thing a tonal mess.
But then something weird happens. Around the halfway point, the bad guys stop acting like the Leatherface clan and start acting like Uruk-Hai, and the good guys stop acting like Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween and start acting like Bruce Campbell in the 3rd act of a Sam Raimi movie and the movie actually comes alive a bit. Aja’s has a considerable talent for directing violence, and it works a lot better, in this case at least, when he’s trying to excite us rather than frighten us. The movie’s setup is a lot more suited for an overly gory action movie, and while it takes a while to get going, once it gets there, this one really delivers.
I want to be clear, even after the third act hits, the movie still isn’t very good. One could make the argument (and I recall someone doing so) that the movie technically gets worse come the second half, since it basically abandons its original intention of frightening us. But frankly, I don’t care. It may be the first recorded instance of a movie saving itself by going off the rails, but while the second half may not be frightening, at least it’s not boring.
I feel kind of bad including this on the mediocre list (couldn’t figure out where else to put it) because it’s actually not actually mediocre. It’s a really good movie that at points flirts with being great, but that winds up in an awkward position. It has to be inevitably compared to two other Satanic Child Horror movies released in the same…10 year span (shut up), the other two being The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby and as good as The Omen is, that’s not a comparison it’s going to do well with. It lacks the intensity and sheer horror of the former and the intellect and class of the latter. That doesn’t mean it’s anything approaching bad, it’s not, it just means it’s not as good as some other similar movies.
But despite that, I actually think, of the three, it’s actually the most primed for a remake. Rosemary’s Baby, despite being an undeniable classic and very popular among cinephiles, has never really been that dug into the public’s mind and suffers from the connection to Roman Polanski. And remaking The Exorcist is completely pointless, because Exorcist knockoffs have become their own subgenre at this point (hell, the episode of The X-Files that began as an Omen knockoff ended as an Exorcist knockoff…and that’s twice I’ve referenced The X-Files in one article). But The Omen has a handful of scenes that everyone knows and the original version is a little on the cheap side, so it could benefit from an update.
I just realized I’ve barely addressed the movie. I don’t think I really need to, because I assume most of my audience has been alive and awake in the last 20 years. And thus I won’t talk about it, we all know it: Little kid, turns out he’s the antichrist, will find his way to power, gotta stop him before he matures, not going too well. But as I said, this is probably the most primed for a remake movie I’ve done this entire month…
So why does this suck? No seriously, this movie is awful. Oddly put together, slavishly devoted to the original in all the wrong ways with not a new idea in its head. It was directed by John Moore, who’s most notable movie is still probably the awful remake of Flight of the Phoenix and it bears all the hallmarks of a shitty studio driven remake (right down to Liev Shriber, who was also in the awful remake of The Manchurian Candidate). For god’s sake, the American Dad episode spoofing The Omen was a better Omen remake than this.
The film’s best moments are all its recreations of the big sequences from the original, although removed from the practical effects and grittiness of the 70s original, they start to feel some smaller and lacking. The rest of the movie, which includes name drops of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the dying Pope as signs of the apocalypse (you may roll your eyes) is basically the worst sort of remake. It reminds me of nothing so much as the Psycho remake: Shot for shot, with less interesting acting and direction, as original thought was most likely forbidden. This makes it painfully boring to watch, especially back to back with the original. And then there are the weird moments trying to make up for tired material, like the series of nightmare sequences involving Julia Styles going crazy, which are bordering on unintentionally hilarious.
Hey, does anyone think that a kid who literally has the powers of hell at his command is taking a rather roundabout way of getting to power? Like, seriously? You can summon hellhounds, why are you working so hard to get adopted by a midlevel dignitary? I guess that’s a problem with the original too, but there’s less to distract me in the remake.
So, that’s it for Remaketober 2013. And despite some hiccups, I rather enjoyed this little experiment. Perhaps if I feel up to it this time next year, I’ll do it again. Either way, I’ve got a director’s retrospective coming up so, stay tuned.