Happy Anniversary:: The Hills Have Eyes (2006)!

Would you believe that this very March 10th marks the tenth, as in one decade, anniversary of that THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006) remake? What in the world? Usually I don’t remember such details but this flick holds a special place in my heart because my very first movie date with your Aunt John was to a matinee of this bad boy. How romantic! Of course, I already knew we were compatible because I spied a VHS copy of THE BABY (1973) on his TV set, he dug the 4AD chumminess of THE PIXIES and THROWING MUSES and was unabashedly in awe of the then somewhat recent airing of RIDING THE BUS WITH MY SISTER (2005) but spending a fine weather day indoors watching an unsuspecting family being randomly terrorized sort of sealed the deal. Wow, the world was a very different place ten years ago, now that I think about it. The PUSSYCAT DOLLS were climbing the charts, LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT was still good because CHRIS MELONI hadn’t left yet and your Aunt John and I were not yet able to get married but we were still able to rent movies from the local video store …so… it’s difficult to say if society has gone in the right direction or not. One step forward, two steps back.

Some people don’t like remakes and they can cry me a river because I’m not in the mood to list the super obvious titles that more than justify their existence. THE HILLS HAVE EYES is actually a perfect movie to get a modern update because the original, perpetually entertaining though it may be, does suffer from some dated hokeyness. The lone person who might have had a legitimate gripe about this remake is our late great pal WES CRAVEN and he happily produced it! Like many, CRAVEN was super impressed with the work of director ALEXANDRE AJA and his writing partner GREGORY LEVASSEUR after taking in HIGH TENSION (2003). Even with its slick new (I’m going to call it uggo-licious) paint job, THE HILLS HAVE EYES remains all kinds of signature guilt-trippy CRAVEN. You don’t have to dig far in the dirt to find him stoking the (distinctly American) fear that building your dreams on someone else’s nightmares may come back to haunt you ten fold. Indeed hardly a minute passes without a wound being salted and pointedly dad’s guns and mom’s prayers are little help in keeping the ugliness swept under the rug.

And yikes this is some fierce, wicked, unpleasant nerve-wracking business. If you don’t think this movie is scary, what is wrong with you? Go to a doctor. No, don’t be proud of yourself, there’s something MISSING in you. You need help. Maybe I’m biased because this movie doesn’t touch on, but stomps on, my biggest bugaboos. Here’s a perfect recipe for Make-Me-Squirm Salad: A far from home road trip, local yokels with questionable dental hygiene, an environmentally unfriendly styrofoam container (containing a severed ear), outhouses, unclear showering facilities, excessive sunlight, excessive time spent with family, people being burned alive, dogs in danger, a gun pointed at a baby, smiling mannequins, daytime television, people with gigantic bulbous heads singing patriotic songs while asthmatically wheezing and the foreboding prospect of inevitable rape hanging in the air like a forgotten piñata on a rainy day…and that’s just for starters. Just about the only thing in this flick that doesn’t bite me like a bedbug is the found object, multi-colored bottle folk art that appears at the gas station. Thumbs up. I want to make one.

Let me shelve the anguish inducers for a moment and tell ya what I think is absolutely awesome in this movie (even though it will so clearly out me as having the brain of a 14-year-old action figure collector). It actually happens directly after my LEAST favorite part of the movie. Our hero is looking for his kidnapped baby and he comes across a rogue’s gallery of mutants who culminate in the figure of a disturbing dude immobilized by his droopy gargantuan head. Then said mutant, who is listed as “Big Brain” but should be called “Mr. Exposition,” starts yapping about why the mutants are peeved as if simply being a mutant isn’t enough to ruin one’s day. I hate this part. If you think “mansplaining” is annoying try “mutantsplainng” on for size. But…just when you start getting twitchy…in charges trademark super-mutant “Pluto” and he’s resplendent. At this point HILLS becomes a full on monster/slasher flick and if there’s any mini-subgenre that makes me gleeful, monster/slasher is it! You know like, HELL NIGHT, THE FUNHOUSE, multiple FRIDAY THE 13th movies (but mostly PART 2 and 3 and certainly not 1 or 5) and your WRONG TURN(s). I love it. It’s a harsh as hell, surprisingly suspenseful showdown that finishes with a clever tip of the hat to STRAW DOGS. It’s so good it makes me wish this flick were less draining so I could watch it more often.

So anyway, Happy Anniversary THE HILLS HAVE EYES remake! You can be difficult to digest at times (I didn’t need to see THAT) but what is horror if you are not getting your boundaries threatened every once in a while? Safe horror is for the birds (and now I just remembered the part where you showed a bird’s head being bitten off). On the positive side, what wonderful performances you feature from the fantastic TED (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, JOY RIDE) LEVINE as in way over his stubborn head pop and lovable genre legend KATHLEEN (TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, EVENT HORIZON, BREAKDOWN and WARNING SIGN) QUINLAN as committed-to-denial ma. Plus, kudos on landing duo TOMANDANDY (THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES) to craft your riveting score! Who knows, if Aunt John and I had gone to another movie that was playing that same week ten years ago like say, FAILURE TO LAUNCH, MADEA’S FAMILY REUNION or BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, maybe we would not have had such a squeamishly agreeable time. Maybe we might have gotten into a huge fight over one of those controversial titles and never spoken again! If that happened there would be no KINDERTRAUMA! Can you imagine anything worse? No need to answer that, THE HILLS HAVE EYES remake, I know for a fact you can.

Name That Arthouse Horror!

Ever since that WITCH movie strolled into town I keep hearing folks talking about “arthouse horror.” Now, I’m not one to jump on a limiting label but if a buzz term helps a lesser seen gem get a leg up in the notoriety department, I’m all for it! I mean arthouse horror has been around forever, right? I’m sure not everyone would agree on what is and isn’t arthouse horror but around here our motto is “Horror is where you find it” and I think we all know art is in the eye of the beholder as well. The way I see it, as long as someone is either rolling their eyes or checking their watches, you’re doing something right! Anyway, below are 20 images from 20 movies that I figured could wear official arthouse horror t-shirts if they wanted to. How many do you recognize? And if I missed a favorite of yours, please feel free to share it!

Name That Trauma:: David H. L. on a Talking Tombstone TV Movie

Love your website…I’m trying to track down a 70’s made-for-TV movie that scared the crap out of me as a kid. The one thing I remember is that it had a woman who felt guilt over her aunt’s or mother’s death and the relative appeared in a dream (I think) as part of tombstone – like just her head sticking out and talking to the heroine. It terrified me to no end…any ideas what that might be?

Thanks!

Cordially,

David H.L.

For the Love of: Pin (1988)

My parents are preparing to move and so they’ve been cleaning out the attic. This resulted in my mother sending me several boxes filled with some of my old stuff. We’re talking tons of war torn FANGORIA, TWILIGHT ZONE and HEAVY METAL magazines from the early eighties (!!!), STAR WARS, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and WARLORD comic books (!!), PRISONER OF CELL BLOCK H, CAT PEOPLE and THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY movie tie-in paperbacks (!) and a slew of tiny self- painted D&D metal figurines… your standard treasure trove of nerdy memorabilia. I mean, what self-respecting teen in the eighties didn’t proudly hang a STILL OF THE NIGHT (1982) poster on his or her bedroom wall?

Included in a package was my dear long-lost stuffed animal, Felix the Cat who (don’t laugh) was once my go-to best friend. Poor Felix was trapped in a hot Texas attic for decades, which left him brittle and falling apart in places. I did my best to mend him but as I sewed him back together it only seemed to create fresh holes and tears. Geez, I wish I never saw TOY STORY because suddenly I found myself being hit with waves of guilt. How could I so coldly leave Felix in a dark box all these years? I did the best I could; I even swiped a jersey off of an unsuspecting Phillies Phantatic doll to hide Felix’s more devastating injuries (it’s sure to cause a loosing streak). Finally I placed Felix up on a high honored shelf where he should be relatively safe at least until I’m dead and gone.

In other words, I know first hand how a person can develop an attachment to an inanimate object and how that totem can seem to establish a personality all its own. It’s all very irrational but the upside of Gepetto-esque magical thinking is that it helps me to better appreciate the greatness that is PIN (or PIN: A PLASTIC NIGHTMARE if you feel the need to fill your marquee). PIN was filmed in good old reliable Canada and released there in 1988 but it didn’t hit my neck of the woods until the following year, bypassing a theatrical run and landing directly on VHS. Horror movies were still cleaning up at the box office at the time so PIN’s no frills release lead me to believe that it must not be any great shakes but oh how very wrong that knee-jerk assumption was. As far as I’m concerned PIN, which is based on a novel by ANDREW NEIDERMAN (the Guy who authored THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE and now fittingly ghostwrites as V.C. ANDREWS) is one of the best, most satisfying, horror films of its decade… or any other.

In fact, if anyone ever asks me what might improve modern horror I think from now on I’ll cut the conversation short and simply say “Watch PIN.” In my mind it’s not about ratings, levels of violence, jump-scares or hype, what makes or breaks a movie often (for me) are the characters. And I’m NOT talking about the old cliché of “liking” a character so that you care if they die, I don’t have to “like” anyone, I just want them to be interesting enough to hold my interest, I just want to partially understand their motivations and I just want to believe they are there for a reason rather than standing as glorified chess piece props. Ironically, not only is PIN’s lead character Leon more intriguing than those you are likely to bump into in most horror flicks but so is plastic “Pin” who only sorta partially exists in a make believe character’s mind. Yep, PIN’s not even real in the fake story he occupies but he’s still more substantial and complex than your standard horror pawn. I also give PIN props for representing schizophrenia as less a gathering of various personalities than the tragic shattering of one.

PIN is like the JOHN IRVING novel of horror films and yes, that’s a compliment. By the time the end credits roll the viewer feels as if they’ve grown up with the characters and have seen them at their best, worst and most vulnerable. We first meet siblings Leon and Ursula as tykes dealing with their parent’s idiosyncrasies (that’s polite for mental illnesses); Ma’s got an OCD cleaning fetish and talented ventriloquist Pa’s repressed enough to let a life size, see-through medical dummy do the talking when conversations turn to sex. (It certainly doesn’t hurt that Dad is portrayed by the phenomenal TERRY O’QUIN between STEPFATHER gigs). Leon’s budding illness allows him to mentally converse with Pin even when his dad isn’t around and when both parents die in a horrible car accident (one in which Pin is creepily present), Leon’s already tentative identity collapses and Pin begins to take the wheel. What’s truly astounding is how sympathetically Leon’s terrifying slip into insanity is handled. DAVID HEWLETT is so remarkable that I’d even feel comfortable comparing him to ANTHONY PERKINS in the PSYCHO films (and I do not do that lightly, folks!).

Speaking of PSYCHO, Leon and Pin easily earn an honored spot within the AVENGERS/EXPENDABLES coalition of favorite horror introverts that assemble regularly in my head. This fine alliance of fright flicks include the aforementioned PSYCHO, A REFLECTION OF FEAR (1972), BAD RONALD (1974), THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (1976), THE ATTIC 1980) and just to prove I’m not entirely living in the past, 2012’s fantastic EXCISION (which should have landed TRACI LORDS an Oscar nomination if you ask me) and 2014’s underrated STARRY EYES. May I also submit for your approval MANIAC (1980) and its re-do (2012)? After all, gore doesn’t magically erase the psychological plight of that duo. You can say all these folks are touched in the head but I prefer to think of them as courageous visionaries who refuse to let a little thing like reality stand in their way. I suppose one could write reams about PIN but since I’d never expect you to read a longer post than I would, this isn’t the place for that. Instead, I’d just like to nudge anyone who hasn’t seen PIN to seek it out as soon as possible. You never know, it could become your new best friend.