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Friday, March 10, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Remaking Craven: shocking violence and gruesome terror — in a good way

Special to The Seattle Times

Consider yourself warned. "The Hills Have Eyes," a brilliantly reimagined version of Wes Craven's 1977 micro-budget horror classic, is unrelenting in its brutality and contains imagery as disturbing as anything seen on mainstream movie screens since "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974).

That said, those who can appreciate the gleeful terrors of this film will undoubtedly discover in its sordid soul one of the most inspired visions ever to grace the genre.

The story follows the path of Craven's grimy cult icon in broad strokes as a family trapped in the desert is meticulously terrorized by a band of mutated inbred cannibals. The surprise is in how director Alexandre Aja and his writing partner Grégory Levasseur update the macabre with innovative scope and savoir-faire at every outrageous turn.

The greatest inspiration is the expansion of the mutants' back story. In an ingenious title montage, we glimpse a post-World War II account of nuclear-bomb testing at government sites deep in the desert of New Mexico. The history lesson intensifies with flash cuts of ghastly mutation, seeding the legend of mining families who refused to leave their radiation-infested caves.

Movie review 3 stars


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"The Hills Have Eyes," with Aaron Stanford, Kathleen Quinlan, Vinessa Shaw, Emilie de Ravin, Dan Byrd, Tom Bower, Robert Joy, Ted Levine. Directed by Alexandre Aja, from a screenplay by Aja and Grégory Levasseur. 107 minutes. Rated R for strong gruesome violence and terror throughout, and for language. Several theaters.

Suitably unsettled, we join the all-American Carter family on a vacation road trip to California in celebration of Dad's (Ted Levine) retirement as a cop.

Towing his pride-and-joy Airstream trailer, he decides to take a shortcut through the desert, much to the chagrin of his wife (Kathleen Quinlan), two bored teenagers (Emilie de Ravin and Dan Byrd), newly married daughter (Vinessa Shaw) and tech-geek son-in-law (Aaron Stanford). Oh yeah, and a precious infant girl (insert emotional shudder here).

The arid atmosphere grows from menacing to unspeakable starting with their stop at a last-chance gas station and violent marooning in the New Mexico outback (stunningly portrayed by the scorched landscape of the Moroccan Sahara).

As the abhorrent progeny of the holdout miners begin to show themselves to the Carters, the carnage explodes in appalling bursts. Carters and mutants die hideously in turn, but not in the order or the ways we might expect.

The makeup effects are expert and astonishing, as is the cinematography, design and art direction. It's hard to say if the smiling, decrepit mannequins trapped by time or the vile living creatures who share their desert existence are the creepier inhabitants.

This is a harrowing bout of moviegoing but one that bears a singular imaginative essence of depraved good fun right up to the startling closing shot.

Ted Fry: tedfry@hotmail.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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