Genetic defects feeding on lost tourists. In this version of The Hills Have Eyes, a faithful re-imagining of the Wes Craven classic, Morocco provides a breathtaking substitute for the deserts of New Mexico as mutants get Carter, a family unlucky enough to make a wrong turn en route to California (The Mamas and the Papas’ California Dreamin provides a soundtrack motif to this nightmare).
In classic horror form, we start with the sights and the smells of what turns out is the end of the road: a basically abandoned gas station where the loner attendant says “don’t see many travellers around here…there ain’t nothing to see in the desert.”
The Carters, the travellers that unfortunately do pass by, comprise a tough-nosed ex-cop who “takes bullets over prayers,” his god-fearing wife, their gun-fearing Democrat son-in-law, his wife, their baby and her two younger siblings. There are also two heroic dogs, Beauty and Beast, who feature prominently.
The nature VS nurture debate ends here. It’s nature, as the defects who inhabit the desert are that way because of government radiation tests (in the opener, we get government officials with Geiger counters in so-called NBC suits — nuclear, biological chemical — getting violently speared and a montage of real-life nuclear radiation victims).
They split up to get help, with the ex-cop, Bob, heading back to the service station and the nebbish Doug taking the road even less traveled. Now, neither of these paths are safe, as Bob is ambushed and dragged into a mine shaft before being burned in effigy, right in front of the family. And things get even worse from there.
Youngest sibling Bobby and his brother-in-law Doug come into their own and stand up to the sand creatures, as they’re treated like interlopers in this woebegone bit of real estate (similar to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).
Terse atmosphere, a perfect backdrop, incredible performances (especially Dan Byrd as the youngster Bobby) and dynamite gore means this is many cuts above your average remake. And that should be no surprise, as Alexandre Aja’s behind this, he of Haute Tension (High Tension). Knock off half a star for some silliness toward the end.
***1/2 (out of 5)