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Monday, October 12, 2020

Why ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ Make for a Perfect Horror Remake Double Feature

According to some, remakes do untold damage to childhoods the world over, leaving nothing but tears, regrets, and crumpled up memories in their wake. Obviously, the idea of redoing a beloved movie is a touchy subject for film fans as the results are sometimes less than stellar. In some cases, they’re not even adequate. But horror remakes fair a little better. Specifically, ones with a creative team with something on their mind or a singular perspective. 

Every week in October, I’m suggesting a double feature of remakes for your Halloween viewing pleasures. The movies are connected and never random, even if the connection is not-so-obvious at first sight. Besides the fact we’re all dying for horror to watch during the spooky season, double features are great introductions to movies for the uninitiated. And for seasoned vets, watching two movies back-to-back can sometimes put them in a different light. 

So, without further ado, let’s get to the picks.

What Are the Movies?

There’s really no use in burying the lede here since the headline gave it away. This week is all about Marcus Nispel’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Alexandre Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes. Rarely did we get big studio horror movies in the early 2000s, much less big studio grindhouse horror. Then along came these two flicks. Nispel’s 2003 remake of Tobe Hooper’s seminal debut and Aja’s 2006 remake of Wes Craven’s sophomore flick both drop 70s exploitative horror into the 21st century. Sure, there’s a little bit of polish, and the leads are Hollywood pretty for the most part, but the same aesthetics are there. The grunge, the odd sounds, the emphasis on gore, and the desire to basically dare the audience to keep watching.

The intro of this series talks about the importance of “perspective” for a good remake. The 70s originals are about the American family, American culture, and American legacy through Americans’ eyes. The remakes are about the same things, but through the lenses of foreign directors with foreign sensibilities when American foreign power was in flux.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre pulls very few of its considerably heavy punches. There’s no appetite for the subtlety and suggestive nature of the original, so when a character is hoisted on a hook, we see every bit of flesh tear apart, and every drop of blood. Nispel’s film follows the same beats as Hooper’s, but the extra violence is indicative of the era. For some, ’70’s taboo is early 2000’s tame. Like I said, exploitation is supposed to cause literal pearl clutching. Hard to evoke those feelings without showing chainsaws ripping through flesh, teeth getting knocked out, and bodies treated as target practice.

Because it wouldn’t be a remake if we didn’t get a backstory on damn near every bad guy, Nispel gives us insight into Leatherface and the rest of his ever-so-deranged family. Shaking every limb of this family tree shows us just how corrupt and dangerous this little Texas town is and how ridiculously hopeless the situation is for our protagonists. Seriously, the movie hammers us over the head just how screwed they are to the point where it’s almost funny. Emphasis on almost. To that point, don’t expect any of Hooper’s black comedy here. Platinum Dunes’ 2003 production is mean the second we hear John Larroquette’s narration and never cracks a smile. 

Anyone looking for a fun back half of this double feature may want to back out now. Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes turns the original to 10. Keeping the same basic structure of the original but adding a very on-the-nose nuclear weapon testing fallout subplot, the remake holds nothing back in terms of violence and aggression. Craven’s film emphasized the antagonists’ humanity while Aja says “Nah” to all of that.

In the remake, the bad guys are nasty and doing a terrible job of holding on to whatever humanity they think they have left. Thanks to nuclear testing, they mutated into something else. Not just physically, but emotionally and mentally as well. Two scenes come to mind, one in a trailer and one at a gas station that illustrates just how far gone they are, and how far they’re willing to go.

While Aja has some things on his mind about the “traditional” American family, he’s also got a bit to get off his chest regarding the U.S. Government. What happens to people abandoned by their government? What happens to nature through the escalation of war? And what is the cost of a country’s desire to not only wield the big stick but find ways to increase the size of said stick year after year for decades on end? Aja doesn’t care if we like his answers or not, but he definitely gives them to us.

Okay, Why These Two?

Where to start? There are a few obvious connections, along with the fact that Craven’s original Hills exists partially because he was inspired by Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw

However, the most interesting connection is that two foreign directors, one German and one French, put their spin on two very American movies when America was knee-deep in war. The media didn’t spare us any gory detail about conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The second we saw mangled dead bodies on primetime television, the ante on graphic violence was officially upped. Horror movies did what they do best and responded in kind. The fact that the originals were produced in similar circumstances, during and post-Vietnam, gives the remakes an even larger sense of purpose.

Both films maintain the “we’re screwed” vibe throughout their respective running times, showing an already on edge country what happens when one gets off the beaten path. Families go against families in the name of survival, and people find out they’re capable of things they wouldn’t dream of just to see the sunrise one more time. Even little things make the stakes bigger. 

Those titular “eyes” in The Hills Have Eyes belong to mutant cannibals, and Leatherface is played by a former bodybuilder in the Texas remake. Actually, that second fact isn’t exactly a “little” thing, but you get the point. Both filmmakers find ways to make respected material their own and show just how much the world has changed since Vietnam. The threats? A lot bigger. The violence? More pronounced. And the cost of survival is a whole heck of a lot more than it used to be thanks to thirty years of inflation.

Watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre first to set the tone, and follow it with The Hills Have Eyes for a very rough night. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is streaming on Starz and available to rent on most streaming platforms. The Hills Have Eyes is streaming on HBO Max and also available to rent on most streaming platforms.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3636265/texas-chainsaw-massacre-hills-eyes-make-perfect-horror-remake-double-feature/

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