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`Eyes' bigger on gore than many can stomach

March 10, 2006|Michael Phillips | Chicago Tribune

The reasons the Motion Picture Assn. of America can't be trusted keep piling up like festering, bullet-riddled corpses, which happen to be among the MPAA's favorite things. The rating board gets all twisted up about sex and skin, yet it cannot give you or your kids enough ax blades to the cranium.

This week's evidence: the remake of the old Wes Craven horror item "The Hills Have Eyes," which should not be rated R. It should be rated NC-17, or ITTS-OW, which stands for Is This Thing Sadistic, Or What?

The original "Eyes" came out in 1977, when every B-movie actor sported a porn-star mustache and every B-actress had the Farrah flip. Shooting on a $325,000 micro-budget, the future maestro of "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Scream" worked an effective brand of rough magic. His movie, about a vacationing Cleveland family encountering hungry cannibals in the desert, was pretty harsh for its day: Craven had to make trims to avoid an X rating (now an NC-17). Today the '77 version might sneak by with a PG-13.

Alexandre Aja, the director and co-writer of the "Eyes" remake, had his own run-in with the MPAA. The maker of the French slasher film "High Tension" claims the rating board demanded trims in the violence department in order for "Eyes" to secure an R. This makes it sound like the MPAA actually did its job. It didn't. An R rating isn't enough for this gristle.

The remake, slickly assembled but a thoroughgoing drag, is infinitely bloodier than the original. Aja also has taken an implicit rape from the first film and turned it into a more explicit double rape. Most of the plot points remain the same. What's new concerns the back-story nonsense, blaming the hill clan's mutant flesh-eating tendencies on atomic tests conducted in the New Mexico desert, mentioned only fleetingly in the original. The opening credit sequence flashes images of deformed fetuses. The images are offensive -- clinical in the worst way, like a lot of the picture.

Aja and co-writer Gregory Levasseur ape the recent "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remake in its charnel-house grotesquerie. Like the "Chainsaw" rehash, "Eyes" borrows its title and narrative from a memorably grungy '70s artifact and then proceeds to hammer each new atrocity into your skull with a quarter of the skill and 10 times the blatancy of the original.

The cast, better than it should be, features Robert Joy as the overacting-est mutant and, as the unfortunate parents, Ted Levine and Kathleen Quinlan. To think the year Craven's original came out, Quinlan starred in "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden"! And now this. A career in the movies promises a rose garden to no one, ever.


`The Hills Have Eyes'

MPAA rating: R for strong, gruesome violence and terror throughout, and for language.

A Fox Searchlight release. Director Alexandre Aja. Screenplay Aja and Gregory Levasseur. Based on Wes Craven's screenplay for the 1977 film. Producers Craven, Marianne Maddalena and Peter Locke. Director of photography Maxime Alexandre. Editor Baxter. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

In general release.

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