Although writer/director Alexandre Aja was allowed complete creative freedom on his remake of Wes Craven's landmark 1977 horror film The Hills Have Eyes, Craven did act as producer and offered some notes on the script.



Why the remake of The Hills Have Eyes now? "It's one of two movies I co-own with the producers," Craven says. "Everything else has been for hire, or I've sold. This is something I could control and guarantee it was the way I wanted. Artistically, it made sense.



"This is an old piece of material that has a good set of legs, and we just wanted see what would happen. Once we had the concept, over the years we asked people to come up with something [to add a new twist]. And they never did. Alex [and his partner, Grťgory Levasseur] made it original enough to feel like there was something really there. Iíd seen Alex's first film, High Tension, and thought here was a real filmmaker."

As for the trend towards remakes and sadistic, torture-based horror (Hills fills both bills), Craven jokes, "It's bad, horrible. Disgusting. Those filmmakers should be taken out and shotÖ then weíd have less competition!"



"It sort of follows its own patterns," he says of the trend. "It occurs to me we are in very violent times in a way that is quite personal. We're in a war Ė you can turn on the TV and see someone beheaded in front of you. These issues are germane. That may be part of it."

Some fans may not realize that The Hills Have Eyes is loosely based on a true story. "Originally, it came form an article I saw in the New York library about the Sawney Beane Family. In the 1700s in Scotland I believe, there was an area that had road running through it from Scotland, and people thought it was haunted because people kept disappearing from that road. The story came out when a couple was attacked by these wild looking people, and one got away. He knew someone in the court, and they sent out an expedition which resulted in finding a cave along the English Channel.



"A dog actually found it. A whole gaggle of these people. Naked, wild and feral. And the [authorities] did the most excruciating things to them. I responded to the irony of it, of people who should be nice and civilized doing horrible things. And horrible people having a nice side to them, too."

As for what surprised Craven about the remake, he says, "I didnít expect it to be so beautiful. I later used the cinematographer on something I recently did in Paris. It has a composition to it that I found quite striking. On our original shoot, I think we had a dolly for one day," he laughs. "The mysteriousness of the test village was sort of haunting, too. I liked that."


The fact that it's a remake doesn't faze him. "I was having a conversation with someone the other day, and I told them the most famous version of The Maltese Falcon is a remake, third time they did it. I think it's a matter of the film is good and if it has something that there is different and fresh about it."



As for the ratings board, there was a lot of back-and-forth the get the R-rating. What can't you show? "You canít show a Republican being killed," Craven laughs. "Thatís forbidden. You can't do anything bad to the flag. You can't use the word bomb in some ways."



But some movies seem to get by with an awful lot, and still get the R. "We had the same reaction when we came back from seeing Hostel," he says. "As far as I can understand it, itís an organization made up of a very few group of people. There are no set standards, nothing that they will tell you that will let you [know what's wrong] with your cut. They just send it back. This has happened to me on every film that Iíve made. That first scene in Scream where the killers stab each other, so they look like victims. They're bleeding and everything. Basically the ratings board saw that and they flipped out. Bob Weinstein to his eternal credit called up and said, 'itís a spoof.' And they said, 'Oh, OK,' and we got an R."

As for his own directing career, Craven says he is not opposed to returning to horror (though he's had more success lately in other genres). He was interested in doing the remake of Pulse, but that didn't happen. "Itís not like I donít want to do one," he says. "Iíve always liked horror. But I donít like unoriginal horror just as much as I donít like unoriginal romantic comedies. [For instance] 28 Days Later was a dumb horror movie, except that it was brilliantly directed."



Look for Craven's work as a producer in the upcoming The Breed, and for his directing in the anthology film, Paris, je t'aime.


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It's no secret Alex Aja, the French-born director of High Tension and the newly-released The Hills Have Eyes remake, is a huge fan of classic horror. "I grew up watching Wes Craven's films," he enthuses. "I loved Hills Have Eyes, The Last House on the Left. I grew up in the 90s," ó he was actually born in 1978, one year after the release of the original Hills ó "and I was very frustrated with the movies you can find in the theater. All my cinematic came from the movies you can find only in the movie club."

As for what exactly struck him about the original, he says, "I think it's amazing beautiful, and the filming. Right now with DVD we have the opportunity to rediscover movies that were made back in the time. [The interior trailer scenes] For me, that was the best scene in the original filmÖ and we try to go further with the original breast-feeding scene." (Poor Vinessa Shaw gets to nurse the mutant this time around.)

Due to his success with High Tension, the director was courted quite a bit in Hollywood. "The last two years, I was proposed all the remakes possible. The Hills Have Eyes was different because we were all a fan of the original film." As for why he could it could be remade, he says, "All I can say is the acting, the 70s filming, all that kitsch. It was possible and even more possible to reinvent that movie in a more scary, violent way." But without Wes Craven, "It would be impossible to do without his blessing."


Aja won't say whether he has a sequel to Hills in him (thought Craven did one of his own, in 1985). "I am 27, and I have the chance to make exactly what I am dreaming since I'm 10. Right now there are many subjects and stories I want to tell. I want to make it even more scary, and I donít want to see myself 20 years from now doing the same film. When you repeat yourself you lose yourself from finding something new."



When I mentioned to Aja that Michael Berryman, the most memorable star from the original, seemed a bit miffed he was invited in for a cameo, he said, "One of the characters was written for Michael. But the producers wouldn't allow it." (Funny aside: When I later asked Craven the same question, he said Aja didn't want any "winks" in the movieÖ hmÖ the mystery continues!)

Craven wasn't on-set in Morocco, but he did have some input on the script. "Wes asked us to approach the idea and re-approach the original. The idea of the villageÖWe based it all on real footage about the children born after Chernobyl and the effect of Agent Orange on babies in Vietnam. The opening title sequence shows the real mannequins, the real babies with nuclear fallout."



When asked about how he decided who would die, and why he killed off ó spoiler alert ó the most sympathetic mutant, Ruby, he says, "I am not killing her, she is killing herself. She is doing something that is pretty nice [sacrificing herself to save one of the Carter family]. In a way she is the redemption of all the others. I really fight to have that scene. I think itís really strong for some of them to save the others."



Speaking of fighting, it was the inevitable fight with the ratings board to get everything they wanted, violence-wise, in the movie. "I think we submit the movie like four or five times to get the R. You try. First you try to get five frames here, six frames there and two frames there and of course itís not enough, but you have to be more patient than they are and eventually they give up. In the end we lost two minutes. I think they are naÔve to think they could change the intensity of the movie with two minutes."

As for why some films, like Hostel, get by with more and still get the R-rating, Aja says, "I also felt it was unfair, but at the same time I found out something: When your acting is really bad you can go as far as you want, because they think it's like a joke. If you have a realistic approach to acting, you can't go as far. They don't have a clear idea of what is the violence and what they are trying to protect."

Apparently, some viewers ó spoiler alert ó had a problem with the Doug character not going back to save his dog, Beast, from the mutants. "It's just real," Aja insists. "Who is going to come back to help the dog to survive? You are here to save your baby. You are here to bring back the baby. We had this conversation with the producers. 'You have to go back and save the dog,' they said." But Aja's realistic approach won out.

As for the ending of the movie ó spoiler alert ó some viewers (not me!) thought it screamed: Sequel. "Since the beginning, and for me, that shot that doesnít say 'There is going to be a sequel,' Aja explains. 'That shot says, 'They are not going to escape'."


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Click here for Cast Interviews from "The Hills Have Eyes."


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Take a look behind the scenes of the making of "The Hills Have Eyes."