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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Screenplay Review: The Hills Have Eyes

I know I should have gotten this review out before the film opened this past weekend, but with over $15 million (not great, but also not bad for a relatively low budget horror film) at the box office this weekend, The Hills Have Eyes will likely stay in theaters for a few more weeks, at least. Thus, the screenplay review.

I read this script (draft dated 2/14/05) almost exactly a year ago, at the end of March '05. I was reading it for a foreign film financing company, so I don't know if they actually got involved or not. But I tend to think not.

Spoilers below (though it is a pretty straight remake, and thus nothing is really a spoiler!)

A film like this is made more for the strength of the property, than f the script, so I'd say it is more up to the writers to just not screw it up too badly. The script was co-written by director Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur (who have worked together before), based on the original 1977 film's script, by producer Wes Craven. I don't think they added that much to the original, but the few changes they did make, seemed to have worked in the film's favor.

First, for the uninitiated amongst you, the logline:

A family faces off with mutant cannibals after their car breaks down in the New Mexico desert.

My brief:

A highly popular property, with a serviceable, though not outstanding screenplay. The low budget and popular appeal suggest potential commercial success.

And my full comments:

Even without much else in its favor, the idea of remaking as classic a horror film as The Hills Have eyes would be promising in itself. This script, however, goes further, suggesting strong potential for the film. This version of the script sticks relatively closely to the original story, but makes enough subtle changes to update it somewhat for contemporary audiences. Most of them are beneficial changes, and those that are not could easily be altered in rewrites.

The market for remakes of classic horror films has been booming in the last few years, and there appears no sign of it abating anytime soon, with many other similar projects in various stages of development. And when the property is The Hills Have Eyes, it gains a bit more promise as well. Along with Evil Dead, this was clearly one of the seminal films of the genre back in the late '70s, and is well beloved. Furthermore, the subject is a bit more unique than most horror films. At the same time, the original film's low budget and poor production values have always been seen as weaknesses, suggesting strong potential for a remake with better production values that remains true to the original's style and substance. So as a property in itself, a remake of this Craven classic seems well worth consideration.

As far as this script itself goes, in general the authors do a good job of adapting the original property and updating it somewhat. They stick relatively closely to the original storyline, tweaking and adjusting here and there for effect. In general, they've been able to avoid a dated feel in the script, which is a positive thing. The characters seem slightly more developed than in the original, another vague improvement. The expanded locations also work well. Though the mine seems a bit useless and extraneous, the abandoned town is spooky and adds in more of the nuke testing element nicely.

At the same time, not all the changes work well. The dialogue is generally weak, and this is particularly so in the dialogue of the Hill People. They seem to talk a good deal more in this film than in the original, and while not only removing some of the monstrous mystery that surrounded them in the original, this change also makes them seem weaker via the specifics of what they say. A few times they have rambling speeches that seem to make them into preachy devices rather than menacing monsters. Similarly, the Gas Station Attendant's suicide seems abrupt and unmotivated, occurring arbitrarily when the screenwriters want it to.

Overall, however, the budget remains relatively low, and the property has solid audience appeal. The script itself, though not flawless, is certainly a good start. Thus the property is worthy of some serious consideration.

Ultimately, the film should prove highly profitable, particularly after ancillary markets come into play. But I think the few changes I mentioned (I'm guessing, due to the timing between when I read it and when it was released that they were not made) could have turned this into an even stronger grossing film. Plus, I wasn't particularly fond of the marketing campaign. It raised awareness, but didn't really create buzz or interest in the film.

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Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

What kinds of changes?

1:10 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

In particular, limiting the amount of dialogue spoken by the Hill People, and making it better dialogue when they do speak. Turn them back into the menacing monsters they were.

1:16 AM  
Blogger Esther Kustanowitz said...

Interesting. Just the title creeps me out. But still, whenever you write "Hill People," I keep humming softly..."Lothar...of the Hill People..."

11:57 PM  
Anonymous Joshua said...

wow, I'm surprised - it looks, just from the trailers and reviews I've read, like a really bad movie . . . I didn't even think the original was all that great. Did you see the movie, by any chance, or is this just based on the script?

11:40 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Joshua -- just based on the script. As I've said before, it is easy to ruin a good script. I have not seen the film, so I have no idea what they did with it.

5:45 AM  

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