Here’s a scary thought - there are those among us who are merrily plodding through life thinking that horror movies have to be remakes of Japanese claret-fests - re-made and re-jigged and shipped to multiplexes with conveyor-belt regularity - scary, huh? No… not really and that’s the point.
Anyone too young to rent Nightmare On Elm Street or Tobe Hooper’s Chain Saw Massacre is stuck with Buffy huffing her way through The Grudge and that bothers some people…
“The ‘90s was a frustrating time,” states Alexandre Aja, horror aficionado and helmer of the updated version of The Hills Have Eyes. “Scream was good but it changed the genre and then you had all these spoofs - they just weren’t realistic or scary.”
The canny among you may have noticed that Aja isn’t clean himself. The Hills Have Eyes is a remake about a family who stray off the beaten track and into the clutches of a bunch of hideous and murderous hill dwellers. But, as the affable Frenchman points out, there is a difference.
“Wes Craven directed the original and he saw my movie Switchblade Romance and asked to meet me. He wanted to take another approach to the film because the reasons why people love the original are different to the reasons why they love Chain Saw Massacre. Hills Have Eyes wasn’t scary, it had fantastic dark humour and a stunning look – the atmosphere, the music, these were the elements that made it a cult film.”
So Aja hopped on a jet to Hollywood for his first LA meeting with his idol Craven.
“It was daunting. I grew up watching Freddy Krueger, he was in my nightmares for years so meeting with Wes was nerve-wracking. It was like, wow! A dream come true.”
Craven wanted to make something to stand out against the modern horror convention and Aja admits he was more than happy to oblige.
“The co-writer I work with has been my best friend since I was ten and we grew up watching all these classic movies. We found our cinematic pleasure in video club, discovering The Hills Have Eyes, Deliverance, Straw Dogs, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween and I realised that maybe it was possible to take the concept of this film and re-do it, re-invent it for today – but make it a really scary movie in the way of those ‘70s movies like The Last House On The Left.”
Having cut his teeth with sci-fi drama Furia in 1999, he followed with the high-wire tension of the aforementioned Switchblade Romance, which opened eyes and doors to his varied talents behind the camera. More than just a shock-jockey, Aja is fast gaining respect in the horror corridors of power for his no-nonsense approach - which includes breaking the post-Scream trend of mere psychological tension by displaying the horrors for the audience to share in.
“It’s one of the rules of a good survival movie,” Aja says with passion. “You take a point of view and it’s so important to follow that character's point of view because it can be the difference between watching a show or living an experience and that’s the key. You need to realise what these characters are going through; you have to show that but it’s not gore to be gore - you have to be suspenseful, full of tension and then at one point show something that helps the audience understand the state of mind of the character you are following.”
Armed with his desire to hold nothing back, Aja was ready to soak up the studio pressure to change his pet-project but there was no need. Despite the new twist in the tale that sees an all-American family battling with a clan of flesh-rippers, mentally disfigured by a bout of government nuclear testing, the suits weren’t in the mood to interfere.
“It’s a reflection of our time and our society and it came very naturally to us when we were writing the script. The idea that America has created a monster and this family have to confront it now. We were concerned that the producer and the studio might pressure us to cut this or that but that wasn’t the case; they were behind us on it.”
However, there’s always one ready to step up and pee on the fireworks and in this case, it was the censorship board. “I was forced to shave two or three minutes from the original cut,” Aja tells totalfilm.com. “But we’re putting them back for the DVD. I want it to be the cut that would have made it to screen.”
At 27-years-old, the buzz is already growing for Alexandre Aja. Scour the web and fans of flesh-splitting flicks are sure they’ve found their new leading light – but with scripts hitting his doormat, of all manner of genres, is horror going to be able to quench Aja’s thirst?
“I’m really comfortable with the genre yeah,” he says with unbridled glee. “I want to keep playing with horror. I want to reveal some new fears. I don’t want to find myself in twenty years doing the same movies so of course in a few years I will have to try to explore some other kind of film but right now I am having so much fun.”