HIGH TENSION (aka HAUTE TENSION, aka SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE)
This is another one of those heavily buzzed foreign imports that I put off watching forever. The final deciding factor, I keep seeing the trailer for a remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES which is made by these same frenchmen. So I figured I oughta investigate, see what these guys are about.
HIGH TENSION is a well made throwback kind of slasher movie, but not as good as WOLF CREEK. Similar subject matter though. Two young ladies, Marie and Alexia, go to visit Alexia’s parents out in the french boonies. While everybody’s in bed, some grunting redneck schlub (he looks like M. Emmett Walsh in an Ed Gein costume) drives up in a rusty truck, breaks in and starts killing everybody. Most of the movie – and the best part of the movie – involves Alexia being tied up and gagged in the back of the truck, while Marie chases the killer trying to save her.
So it’s the kind of energetic, non-verbal chasing that can be fun when well directed. A cat and mouse game is what they sometimes call it. The clever thing is that for alot of the game, the cat doesn’t even know the mouse is there. She keeps sneaking around just out of his eye sight until she can find a way to save her friend.
Another twist is that these two are more than just friends, if you know what I mean. If you don’t know what I mean, what I mean is Marie obviously has a crush on Alexia and Alexia doesn’t know it. I like that they leave that unspoken, it seemed like a nice idea, although the way the movie ends up it seems like a pretty backward view of gay people. I don’t know, maybe that’s how they do it in France.
There’s some pretty gruesome deaths in this one, and even a little kid dies. The first time we see the killer he’s in his truck, getting a blowjob from a severed head, then he throws it out the window like a piece of litter. So you know right away that you’re dealing with a classy movie. It didn’t piss off critics as much as WOLF CREEK did though, for two reasons. One, the look is pretty stylized, very nice photography but not realistic, and the killer reminds you of the killers in that disowned Sam Raimi/Coen brothers movie CRIMEWAVE. It’s more of a cartoon. And number two, it’s just not as good. You can’t take it as seriously when it’s not as scary. And it has a ridiculous plot twist at the end.
Some movies I might not mention that. Because sometimes just knowing that there IS a plot twist ruins it as much as knowing what the plot twist is. But with this one, every single person who told me to watch it said “it’s good, but there’s a really dumb plot twist at the end.” And I was glad they warned me because otherwise it would’ve been pretty disappointing when the fun movie went off the tracks and just became stupid. Ah hell, I’m just gonna tell you what it is since it’s not that hard to guess either. Marie (who is shown in the opening to have some sort of mental problems) is actually imagining the killer, it is she herself who is killing everybody. Wow, what a mindblower, huh? There is no explanation for how or where she got this cool looking truck near her friend’s house out in the middle of nowhere. Also I have to wonder about that severed head blowjob scene I mentioned before. Nobody saw this happen, and the guy who did it only exists in Marie’s head. So what is this scene, exactly? A hallucination that she didn’t see? I’m confused.
It’s funny, because just by being simpler and more generic it would’ve been a way better movie. Slasher movies are a pure form, like the blues. You don’t have to complicate them to make them good. Sometimes you can get away with it, like SCREAM if you like that movie, or Muddy Waters’ psychedelic album ELECTRIC MUD. But usually what you gotta do is play the same song everybody else does, but play the hell out of it. You fuck it up when you try to get all fancy with this subjective-reality bullshit.
But before that twist it’s kind of fun. Reminded me a little bit of that great section at the end of HALLOWEEN H20 where Laurie is about to escape from Michael Meyers but decides, “Ah, fuck it,” then turns around, chases him and chops his head off. Spoiler.
So what does this mean for THE HILLS HAVE EYES? I don’t know, it could go either way. They obviously have some skills, that’s good. They got good photography. They enjoy violence and gore. Being the director of a fun but heavily flawed movie is a step up from being the guy who was fired from END OF DAYS for being an asshole, which is the resume of the TEXAS CHAIN SAW remake director.
Visually, the trailer for the new HILLS HAVE EYES reminds me of the CHAIN SAW remake, which on its own wouldn’t be bad. It’s beautifully shot. But that does give me some bad vibes, guilt by association and what not.
One thing I was worried about before was what they were gonna do for the family, who are supposed to be mutated by weapons testing out in the desert near where they live. The original had Michael Berryman, a real guy who really looks like that, but the remake is gonna all be makeup. I was worried they would look like monsters, like the so-called inbreds in that movie WRONG TURN. I’m not worried about that anymore after seeing the trailer, because they seemed to have based all the designs on real birth defects. It actually made me kind of uncomfortable, like watching those documentaries about circus freaks. And they got a good use of retarded laughing, which is much scarier than evil cackling in my opinion.
I love the original HILLS HAVE EYES but unlike TEXAS CHAIN SAW it is not a perfect movie. I’m not against a remake if it’s gonna be done right. I love the themes of the original. Wes Craven shows his college professor background in that one. It has this whole class tension theme where the surburban tourists face off against mutated savages, and end up stooping to their level. I mean, there’s even a scene where they use their mom as bait. (I’ve never been able to figure out if she’s dead or alive, or which one would be worse.) And Craven emphasizes this duality theme by having two dogs, one named Beauty and one named Beast.
I hope these frenchmen understand Americans enough to keep that theme in the movie. I think they probaly did because the trailer shows a girl talking about going to Cancun for her vacation next time. That seems to fit the clueless suburbanite characterization of the old movie. We’ll have to see if that’s a throwaway line or not.
Anyway, this concludes my pointless speculation on this topic.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.