Alright, I’m gonna try to be as sensitive as possible here, but have to ultimately just hope the AAMR are not big Reverse Shot Blog readers. So I took in a noon-ish showing of Alexandre Aja’s remake of Wes Craven’s mediocre 70s shocker on Saturday, accompanied by two friends equally versed in cinematic sadism of the Robin Wood-sanctioned variety. At the point in the film where the young Carter boy runs out into the desert in search of one of the family’s two German Shepherds (“Beauty” and “Beast”), the tone in the theater changed irrevocably. “Beauty!” called out the boy on-screen. “And the beast!” came the slightly infantile, irrepressibly enthusiastic reply from one of the front rows of the theater. This ‘call and response’ continued a few more times: “Beauty!”… “And the beast! Ha ha!” This guy was all over the whole ‘beauty and beast’ thing, and it turns out he brought friends: it soon became clear that the low guttural wail we’d been hearing throughout these desert sequences was not, in fact, the utterances of the irradiated mutants in the film, cleverly dropped on the soundtrack to suggest the baddies were ever-present, always watching (the hills have eyes, after all), but those of a group of, well, mentally challenged, handy-capable spectators seated in the front section accompanied by some type of chaperone.
This immediately added a surreality to the proceedings I’m not sure I can do justice to here. Normally agitated beyond restraint when fellow spectators insist on speaking (not to mention moaning plaintively) during a film, we were at a loss over what to do with this one. Certainly yelling, “hey you retards, shut up!” was not an option. Under these circumstances, even a gentle shooshing seemed just as insensitive. Who were we to piss all over “movie day,” anyway? The only thing to be done was to try to relax while Aja ratcheted up the tension, bloodshed and depravity onscreen, while our more vociferous fellow spectators made their own extra-filmic contribution to the experience. “Kind of adds a whole new dimension,” I couldn’t help but mutter to my friend Chad. “What, zombies in the theater? Yeah.”
Before you jerk that knee and simply declare us heartless bastards, you need to try to absorb for a moment just how fucking bizarre this really was. Now in my normal walking around life I know better than to conflate the developmentally challenged with slobbering, deranged, mutant cannibals. Yet sitting in this dark theater watching the archetypal American family battle its repressed inverse image to the death, I admit to wondering more than once just who our friends in the front were actually rooting for.
“Dude, did you see that!?!” Chad, incredulous. “What?!” “That one guy’s totally hitting himself in the head! Isn’t that lady supposed to stop that?” It was all nearly too much. This was supposed to be a relatively uncomplicated experience: onscreen, mutation and deformity = bad…look, there’s a guy pulling an Ozzie Osbourne on the family parakeet to prove it. Last thing we bargained for watching a film like THHE was to be distracted by real world empathy for the disabled.
The situation raised all kinds of questions, like is it really a good idea for these guys to be watching this? Don’t get me wrong, I believe the mentally retarded can elect to watch or do whatever other adults watch or do; watching “L.A. Law” growing up I totally thought Benny should’ve been allowed to bone that chick from Pulp Fiction. You just have to wonder whose idea this outing really was. Had these guys been counting down the days till THHE hit screens? Long standing Craven fans since The Last House on the Left? Francophiles charting Aja’s handling of his first English language project? Or was this a classic case of poor research on the part of the party’s “handlers”? “Hmm… ‘The Hills Have Eyes,’ perfect!” “It does sound kind of ‘Sound of Music,’” Chad pointed out. In any case, the experience was nothing if not memorable, and even if you can’t catch it with the short bus set, the movie kicks ass – don’t let anyone tell you different (Michael Atkinson wouldn’t know a worthy horror experience if it raped and ate his entire family).