Alexandre Aja Interview

Alexandre Aja interview

Director Alexandre Aja, whose previous feature Haute Tension was a top horror hit for 2005, has kindly granted an interview with John Gray on the eve of the release of The Hills Have Eyes, which is poised to rock the box office. Many thanks to Alex for his time and friendly disposition.

Alex! How ya doing?
Good, and you?

Great, good to talk to you! I saw the film last week. Good job on remaking a classic and actually doing it right!
Thank you.

So, my first question would be....with all the fan backlash on remakes, did you have any second thoughts on actually remaking this film?
Of course! (laughs) I'm a huge fan of the original and it was a big challenge. You don't confront yourself with a film like The Hills Have Eyes....a movie you saw so many times without thinking like, wow now I'm going to redo this movie? I wanted to be sure on it because to tell you the truth, if it was The Last House on the Left or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Straw Dogs or Deliverance, I would have passed right away. The way it started was Wes saw Haute Tension and asked us to come up with a new approach of The Hills Have Eyes and we started thinking....why do we love The Hills Have Eyes? Why was this such a great movie for us? And we realized that most of the reasons were not because of it was so scary or it was such a traumatizing film. It's because people love Michael Berryman! It was the look of the wardrobe, the way they act, and because of all that....we all find some dark humor in it. You see what I mean?

Alexandre Aja directs Aaron Stanford

Oh, for sure!
It was for that reason, and so we realized it was possible to re-invent The Hills Have Eyes today, in 2006....with a more straight forward and brutal approach.

Now, how hands-on was Wes? Did he give you any advice or did he just let you go and do your film?
We came back to him with this idea of the nuclear testing background and everything came in a very obvious way after that. The look of the people from the hills, the look of the village at the end, the mine caves, and so you know he said I did my movie, now you do yours. I loved High Tension so go. So we spent a few months writing the first draft which is basically the movie you saw. After that it was several months of trading emails about the script details, and he was so supportive. He really, really protected me throughout the entire process.

Is it true you wanted Michael Berryman for a role in the film or is that just a rumor?
We actually wrote the part of 'Cyst' for him. You know the mutant that is dragging the body behind him in the village and winds up getting the pick of the axe to the eyeball?

Oh yeah....that scene would be hard to forget!
We thought, this could be a great cameo for him in the movie and we talked about it to Wes and he wasn't very excited with that idea. Also, we realized that maybe if we wanted to re-invent the film, we needed not to take the imagery of what was the original film, which was mainly Michael Berryman. So that was basically the idea and I think it was a good idea, but you know... people like us, you and I, we would love to see that, but I respect Wes and it was ultimately a production call.

Behold the jist of the Cyst!

How was the casting process otherwise? Did you have an easy time with that?
The idea was to make the film as realistic as we can, so we spent like weeks and weeks and saw the maximum amount of people to try and find the people who were the best... ultimately, I am happy with my choices. I have no regrets with that.

Yeah, the cast was excellent!
Doug Bukowski who is played by Aaron Stanford is amazing and it was such a big challenge to find someone like Dustin Hoffman is Straw Dogs. It's not so easy to find a young person like that and I was really impressed.

I know what you mean....he really stood out in the film. I even mentioned that in my review.
What he is doing in the movie was great and another is Ted Levine who brought so much to the character of 'Big Bob.' You know, he could have been so cliche and what Ted brought was truth, you know, authenticity....and the same goes for Dan Byrd and Emilie de Raven. I mean I had so much fun making the movie with all of them. They were all on the same page about the characters and the were so excited considering the extreme conditions because it was extreme! The shooting was know it was the middle of summer in the desert, and they never complained. It was truly amazing.

Why did you decide to shoot in Morocco?
First of all we went everywhere... from California, Mexico, New Mexico where the action is supposed to take place, and then Namibia, South Africa, and Morocco. We found out in New Mexico, there is some amazing locations, amazing light... but we found that if you go to's the same. Exactly the same color of the rocks, the same jagged hills, the same surrounding but even bigger and more ominous. And, everything was less than one hour from the city and the sound-stage. In New Mexico it was like three hours! That means less days of shooting. Another reason of course is more money on the picture. So many reasons, but most importantly it was the artistic reasons.

You know, going back to the film, it seemed to me there was a strong political thread in the film. Did you mean to go there or did you just want to brush past that and move on?
I mean, that was not my goal....I didn't want to make a political movie. You know, the original is a mirror of society back in the day. And to think back on it, it's impossible not to talk about that in the movie. You know, the idea of no one is the bad guy, no one is the victim, everyone is both. At the same time, our society is creating its own monster.

Was there ever a question as to if you were going to keep this film set in the 70's like they did with Chainsaw, or was it always set to be an update to 2006?
I think if we were asked to make the movie before September 11th maybe, but after that, you know society changed so much. With the subtext of the film, what was going on in '77 is very similar to today. It's kind of interesting, but we never really thought about setting it in the 70's.

The film is extremely brutal....did you have any problems with the MPAA?
OH YEAH!!! (laughs)

I'm surprised what made it on screen actually made it.
Yes, we submitted the movie four or five times. I think we were more patient than they were! (laughs again)

What can we expect to see on the Uncut DVD then?

Several minutes. (HIGHLIGHT FOR MAJOR SPOILERS) They cut some close-ups of 'Big Bob' burning and his eyes turning white. A close-up of Lynne being shot in the head, the muzzle-flash and the direct impact. Also a shot of the gun being pointed at the baby... they cut half a minute of the rape scene with Brenda. At the end they cut one shot of Lizard being shot. Heís supposed to have been shot three times but they cut to one of him being shot right in the throat. Thatís very stupid to me so it will be nice to see that back on the DVD.(END SPOILERS)

Damn, sounds like we are in for a treat when the unrated DVD comes out then!
In the DVD, you will be able to see all the brutal and gory F/X. But I think even with the scenes missing, it is very intense.

Oh, hell yes it is! And another thing, aside from the gore....are we going to see anymore character driven scenes that were cut? I missed several of the scenes that were in the original like with Pappa Jup's role being smaller. Why did you decide to go that route with such a great character?

Well, that was a big question and Wes was also like trying beef up the character of Jupiter in the film, but I think that's just a way to watch the movie as a fan of the original. As we are, but I think when some people that have never seen the original watch it, they won't have this feeling of missing Jupiter. What we found out is if you show too much dialogue with the mutants, then it's not scary anymore.

Papa Jupe!

Do you think that took away from the original film?

Like one of my favorite scenes in the original, is the campfire scene where Pappa Jup is making his speech and talking shit to the dog while they are eating it. It was almost like Wes was trying to do his own version of the dinner scene from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
I'm a huge fan of the family scene in the original Chainsaw. I mean it's just the best! And if you can't do better than that.... (pauses)

Then don't even try....
Exactly! My feeling is, if you start having them talk with each other, you are just losing the scare.

Now, as far as F/X goes, you worked with Giannetto De Rossi in Haute Tension who is like an F/X GOD, and now in Hills you worked with KNB. Those are two huge names. So why did you decide on KNB over Giannetto?
First of all, I thought about Giannetto first, but he wasn't able to go. He read the script and was really let down that he could not work on this with me. He was working on a big project which is the young Hannibal Lecter film.

You mean Young Hannibal: Behind the Mask?

Yes....and you know I was thinking about Giannetto not for the mutants, but for the Carter family. KNB was, like, great....I had been dreaming of working with them because they are so great. I mean they have the best workshop and Wes has worked with them for years. Working with Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger....these guys, they are just so genius!

The Hills Have Eyes!

I know the film has not even come out yet, but I'm sure you have heard all the buzz. Is there going to be a sequel, or is this it for you?
I don't know. It's true they are thinking about it, but the answer is very simple. If we find an amazing concept or a great story, why not? If it's just a bullshit sequel, then no.

It's obvious that an attitude like yours is what sets you apart and above all this bullshit PG-13 crap that just keeps coming out and coming out.
Thanks a lot.

So what is next for you? Are you planning on staying in the genre or branching out?
We are working on a movie that is a supernatural story called The Waiting and I think there is many many things to do in the genre, but at the same time I don't want to do the same movie ten times. There are many subjects and we are writing several scripts... like adapting that graphic novel Black Hole which is an amazing graphic novel.

Cool....well, as you know the fans over at Guts And Gory just about died when I let them know we were doing an interview. One fan in particular who posts on the forum just had to know if you had any plans on doing another remake, and if so what would you like to do?
Not really, I was approached to remake a lot of films....but there is some great project out there. A good remake is when you love the movie, and you want to share it with friends and you show it to them and they don't get what you love so much. Maybe because it's too dated or whatever, and that right there is case and point for a remake sometimes. You take a movie like Deliverance which is just perfect and it looks like it is taking place today. Those types of films, I will stay away from.

Okay, final question... top five horror films in no particular order.
Okay....The Shining, Rosemary's Baby, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Last House on the Left and The Thing.

Alex, I appreciate your time...
John, tell all the fans on the Pit Of Horror and Guts And Gory to go see this film and that I will be dropping by this weekend to see their reaction!

Will do....I can promise you, everyone is going to love it! I personally can't wait for your next film!
Thanks again, John.


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