I don’t think many horror fans would disagree that Alexandre Aja’s High Tension and The Hills Have Eyes were two of the more gorehound-pleasing and visceral films of the mid 2000s. Both films helped cement Aja as a filmmaker to keep an eye on. This has proven to be the case over the years, and his latest, Horns, was released last month.
I was recently listening to an episode of the Bret Easton Ellis podcast, which featured an hour-long discussion with Aja, and he dropped a couple of interesting nuggets about High Tension and Hills I had never heard before despite being a big fan of both. These facts may not be news to Aja’s biggest fans, but as far as I can tell (from Google searches), neither have been talked about much.
Basically, the revelations equate to both films being considerably more graphic, which is really saying something, especially in High Tension’s case. To sum it up, High Tension was originally going to show a child’s head explode all over the camera lens, and The Hills Have Eyes nearly had the hill people putting a cat in a blender and drinking it.
During the podcast, the subject of limits in films came up. Ellis asked Aja if he considers anything off limits in his movies in terms of violence, and if there is anything he wouldn’t film.
Aja responded (keep in mind, English isn’t his first language), “I think it’s all about context. It’s all about, you know, like what’s the protagonist – what’s your point of view in the story, and what the protagonist would see if it was real to create the best immersion. If it needs to be the most shocking or disgusting murder, you have to go for it. You cannot be like less is more, and not show it, because you won’t create the experience for the audience that the protagonist is going through watching that murder. So I think you have to show sometime[s], so like the audience is shocked, and so the audience feels for the person that they are like following in the story.”
“But there is some – not on my side – but when we were writing The Hills Have Eyes…we had one kind of limit on High Tension. I really wanted to – that scene where the killer is following that little boy in the cornfield – and physically you see the shotgun on the head of the kid, and then you cut to a wide shot of outside of the corn, and you just see the flash. But in fact, in the script, I was going to have the actual head of the kid like splatter on the camera – on the lens…I didn’t do that because I felt it was maybe, I don’t know, something kind of told me – but that’s the only time I can remember on my side to have some kind of limit.”
Getting into the other film, he continued, “When we were writing The Hills Have Eyes, I wanted to change that element where when the family is attacked in the trailer, like the people from the hills come in, and they grab that canary bird, and one of them is like biting off the head of the canary and spraying the blood in his mouth, before attacking the other girl and raping the sister. I felt like it was, ‘Ok, you know what? I’ve seen that in the original movie. I want to do something different, and I thought about like having some kitten that maybe the little sister was traveling with – like some small kitten, and that maybe the people from the hills took the kitten, put the kitten in some kind of blender, put some milk with [it], and maybe were looking at the kitten and would start doing like a kitten shake, and drinking it.”
“I thought that was very fun. I thought it was really funny, you know, but like in a dark way, but I thought it was a really good idea to shock the people in the trailer, but also the audience, and to make them feel like these people are completely insane, and they should be really scared of them. And I pitched that to Wes Craven, and had like a full reaction of like, ‘No way!’ And I was like ‘Why?’ you know, ‘I don’t understand it. Why [do] you like putting that limit on that scene?'”
“And he had that answer that was like, ‘You don’t understand. If we do that, people are going to try,’ and it was like, ‘Why [would] people put [a] kitten in a blender with milk and try to do a kitten milk – a kitten shake?’ And it was just that instinct of him, coming from a long history of making movies like The Last House on the Left that create so much… kind of like you know, like stories in a newspaper of like people…copycat[s] …and Scream, you know….”
Aja went on to suggest Wes Craven feels like he has some responsibility or even guilt, and that he doesn’t want to worry about that kind of stuff anymore.
Personally, I have all the respect in the world for Craven, but that might also be why most of his later films haven’t been nearly as memorable as his early work.
Either way, it’s interesting that the guy behind The Last House on the Left encouraged limits on another movie, and one that was a remake of another of his own reasonably shocking films.
Aja has mentioned the kitten thing in the past, but I don’t know how much it went noticed. Here’s a video of him talking about it a few years back:
[youtube id=”XDJ0QI9tfyo” align=”center” mode=”normal” autoplay=”no”]
If any of this stuff is in DVD commentaries or anything, you’ll have to forgive me. If I’ve listened to them, it’s been a long time. Still, it’s always fun to learn about or even remember aspects of the films we love that never were and could have been.
By the way, if you haven’t checked out the Bret Easton Ellis podcast, you definitely should. He’s had some very interesting conversations with horror filmmakers like Rob Zombie and Ti West. In fact, if you’re a fan of West’s, here are some interesting comments he made about Cabin Fever 2 in his discussion with Ellis.
And remember, this is only a very small fragment of the Aja discussion. You can listen to the whole thing here:
Kitten image: Wikimedia Commons