The Hills Have Eyes 2 Review
The Hills Have Eyes 2 begins with a scene of such sordid unpleasantness that it suggests there might be a truly warped imagination at play. One has high hopes that Wes Craven, writing with his son Jonathan, might be back on his worst behaviour after the non-genre excursion of Red Eye. Yet what follows is eighty minutes of disillusionment where we realise, at length, that there might be a reason why Craven’s own Hills Have Eyes Part 2, back in 1984, was such a disaster. Once you’ve encountered his jolly desert tribe of mutants, there’s not a lot else to say about them and this new attempt to fashion a sequel proves the point at length.
We’re back in Sector 16, the New Mexico nuclear testing ground which was the setting of Alexandre Aja’s enjoyable 2005 remake. For reasons best known to themselves, the military have decided to put communications in the abandoned base and a group of National Guardsmen are sent to take supplies to the scientists. But the scientists aren’t there any more and they are greeted by some much less welcome inhabitants.
There’s a cheap feeling to this movie which makes its low budget all too apparent. The small cast is made up of unfamiliar faces, none of whom do anything to distinguish themselves and the make-up department has clearly been working at a lower level than normal – as my colleague Kevin O’Reilly pointed out, the mutants look more tacky than scary. But the cheapest thing is the plot which is a simple “pick ‘em off one by one” storyline until the point that the few survivors decide to turn the tables. Indeed at one point, a character helpfully reminds us, “They’re picking us off one by one.” It would be fair to expect a lot more from Wes Craven, a genuinely talented man who has shown time and again, in films ranging from Scream to The Serpent and the Rainbow that he understands how to use our genre expectations to surprise and shock us.
There are a few nice asides here and there. Naturally , the sight of a lot of soldiers deployed in the middle of the desert brings to mind our various conflicts in the Middle East and at one point, a frightfully macho instructor shouts, “All President’s lie, asshole. That’s their fucking job.” There are also a couple of diverting references to Full Metal Jacket, although any director, particularly one as inexperienced as Martin Weisz, should beware of reminding us of one of the greats when his own film is so mediocre.
But on the whole, the portrayal of a group of National Guardsmen as a fraternity with automatic weapons is tiresome and the gung-ho behaviour starts to become wearisome long before the soldiers begin to be picked off one by one. The promising thread of having women as part of the group is wasted when we discover that the sole purpose of their presence is to allow a particularly gross rape scene. There was a much more thoughtful and provocative portrayal of the National Guard in Walter Hill’s remarkable Southern Comfort, where the interplay of soldiers and backwoods people was complicated by the mutual incomprehension and the ludicrous bravado of the troops. Hill’s Guardsmen behaved foolishly at times but never as idiotically as this. Although one might have criticisms of American military training, it surely doesn’t encourage its products to behave like dumb teenagers in a slasher movie.
It’s not an incompetent film. Martin Weisz has an interesting visual sense, opting for a much grittier look than Aja did – both films were shot on the same African locations. There’s some imaginative use of hand-held camera to provide a feeling of reportage in places. But he never captures the sense of eerie isolation which Aja conjured up so memorably, let alone the sunlit terror of Craven’s 1977 original. The second half, which largely takes place underground, brings to mind Aliens but, again, the comparison isn’t a positive one. It’s a much gorier movie than any of its progenitors but it’s considerably less upsetting. There was more horror in the ankle slicing from the original film than you’ll find in any of the entrail flinging here. After the opening bit of nastiness, the grue becomes rather boringly predictable and the gut-spilling has been done much better in countless other films. If one cared about the characters being killed then it might have some emotional impact. As it is, the only suspense lies in wondering how on earth they’re going to spin the thing out to feature length.
The 2.35:1 transfer is anamorphically enhanced. I was very impressed by how well this transfer coped with the variety of milieus in which the film is set, having no problem with either the somewhat grainy sunlit scenes or the often very dark interiors. Colours are presented with the utmost fidelity and there’s plenty of detail throughout. Apart from occasional over-enhancement, it’s hard to find fault with the way this looks. Equally, the 5.1 soundtrack is an absolute delight with creepy sound effects making way for screaming, confusion and pounding gunfire at appropriate intervals. The surround channels are used well for atmosphere throughout and dialogue – much of it shouted – is always clear.
There are quite a few extras here, although we’re certainly not talking about the kind of package which might tempt you to get the disc despite the quality of the film. The three main featurettes look at different aspects of the film. “Mutant Attacks” is a ten minute look at the mutants, none of which bear any examination while “Exploring the Hills” is a bland making-of piece during which everyone lines up to honour Wes, including Wes. “Birth of a Graphic Novel” looks at the making of the comic book, Hills Have Eyes: The Beginnning; graphic novel fans will find this more interesting than I did. Meanwhile, we also get four disposable deleted scenes, a mirth-free gag reel and a puff piece in which Wes Craven talks to three film students.
There are 16 chapter stops. English subtitles are provided for both the film and the special features.