The Hills Have Eyes 2 hates its intended audience. It has nothing but contempt for fans of the 2006 Alexandre Aja remake, and dismisses the near obsessive yearnings of horror lovers in general. If the evidence wasn’t obvious in every frame of this limp 2007 claptrap, the bonus features found on the recently released unrated DVD version offers up actual proof.
In an interview with original Hills creator Wes Craven (responsible for the 1977 film that started it all), the macabre maestro discusses the pre-production process on this ridiculous re-quel. Overseeing the project, he was looking for a novel way to sustain the series. When the military storyline was suggested, Craven perked up, and offered to write it. He and his adult son Jonathan then went off and spent a grand total of “ten days” whipping the worthless script into shape. So much for taking one’s time to get things right.
Naturally, such creative thrift shows as this second trek into cannibal mutant territory is hopelessly inadequate and extremely dull. As a movie, it makes far too many basic cinematic mistakes to hold up to scrutiny, and when mixed with the oddball pretense of positioning this entire project as some kind of backhanded slam on the War in Iraq (and the concept of ‘enemy combatants’ – again, from the extras), its nonsense goes nuclear. While Craven can be taken to task for his slapdash attitude toward the storyline, equal blame must be foisted on German filmmaker Martin Weisz. Completely incapable of matching mood to material, his main contribution to this unexceptional effort is to mimic (very poorly, one might add) the subterranean elements that made Neil Marshall’s excellent The Descent so scary. Only this time, we wish the cave dwelling creeps would kill off our supposed heroes ASAP.
As our terror tale begins, we are introduced to a ragtag group of National Guard rejects so incapable of competent soldiery that we realize immediately they can’t secure themselves, let alone the country. Because of their status as bumblers, they are the perfect useless unit to go on a military clean up mission. The army is out to install surveillance in the notorious Sector 16 (the location where the previous atrocities of the first Hills Have Eyes took place), and as luck would have it, that crew has gone missing. Ordered to find out what happened and finish the job, our half-assed jarheads run headlong into the killer clan, irradiated beyond recognition and out for blood.
Thus begins a benign cat and mouse with little suspense, lots of gore, and the slightly nauseating subtext of procreation. That’s right – the freaks have their malformed eyes on the females in the party. They need new brooders to continue their jaundiced gene pool.
Now there is nothing inherently wrong with such a premise. We can buy into the whole ‘us vs. them’ ideal, and view the revolting needs of the monsters as something instinctual and exploitative. But Weisz and the Cravens seem to have forgotten the first rule of successful movie macabre making – give us people we care about. Unless you simply want to pour on the body bile, we have to find some connection to the characters. Being invested in their lot makes us experience the dread and claustrophobic fear all the more fully. But here, our desire is to see each lame loser, posing as a member of the military, die and die soon. So irritating they could teach poison oak a thing or two, this slapdash collection of caricature calling cards – the nerd, the diva, the jock, the dork, the bad boy, the mandatory minority figure – are by-the-numbers fright fodder, nothing more or less.
As we walk through the opening act of this hapless horror hooey, we soon realize that The Hills Have Eyes 2 will be nothing more than a slasher film with not one, but numerous knife wielding maniacs. Since death can happen at any time, to anyone, during any given part of the plot, the suspense is stifled. Without proper preparation, all we get are a series of cheap ‘gotchas’. After the first few, we grow immune – and then bored. About halfway through, we realize that the narrative is going nowhere fast, and wonder what Weisz will do to flummox the formula. The answer, not surprisingly, is absolutely nothing. He just keeps pumping away, putting faceless individual after faceless individual into harm’s way, counting on the sloppy special effects to carry us along. But no amount of gelatinous Kayro syrup could save this unimaginative bore.
Even the repugnant rape angle is downplayed, used as a sickening sensationalized story point, and then quickly forgotten. Granted, the movie begins with a rather foul still birth, but after that, the need to continue their species seems antithetical to everything the cannibals do. They are reckless in the way they taunt and tease their prey, asking to be captured and confronted before eventually delivering the death blows. In addition, we are introduced to a mandatory “good” ghoul, the kind of misunderstood miscreant that only the movies can invent (after all, wouldn’t his clan have caught on by now and ground him into monkey chow?). We do learn, as part of the DVD’s added content, that this supposedly kind hearted behemoth was originally part of an elaborate last act twist, but in the film as released, he stays a Goonies level of lovable ogre.
From a performance standpoint, no one in the nameless cast stands out. They are given personalities that allow them to easily blend in to the surroundings, and the dialogue is all overachieving macho harangues and wounded cries of dreary desperation. In fact, the acting here could best be described as a kind of thespian ADD. At any given moment, our company is cursing each other out, scarred beyond their limited terror threshold, and/or bellowing for never-to-arrive help. The wildly varying mood swings, from chaotic to crash and burn, anesthetize us to the events transpiring. We can’t get a grip on what’s going on because, frankly, the characters can’t either.
Like most post-modern horror directors who believe that nasty concepts create their own terror, Weisz enjoys using the grotesque and the vile as volumizing elements. A scene not scary enough? Bash in a skull. A conflict not creating the nascent amount of tension? Toss in a severed limb.
Both the Cravens and Weisz want us to look at their grim little reaper feature as a ‘war is all kinds of Hell’ happening, a begrudging acknowledgment that no amount of training can prepare you for the kill or be killed central concept of battle. But The Hills Have Eyes 2 is too scattered to be a satire, too wooden to be a wake-up call. Instead, it utilizes time honored (and hobbled) tricks to tell a silly slice and dice diversion we’ve long since forgotten even existed. Indeed, this movie plays like it’s 1989 all over again, even down to the Charles Band like approach to the cinematography – read: flat and direct to home video quality.
Fox wasn’t fooling anyone when they decided to deny critics an advance screening when the film premiered in March of 2007. Even they could sense the horrendous fright flop on their hands. After all, its disdain is written all along every inch of this unnecessary nonsense.