Horror Film Review
THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2
These eyes should have remained closed.
By Steve Biodrowski
The regurgitation of '70s exploitation horror reaches a new nadir with this sequel to 2006's THE HILLS HAVE EYES (which was itself a remake of a 1977 film of the same title). The basic premise - of a small group of people in the desert, under attack by some cannibalistic mutants - remains the same; the only difference is the cast of characters and the details of their bloody deaths. In other words it's the same old song performed by a different singer, with a slightly new arrangement. If you liked the old version, you might like the new version, but you probably won't like it as much; if you didn't like the old version, you will simply wonder why they bothered to strike up the band one more time.
The new script, by Wes Craven and Jonathan Craven, does little to answer the question. To be fair, there is nowhere for the story to go. Any sensible sequel would probably turn into a courtroom drama as the mutants sought tribal recognition from the U.S. government and demanded reparations for the radioactive fall-out (from atomic testing) that turned them into mutants - not the sort of plot to please the hard-core horror fans who made the previous film a minor hit.
Instead, the screenplay briefly flirts with relevance by focusing on a squad of young National Guard troops training for service in Afghanistan (as if the filmmakers were afraid of making a real point by denoting the target destination as Iraq). With recent newspaper reports of inexperienced and ill-equipped Guardsmen being sent to battle zones, the incompetence of this particular squad seems to be a satirical statement about the position in which the U.S. currently finds itself. Rewriting a page from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING, HILLS 2 slyly suggests that, while we're preparing for the horrors of war overseas, there are horrors aplenty back home that need attending.
Unfortunately, any intended statement is soon lost in the welter of de rigueur gore. There really is no clear Iraq parallel: this is not an occupying army fighting the wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place and causing collateral damage in the process; it's a straight-forward conflict between some clean-cut all-American types and some sub-human butchers who deserve to be killed as brutally as possible.
You would think the National Guard would be equipped to do this, and making the military the heroes (like the marines in ALIENS) would seem to be a way of gving the audience an opportunity for easy vicarious vengeance (let's get off on watching the soldiers mow down the monsters that scared us in the previous film!) Instead, the story seems dedicated to the proposition that the National Guard is no better equipped to handle a small bunch of desert loonies than the handful of untrained civilians from THE HILLS HAVE EYES. If anything, those folks did a much better job: basically, all it took was one guy with a pick ax and the help of his German Shepherd to level the cannibal's karma. Here, we have a whole squad of soldiers with rifles, bayonets, radios, flashlights, and everything else they might need, and they still end up picked off one by one like a bunch of pathetic weekend warriors.
The film trots out many of the tired tropes from its predecessor. Dig that rape scene in the previous film? Well, here's another! Love those telephoto angles implying the protagonists are under surveillance from afar? Here's a boatload more of them! Remember that sympathetic mutant from last time out? Well, it inexplicably appears there's one in every generation of mutants (and like the "good" black characters in old movies, they inevitably die while helping the normal characters escape).
As before, the wimpy characters finally get pushed too far and turn the tables on their adversaries. You could set you watch by the structure: devote nine-tenths of the running time to atrocities that shock and outrage the audience; then deliver some gruesome bigtime payback in the final reel. The big difference here is that the final reel takes the action underground, down into old abandoned mines. The potential for claustrophobia is competently realized, but the similarity to last year's THE DESCENT reminds us of how weak and derivative this effort truly is.
The puzzling thing about THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2 is why, exactly, Wes Craven would spend his time on this garbage. If he wanted to make a horror film that comments on the relative horrors of war, he has certainly shown the talent to create something comparable to Guillermo Del Toro's PAN'S LABYRINTH. Instead, HILLS 2 literally sticks its head down the toilet for a big whiff of fecal matter. It provides gooey gore in place of genuine scares and exploits sexual violence for the sake of stimulating the audience's lust for revenge. It indulges in the worst kind of crappy manipulation, with characters who have every reason to know better but still wander off in dangerous places by themselves, proving they are just too stupid to live. (One, in a moment worthy of Wile E. Coyote, blows himself up when his plan to blast his way out of the cave results in prematurely depressing the plunger on the detonator - while the explosive is still in his hands.)
In short, everything about the film screams "cheesy unapologetic genre crapfest." And if this sounds like an exaggeration, then just sit through the closing credits so you can hear the accidentally hilarious theme song, "The Hills Have Eyes," whose chorus - I shit you not - goes like this:
The hills have eyes!
They'll eat you alive!
Now, exactly who will eat you alive - the hills or the eyes? At least if the lyricist had had the nerve to use the phrase "the Hills are alive" and turn the song into a parody of "The Sound of Music," that would have shown a faint trace of wit. Sadly, even that was too much to ask from this dismal effort. Still, the song must be reckoned a success in at least one sense: it perfectly matches the tone of the film itself, reminding us (as if reminder were needed) that these eyes should have remained shut.
In what seems an attempt to eat their cake and have it too, producers Wes Craven, Marianne Maddalena, and Peter Locke include a message to the real-life troops in the closing credits, expressing gratitude and wishing that their current overseas mission will be worthy of their sacrifice. Though probably sincere, the message sounds ludicrous when appended to the end of a film that has spent nearly ninety minutes portraying the National Guard as a bunch of incompetent idiots who make the Keystone Kops look like a crack commando team by comparison.
The original 1977 version of THE HILLS HAVE EYES also bred a sequel. Craven himself dismisses the film, explaining that he took the job only because he had been out of work for so long.