This is the second time in twentysomething years that Wes Craven has hammered out a screenplay for The Hills Have Eyes 2. Both of 'em were pretty shameless grabs for a paycheck, but at least last time, Craven was inspired enough to cram in a flashback from a dog's perspective: y'know, one of those groundbreaking cinematic moments film nerds are still in awe over more than two full decades later. Martin Weisz, taking a break from shooting Puff Daddy videos to ravage a horror franchise the way most music video directors-turned-first time filmmakers do these days, doesn't stumble upon anything nearly as memorable as a canine flashback in this 2007 spin on the-sequel-to-a-remake-of-a-movie-that-already-had-a-sequel. The Hills Have Eyes 2 is a routine, unimaginative, and completely forgettable follow-up to Alexandre Aja's brutal re-envisioning of the Wes Craven classic.
There's really not any point in recapping the plot. The Hills Have Eyes 2 doesn't build on any of what happened the last time around, awkwardly making the transition into the sequel through a couple of title cards. It boils down to a bunch of incompetent National Guardsmen stranded in the middle of nowhere, stripped of their weapons and survival gear (y'know, wandering off screen only to stroll back and ask "hey, where's [Missy/our rifles/our climbing gear]?"), and...yeah, being picked off one by one. The only particularly clever idea Wes Craven and his son Jonathan come up with in the script is having the flesh-eating mutants in the desert kidnap women to keep their bloodline going, although they really don't bother to capitalize on it.
Other than that...? Nothing. I wasn't all that keen on Aja's remake of The Hills Have Eyes -- there's a decent flick in there somewhere, but it gets too distracted by its weak stabs at social and political commentary to feel as lean and devastating as it should've been -- but it was a hell of a lot better than this. There's something unnerving about a family being stranded in a remote desert, gradually being raped and slaughtered, and, in order to survive, devolving to as brutal and primal a state as the monsters hunting them. The guardsmen in The Hills Have Eyes 2 are completely interchangable, not amounting to much more than the Kinda Socially Conscious One, The Fat One, The Impossibly Hot, Barely-Twentysomething One, The Black Guy, The Other Black Guy, The Hispanic Guy Who Flips Out At A Spanish Insult To Remind People That He's The Hispanic Guy... I guess in order to keep the guardsmen relatable to the audience, the Cravens make sure they're not particularly good at anything they do.
The storytelling boils down to stupid people doing stupid things, and the Cravens write the movie with such contempt for the audience that everything is overexplained. When Hispanic Guy finds a cache of dynamite, he has to shout "Dynamite!" During False Scare #23,741, with a bunch of bats spewing out of a cave, somebody belts out "fucking bats!". After a few of the sorta-soldiers are butchered and it becomes increasingly clear that they're being picked off one by one, one of 'em has to say, "We're getting picked off one by one!" No shit. I'm as devoted a fan of profanity as anyone, but the writing is really lazy, not able to go more than a couple of lines without dropping at least one "shit" or a "fuck", and sarcastic-finger-quotes-jokes like referring to a guy crawling into a Port-O-Potty as "Shitman the Barbarian" and 3rd grade stingers like "Don't forget to write!" when one character marches off make it pretty clear that neither of the Cravens should bother double-clicking on the Final Draft icon on their laptops ever, ever again.
At least in Aja's remake of The Hills Have Eyes, the mutants were menacing. There are only a handful in the sequel and even those few are barely in it, with the movie sputtering and failing at ever establishing any sense of dread or even pretending that they're a persistent threat. The deformed creatures are a lot cartoonier this time around too, with tongues that snake a foot and a half in length, at least a limited vocabulary (every other word being "die", natch), and a tendency to do shit like hack off someone's arm and then wave at him with it like something out of one of the later A Nightmare on Elm St. sequels. KNB FX tosses in their usual barrel drums of blood and crimson-spattered latex, but The Hills Have Eyes 2 isn't nearly as violent or unrelenting as Aja's remake. Out of all the kills, the only effect that got any real reaction out of me was some, um, exploratory surgery near the climax. I can't think of any murders in the unrated version of the movie that wouldn't have made it past the MPAA intact; if there's any additional gore, it's on the order of seconds, if that.
The Cravens' screenplay lifts a hell of a lot from other movies: an early expository suicide from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, a fucked-up birth scene right out of last year's unwatchable 'Saw prequel, the red shirts being gobbled up by unseen monsters in tiny holes like Pitch Black, and a lot of the footage in the mine seemed like it was snipped straight out of The Descent. Even the Obligatory Helpful Outcast and yet another rape sequence (surprisingly tame and less graphic this time around) are culled directly from the other The Hills Have Eyes flicks. And...c'mon, Wes, I know it's been a while since you've made a decent horror movie, but you should know better than to throw out this many standard issue jump scares. Down to the Arm-On-The-Shoulder red herring punctuated by an 18 megaton sting from the subwoofer...? It's embarassing.
This is one of the worst movies that Wes Craven has ever put his name on, and if you skim through his last few flicks on the IMDb, that's kinda saying a lot. Don't get me wrong -- I don't expect The Hills Have Eyes 2 to be a David Lean epic or anything. I like mindless horror flicks as much as the next guy, but director Martin Weisz and writers Wes and Jonathan Craven only bother with the "mindless" and skip straight pass the "horror". Not worth a rental. Not worth DVRing off HBO at 3:15 AM. Skip It.
Video: The Hills Have Eyes 2's AVC-encoded scope image has the sort of crisp, detailed, glossy appearance expected from a movie straight out of theaters. There is some scattered softness, and the image looks a little too smooth, making me wonder if a very modest amount of noise reduction has been applied, but this is still a strong presentation. Black levels, particularly in the dimly-lit mines, are deep and inky, the dusty, sunbaked palette is rendered without any issues, and no source flaws or compression hiccups were spotted throughout.
Audio: As has been the case with pretty much everything out of Fox these days, this Blu-ray disc includes a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. With the standard disclaimer that only the tiniest handful of players and receivers can fully accomodate this particular codec, the 1.5 Mbps DTS core of the track most Blu-ray enthusiasts will be listening to sounds fantastic. The lower frequencies have a devastating, resonating boom, particularly the persistent rumble in the score and the numerous stings that punctuate the jump scares. The sound design makes effective use of the multichannel setup, most notably throughout the opening assault with the National Guardsmen and the dank atmosphere as they're stalked inside the mine. A solid effort.
Also included are Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in Spanish and French, and subtitles have been provided in English, Spanish, Cantonese, and Korean.
Extras: The only high definition extras on this Blu-ray disc are trailers for Alien vs. Predator, From Hell, Sunshine, and Alexandre Aja's The Hills Have Eyes. For whatever reason, a trailer for this movie isn't anywhere on here.
The rest of the disc's extras are presented in standard definition and letterboxed in non-anamorphic widescreen, and it's a pretty standard assortment. There's a lame alternate ending closing on a different "gasp!" note, a set of four short deleted scenes with a tiny bit of additional dialogue, and a standard issue gag reel. Four featurettes round out the extras, including a 10 minute piece from the Fox Movie Channel with some film school students lobbing softballs at Wes Craven about The Hills Have Eyes 2, an overly promotional making-of piece livened up by a look at the stuntwork and the production design inside the mine, a fairly decent runthrough of the graphic novel prequel despite all of the shameless plugs for the book, and a quick look at how the mutants in the sequel differ from the ones in Aja's flick and some footage of the extensive makeup being applied.
Conclusion: The Hills Have Eyes 2 is a paint-by-numbers sequel that dials down the intensity of Alexandre Aja's remake to near-zero and really doesn't even serve up much in the way of worthwhile splatter. Sure, the Blu-ray disc looks and sounds nice enough, but...c'mon. Skip It.
The images scattered around this review are promotional stills and aren't meant to represent the way the movie looks in high definition.