After 15 weeks among CineSchlock-O-Rama's Most Wanted, The Hills Have Eyes fans get a bit of a cruel tease with this subpar release of the Wes Craven-helmed sequel The Hills Have Eyes Part II (1984, 86 minutes). The original was, at its little black heart, a kissin' cousin of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with both featuring errant travelers encountering a family of unkempt homicidal maniacs. But Craven made it his own and ended up with a classic beloved even 25 years later. While the sequel Wes wrote and directed is a gruesome retread that was, both at the time and today, grossly outshined by a certain other little flick he made about the same time -- A Nightmare on Elm Street.
The movie: Didn't see Part One? Not to worry, Wes crams most of the best stuff into this one. It's Flashbacks-O-Rama! Robert Houston returns for about eight seconds as Bobby who yaps with a shrink about his intense fear of the desert because of all the unfortunate stuff his family encountered there. Which, of course, we're shown again. Now if there were only a good reason to GO BACK THERE we'd have ourselves a movie. Hmmm ... Ah-ha! Today, Bobby heads a motorcross team on the verge of financial orbit thanks to their development of some sort of greased lightening "super" fuel, only he's too petrified to take the cross-desert trek to test the breakthrough in competition. So his gal pal "Rachel" (Janus Blythe) loads the horn'd up team, their dates and bikes onto a big RED school bus and heads off to certain death. Why? Well, because they too make the foolhardy decision to take a SHORTCUT!!! Pointy noggin'd CineSchlocker fave Michael Berryman returns as Pluto (who apparently made a miraculous recovery) and once again gleefully taunts his prey under the leadership of, gulp, The Reaper (John Bloom). This includes luring the fellas away from their girlfriends via an impromptu dirt bike chase punctuated by deadly booby traps -- like the ol' involuntary clothesline dismount followed by a machete to the brainpan gag. Craven injects some inspired tension by including a BLIND babe (Tamara Stafford) who spends the flick saying stuff like "Did you hear that?" and frantically groping where she shouldn't when the bodies start to pile up -- literally. Oh yeah, Bobby's dog Beast is also back. He's the German shepherd that gave Pluto what for in the original. Don't remember? Get this! Even the POOCH has a traumatic flashback!!!
Fans of TV's "24" will recognize the melon-heavy talents of Penny Johnson as Sue who's a heckuvalot more, um, FRIENDLY than her super-bitch turn as Senator David Palmer's conniving bride. Also, CineSchlocker's will remember 7-and-a-half foot John Bloom as bolt neck from the Al Adamson cult classic Dracula vs. Frankenstein. John made a couple other flicks with Al including another turn as a cranially-challenged hulk in Brain of Blood (soon available on special edition DVD). Tragically, Mr. Bloom passed away three years ago.
Notables: Three breasts. 10 corpses. Racking. Cannibal cam. Dog attack. Diddling. Gratuitous shower scene (in the DESERT). Bone-crushing bear hug. One firesuit stunt. Throat slashing. Gratuitous rendition of "One Hundred Bottles of Beer On the Wall."
Quotables: As Foster, Willard Pugh's got all the best lines: "That's the trouble with the desert. It's too hot and too big and full of stuff that'll just BITE you for the hell of it! ... Ain't natural to be in a place without a disco. ... Are you SURE that you're not suffering from a sudden onset of one of those weird mental diseases that white folks get from time to time?"
Time codes: Sadly, for the moment, this is the most of the original we'll see on DVD for awhile (3:22). Mr. Berryman joins the picture (26:06). Beast ponders his troubled past (31:37). Behold how the horizon is crudely blacked out (1:00:12). Cass goes crawlin' down a stinky mine shaft (1:13:35).
Audio/Video: Bizarrely bad fullscreen transfer. Not only has it been awkwardly cropped from the original widescreen, which is especially evident in the opening psychoanalysis scene, there's the additional weirdness of highlights and shadows that seem to wobble out of sync with each other within many shots (check 39:12 for the worst example). This 3D-ish effect isn't present in the nearly identical VHS release. Strictly utilitarian mono track.
Extras: Theatrical trailer. Printed insert with track listing.
Final thought: Strangely admirable sequel that further wets one's appetite for its truly transcendant kin. An abysmal transfer earns this disc a lower rating. Rent It.
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.