With the success of the remake of The Hills Have Eyes a franchise was reborn. To continue, Fox studios only had to make half decent sequels and they could build on the Hills popularity, maybe even have a long running series to equal the Saw franchise. Also, as the original The Hills Have Eyes sequel was such an unmitigated disaster, the bar was set incredibly low as to how good a sequel had to be in order to be considered a win.
History shows those of us that care (like me and maybe three other people) than Fox blew it. The Hills Have Eyes II (as it was now known because Roman numerals means its a classy affair) was widely panned and no bugger went to see it, including me. So I’m as much to blame for the death of the Hills franchise as the next man.
However, I’m here to tell you know that as sequels go II isn’t half bad. Actually, not that’s not right… it IS half bad, but on the flip side its half good as well.
It was never going to be as good as the original clearly. Hmmm. not original, I mean the original remake from a year before. Mistakes are made early, the main one being that our bunch of heroes/victims are a team of National Guards (known as the Territorial Army here in the UK). As part-time soldiers they seem to have neither the temperament nor the skills to be in the armed forces. In fact the variety of skinny women, fat stupid men, rebellious pacifists and short latinos makes you think more of Police Academy than an Aliens-style marine force. The pacifist would obviously have been Steve Guttenberg if it had been made in the eighties. Clearly the Aliens thing was on the film makers mind when they concevied of a squadron fighting against the cannibals but as they’re all completely useless (the sarge gets shot early on by one of his own men) it doesn’t hold up. Maybe they were trying to continue the theme of how violence affects ordinary Americans but then as they’re in the National Guard they’re clearly not ordinary so that doesn’t hold up. Either it was lost in some script rewrite or just wasn’t particularly well thought out but the whole soldier thing really doesn’t work. I suppose we can be thankful that at least they tried something different other than a bunch of teens on spring break which would be the obvious route to take.
Another problem with having all the main characters as soldiers is that it takes quite a while to work out who everyone is. There are several white guys who all look the same, or maybe its just the same bloke, and it took me half an hour to realise there was more than one black man in the unit. They’re all armoured up with full body armour and big helmets so you can’t see their faces. It means we don’t get to know these characters until half of them are dead. Considering the strong character work in the last film this is a huge disappointment.
Another disappointing thing is the rape stuff is back. It seems to be The Hills Have Eyes M.O. that there has to be some sexual violence. I get that the dwindling numbers of mutants living in the hills want to repopulate their stock so keep the women alive, but that just seems to be an excuse. Its like someone, somewhere said “hey you guys! What’s going on? This is The Hills Have Eyes! Where’s the rape in this movie? We gotta have some rape.” The scene’s sound effects are over the top banging noises and we have a close up on daddy mutant’s happy cum face. I feel sick writing about it. Thank god this franchise did die if they were just going to carry on with that shit every film.
Anyway, if I can get past that there are some positives. The mutants make up again is very well done with some nice variations like the blind guy with the glasses and a weird military dude who looks like The Toxic Avenger on holiday. Also once the unit find them stuck on the hills with no way to get down it starts to feel pretty tense. There are only long, hard drops to a splattery demise for anyone who tries to climb down which just leaves our gang feeling more and more desperate. Once the action moves to inside the old mines where the mutants have been living all these years things pick up even more. The mines themselves have a great variety of caves, flooded rooms, larders full of corpses and shafts to fall down. The gang are constantly surrounded by movements in the dark and death is a moment away. It gets quite exciting down here and is well directed by Martin Weisz.
Of course all this excitement is undermined by the characters doing relentlessly stupid things. The two girls in the unit (both too hot and skinny to ever be in the armed forces of course) are sitting by themselves having a chat about being kidnapped and raped – well this is ridiculous I thought. But ha! I’ve been tricked as has the cannibal sneaking up behind them. The whole thing was a trap to lure out said cannibal socthe rest of the squad can come out of their hiding holes and fill the fucker with bullets. Maybe this bunch isn’t as stupid as I thought. Immediately after this scene, I mean the very next moment, one of the girls decides to leave the group to have a pee by herself. She is kidnapped and raped.
Various other characters go off alone to get help or abseil down cliffs with a body strapped to them so are unable to defend themselves when someone tries to cut the rope. One guy finds a load of dynamite, doesn’t even check it and blows himself to smithereens. In fact most of the characters die due to their own unbelievable stupidity. It almost makes it fun watching what nonsense they’ll come up with next.
So clearly it seems a rushed script is mostly to blame for The Hills Have Eyes II‘s failures. It came out exactly a year after the previous entry which is a tight turnaround at the best of times, but who knows what pressures were on Wes Craven, who co-wrote this with his son Jonathan in probably about a week. However I don’t think that the franchise didn’t continue just because of a bad screenplay – if that was the case we wouldn’t have got past a third Friday the 13th. No I think what is one of the best thing about the rebooted franchise is what undid it. The Hills Have Eyes II and its predecessor both look fantastic because a good amount of money was spent on them. Both films cost $15,000,000 to make and that’s probably not a good business model for this kind of movie. Part of the reason why the Saw or Paranormal Activities made a such a packet was because their budgets remained relatively cheap. The moment that Saw VII cost $17 million was the moment the franchise ground to a halt.
Maybe Wes Craven’s original Hills movies were a bit too low budget at points but these films are meant to be cheap and nasty. Alexandre Aja’s remake may well have been a high point for the series but it was also an anomaly. No one should have given Aja (and Wes producing) such a large amount of money to make a film about cannibalistic atomic mutants eating lost Americans. Its the subject of b-movie late night entertainment that me and countless others love, but you can’t spend a relative fortune on this subject and suspect a mass audience to sustain it year after year. The crowds just aren’t out there.
Maybe there will be another reboot of The Hills Have Eyes in a few years time and it will get things right this time so they can have five sequels instead of just one. You could say that the Wrong Turn movies are spin offs anyway, as they seem to be much the same, only set in a forest rather than a hilly desert. I’ll pass thanks. Mutants are just a bit too noisy and flailing spit everywhere compared to the silent stalk and kill antics of Jason and Michael and the like. Plus there’s the weird sexual violence which is just depressing. I can’t say I’ll be waiting with baited breath for the next film.