The Hills Have Eyes II
Director : Martin Weisz
Screenplay : Wes Craven & Jonathan Craven
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2007
Stars : Michael McMillian (PFC “Napoleon” Napoli), Jessica Stroup (PFC Amber Johnson), Daniella Alonso (PFC “Missy”), Jacob Vargas (PFC “Crank”), Lee Thompson Young (PFC Delmar), Ben Crowley (PFC “Stump”), Eric Edelstein (Cpl. “Splitter”), Flex Alexander (Sgt. Jeffrey “Sarge” Millstone), Reshad Strik (PFC Mickey), Michael Bailey Smith (Hades), David Reynolds (Hansel), Derek Mears (Chameleon), Tyrell Kemlo (Stabber), Jason Oettle (Letch)
After the relatively positive critical and undeniably commercial success of A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), writer/director Wes Craven followed it up with what is generally considered the worst film of his career, if not one of the worst horror films of the 1980s: The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 (1985), a highly unnecessary and cheaply made sequel to his gritty 1977 thriller about a family that takes a wrong turn in the desert and is besieged by a cannibalistic family. When The Hills Have Eyes was remade by Alexandre Aja in 2006, it was a no-brainer that a sequel would follow, but what I did not expect was the direct creative participation of Craven, who had been content to serve as producer on the remake. For the new sequel, Craven and his son Jonathan have written an entirely new screenplay, and I can only image that the desire to do so was fueled by Craven’s perceived need to replace the terrible memories of his previous sequel effort.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t replaced terrible memories so much as created new ones. The new Hills Have Eyes sequel is just about as bad as the original sequel, even if it is clearly the product of a higher budget and this time Craven has resisted the urge to pad the first 20 minutes with flashbacks from the first movie. The story picks up deep in the heart of the New Mexico desert where a family of cannibalistic miners who have been horribly mutated by atomic testing still live in the mountains and feed off random people unlucky or dumb enough to wander into such a remote area. The victims this time are not ordinary citizens, but rather a platoon of half-trained rookie National Guardsmen who are bringing supplies to a team of scientists that is slaughtered by the mutants in the first ten minutes (but only after we are treated to a gruesome scene of forced childbirth that is, for all intents and purposes, completely irrelevant to the rest of the movie).
The idea of pitting the movie’s monstrosities against the U.S. military (which, ironically, is responsible for their creation in the first place) is an intriguing idea the film largely squanders (one can see how James Cameron used a similar idea to make one of the truly great film sequels, Aliens, in 1986). Because the soldiers are neophytes (they are in the midst of training when they’re called out, which allows the film to indulge in a pseudo-Middle Eastern battle scene), they’re not particularly well equipped to deal with the horrors that befall them. Some have suggested that this might be satirical commentary on the current state of the U.S. military, but it feels much more like lazy writing. It would have taken too much effort to imagine a genuine scenario where soldiers were battling what are essentially guerilla fighters on their home turf and make it mean something.
What is worse, though, is that the Cravens and director Martin Weisz have seen fit to make the soldier protagonists so crude, obnoxious, and fundamentally unlikable that there is little if any reason to care when they are killed. In fact, with a few of them, you actually want to see them slaughtered if only to be spared having to listen to them hurl insults at each other. Only a few of the characters emerge as even vaguely memorable. Chief among these is PFC “Napoleon” Napoli (Michael McMillian), who is presented as a wimpy, anti-war peacenik for two likely reasons: First, it separates him from the other war-mongering soldiers and creates tension within the ranks, and second it allows the film to maintain some semblance of the original’s thematic preoccupation with the unavoidable nature of inherent human violence. When driven to extremes, even the most peaceable among us will respond violently (although why someone like Napoleon would join the National Guard is never explained). Not surprisingly, Napoleon outlasts most everyone else, just like the “effeminate” Democrat in the original who was duking it out with the mutants well into the film’s final frames.
The Hills Have Eyes II continues the modern horror film’s steady descent into forms of on-screen nastiness that I never thought the rating board would allow in an R-rated film (we’re to the point that having “unrated director’s cuts” on DVD is all but pointless). Director Martin Weisz, a veteran commercial and music video, made his name last year with the highly controversial German film Rohtenburg (still unreleased in the U.S. despite the presence of Keri Russell), which is about a graduate student researcher’s uneasy relationship with a captive serial killer. Weisz clearly has a taste for the darker side of life, and he keeps The Hills Have Eyes II humming with brutality, starting with the opening birth-in-bondage scene and then parading through grisly depictions of massive head trauma, dismemberment, and rape. In fact, it is hard not to imagine that the only reason the platoon counts two attractive women among its number is to provide potential rape victims, and when the film indulges in a highly emotional rape-revenge moment near the end, it goes nowhere near redeeming the ugliness of its sexual violence.
Of course, graphic violence and gore have been staples of horror movies for decades, and they can work, but only when they function in concert with other cinematic elements like theme and suspense. The Hills Have Eyes II lacks even a rudimentary interest in character, plot, or tension; it has a few cheap scares, but it never generates a real sense of dread or building pressure. Instead, it uses its feeble set-up to string together one grisly shock after another, with the most disgustingly memorable moment being a severely wounded man clawing his way out of the putrid hole in a Port-o-Potty. The metaphorical relevance for the experience of watching The Hills Have Eyes II is too obvious to warrant further comment.
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
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