The Hills Have Eyes II
ZERO STARS/**** Image N/A Sound A Extras D
starring Michael McMillian, Jessica Stroup, Daniella Alonso, Jacob Vargas
screenplay by Wes Craven & Jonathan Craven
directed by Martin Weisz
by Walter Chaw I don't have any real objection to anything depicted in The Hills Have Eyes II: not to the live-birth prologue that ends with the grisly murder of the mother; not to the greenstick demise of one National Guardsman or the death-by-feces of another; not even to the brutal rape of still another enlistee whose very existence opens the door for an ugly sequel. No: testament to the howling ineptitude of the enterprise is that its every desperate attempt to offend fails miserably. It's so poorly directed and edited, in fact, that not only is nothing frightening (which is to be expected, frankly)--nothing's surprising, either. Every jump scare is completely telegraphed, the nigh-invulnerability of the bad guys is totally predictable, and every fatality of every alleged hero is delivered sans pathos or, really, consequence. It doesn't matter who dies because who lives has already been decided within the first few minutes. What's more, it's already been divined by the dullest member of the audience--said dull member the only one who gives enough of a shit to try to figure it out in the first place and stick it out through to the end. The sole reason why anyone would watch the whole thing would be if they were paid to do so, and even then, it's only money. Let me stress, though, that you're not leaving because the movie is horrific, appalling, and a moral vacuum--you're leaving because it sucks balls.
Looking and behaving like a Sci-Fi Channel original production, this sequel to the remake has a clueless National Guard unit sent to The Desert (political allegory alert!) to fight CHUD so dehumanized that it should inspire some serious analysis as to what, exactly, the filmmakers were thinking in asking their central-casting cast to explicitly draw an analogy between their plight and that of the U.S. servicemen fighting in Iraq. Let me get this straight, humour me: are you saying that our soldiers are untrained, pretty-boy (and girl) morons led by screaming lieutenants--without anything resembling order or a plan--into the middle of a hostile land peopled by inhuman, indestructible mutants? It's starting to play like a Robert Heinlein military satire, where the goats are our fighting men and women instead of the idiot leadership that dropped them into a pressure cooker.
The Hills Have Eyes II is making the case that trained soldiers are bad at what they do and that Muslims are just mutants with a few different consonants. For all the daisies I put into rifles, that bothers the hell out of me. Any suggestion from the last film that we're at least responsible for our enemy's mutation is jettisoned along with anything like the cinematic sheen professional misanthrope Alexandre Aja brought to that project, replaced here by childish line-drawing and comparatively juvenile notions of what's gross and what's scary. It's a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and yadda yadda--a string of idiots, actually, chief among them the once-vital Wes Craven, who's been apologizing for Last House on the Left ever since with post-modern japes and now nepotism. (His apparently talentless son co-wrote the screenplay.) Respect due anyone for trying to say some of the things this script asks them to say--though respect doesn't make it any easier to endure.
Likewise hard to endure are the badly-choreographed action sequences and long stretches of unintentional hilarity when some not-tough guy tries to act tough and some covergirl model tries to go Ripley on the chief baddie. The make-up looks like rubber vomit and the stunt work feels ported over, Jim Wynorski-like, from the outtakes of a bigger production. Although there's nothing in here as America-hating as the Old Glory-murder from the last picture, The Hills Have Eyes II is nonetheless a pretty good example of a movie that hates the wrong parts of America while providing grist for the opposition mill. Gorehounds might appreciate a smashed head and a brain-excavation, but lousy timing and camerawork neuter these little dreadfuls, too. If anything, the film is the model for sequels that don't care because they know no one not seeing the film will ever bother, and no one seeing the film would dream of missing it or care that it's terrible. It's a complete waste of time; you know you're in trouble when Eli Roth suddenly looks like a philosopher and an artist.
For what it's worth, The Hills Have Eyes II's unrated DVD features four minutes of deleted scenes (nothing the least bit distinguishable from what finally wound up the film) and a short gag reel (again, could've plugged it into the picture proper with no disruption to continuity--or lack thereof). As is Fox's occasional policy, our screener arrived on a generic DVD-R that occasionally pops up a floating "property of" .gif with the 20th Century Fox logo attached to it. Bad enough on its own, whenever the disc prepares to remind you who its masters are, the bit rate slows and the image hesitates. Thinking it might just be the advanced processor speed of my main machine, I stuck it in my thirty-dollar region-free player and it simply stopped. Yep. Sufficed to say I'm not going to assess the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer because I have no idea what consumers are getting for their ill-spent cash, though I can confirm that the DD 5.1 audio is suitably loud, with lots of rear-atmospherics that almost, almost get your heart pumping. In terms of featurettes, the platter includes "Birth of a Graphic Novel" (13 mins.), which wisely skirts the film altogether in detailing a comic sprung from the remake; "Exploring the Hills" (12 mins.), a standard making-of docu; "Mutant Attacks" (10 mins.), a piece inordinately proud of a pimply-faced kid's garage lab invention of the bad guys; and "Fox Movie Channel Presents: Life After Film School with Wes Craven" (10 mins.), wherein three aspiring filmmakers chat with Craven. Yes, it's painful. A trailer for Perfect Creature and the Fox Horror trailer reel start on insertion. Originally published: August 16, 2007.