Tuesday, April 17, 2007


It’s some two years after the events of Alexandre Aja’s remake of The Hills Have Eyes, and it seems that the military have been conducting sweeps of Sector 16 apparently without finding any of the cannibalistic mutants that roam the area. They’ve just recently wired the place with surveillance and monitoring equipment, and a detachment of National Guard trainees are sent in on a delivery run, routine grunt work that turns deadly when the blood starts to flow.

Directed by Martin Weisz (Rohtenburg) and written by original Hills writer/director Wes Craven, and his son Jonathan, this sequel feels like nothing so much as a quickie cash cow, slapped together to rake in the dough. Populated by a bunch of dull ciphers, the film strides nonchalantly towards the climactic gorefest with nary a spike of excitement or tension to break the tedium.
I may not by the biggest fan of Aja’s Hills, but at the very least, that had this palpable sense of bleak desperation, where you could almost feel the heat and the grit and the sand. Wiesz’s Hills 2 is a pedestrian entry in the annals of modern horror cinema, the sort of shocker that really has no proper context in which to view the onscreen bloodletting. All we have here is a gruesome exercise in the torture and maiming of characters as we watch dully while they’re picked off one by one.
There’s a half-hearted attempt to humanize one Guard, Missy Martinez (One Tree Hill’s Daniella Alonso), but that doesn’t really hold water, so ultimately, all we have here is meat, pure and simple, waiting to be stalked and gutted. (And in the case of Flex Alexander’s Sarge, you’re almost praying for it.)
We’re not even treated to the demise of recognizable TV stars like the usual horror movie of today (the House of Wax remake alone had alumni from 24, Gilmore Girls, and One Tree Hill, with Paris Hilton thrown in for good measure). The ultimate anonymity of these soon-to-be-dead-and-defiled Guards (and by extension, this film) is assured.

Writer Ed Gorman once described Craven’s original The Hills Have Eyes as “… an existentialist’s notion of a Saturday matinee,” while film critic Steven H. Scheuer considered it “… a serious attempt at social criticism within the horror genre.”
I haven’t seen the movie in ages (viewed in an after-school screening at a friend’s house during the glorious age of the Betamax), but I do recall my reaction: it was a riveting experience, and ultimately unpleasant, a bleak, nihilistic film that got under one’s skin, or like desert sand into the creases and crevices of one’s body. (Of course, at the time, I had no idea what the word “nihilistic” meant; I just knew it wasn’t a “fun” horror movie.)
And though it was the sort of movie that I wasn’t particularly eager to view repeatedly, it left a mark. It was potent low-budget cinema, that, like Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre before it, looked and felt awfully real, like some hellish documentary directed by an Inquisition torturer.
Thus, though Aja’s remake was certainly a passable example of today’s brand of extreme horror, it still felt fake compared to the original.
Weisz’s sequel feels even less genuine, mostly because it doesn’t really sink its claws into the audience. It just kind of presents the situation without placing us in the middle of the action. The experience is like watching Top Chef, or Hell’s Kitchen; you can see the food, but you can’t taste it. You just have to take the judges’ word for its edibility.

So how do I know The Hills Have Eyes 2 is a good horror movie? Because Martin Weisz and Wes Craven told me so.

Parting shot: Incidentally enough, I was also disappointed by Craven’s own sequel, 1985‘s The Hills Have Eyes Part II. Weisz’s version, though co-written by Craven, tells a different story, as this one spins off from Aja’s Hills, which made the idea that the cannibals were mutated by atomic testing—only implied in Craven’s original—explicit, by setting the action in Sector 16.

(Original The Hills Have Eyes 2 OS rejected by the MPAA, courtesy of eatmybrains.com.)

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