The Hills Have Eyes II Review
Country : USA
Running Time: 89 minutes
A team of military grunts are about to discover that the Carter family's terror two years ago doesn't hold a candle to the horrors awaiting them as the horrid truth of Sector 16 is revealed....
Directed by Martin Weisz. Written by Wes Craven and Jonathan Craven. Starring Michael McMillian, Jessica Stroup, Daniella Alonso, Jacob Vargas, Flex Alexander, Jeff Kober and Michael Bailey Smith.
How many times can lightning be caught in a bottle? That's the question the makers of 2007's The Hills Have Eyes II--denoted by year so that it won't be confused with the 1985 film of the identical name--seem to pose. The old remake-of-a-classic and then prequel-to-the-remake worked to grand result with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And last year's remake of Wes Craven's 1977 classic The Hills Have Eyes was a hit at the box office and with fans. So what could go wrong with a next-year sequel to that remake? A whole hell of a lot, that's what.
What a pleasant surprise it is, then, that Martin Weisz' The Hills Have Eyes II is an admirably taut and occasionally thrilling romp. It's no accident that Craven's own name turns up--alongside his son Jonathan's--on the screenwriting credit. As a producer of last year's film, it's clear that the burgeoning franchise has his full endorsement. And where that film ended, this film begins about two years afterward. We may assume that the surviving members of the Carter family are safe as houses, as the prologue card only mentions the deaths we already knew about. Meanwhile, on the former nuclear testing site out in the desert known as "Sector 16," the military has positioned a research team. Only they are shortly decimated by mutant hill-people still living in the area. And when contact is lost, a group of gung-ho soldiers, sore from a poor performance during a fight simulation, lands the shit job of investigating this god-forsaken chunk of sand and rock.
The leader of this pack of grunts is Sarge (Flex Alexander). Then there are the privates, including devoted single mom Missy (Daniella Alonso), resourceful Amber (Jessica Stroup), rebellious Napoleon (Michael McMillian) and volatile Crank (Jacob Vargas) plus others. The post was supposed to have been commanded by one Redding (Jeff Kober), and once the carnage begins, the now-crazed and battered officer is eventually located, barely alive and sputtering gibberish; that he shortly blows his own brains out is short order for these kinds of films.
As the dwindling number of privates tumble into a labyrinth of ruined mining shafts with further drop-offs, it's clear that the extent of mutant activity we saw in Alexandre Aja's winning flick from last year was just the tip of the iceberg. This year's mutants must have taken some lessons from the unnamed cretins in The Descent, at least where underground claustrophobia and cave-in peril are concerned. Brutality runs red as more and more folks fall prey to the monstrous beings in the byzantine lair.
Where Hills II's characters lack the component of family devotion, they compensate heavily with the bond that encompasses those who serve in the military. Make no mistake, even if there's no Big Bob, Ethel, Brenda or Bobby Carter this time around, these are good characters essayed by competent performers who sell the peril with aplomb. PFC Missy carries around a cell phone with a recorded video message from her beloved young son; that cell phone, we all know, will eventually play a key component to the key to escape. Also, as per the previous film (or films, considering Craven's original), there's even a sympathetic mutant whose actions are instrumental in the survival of the protagonists.
In the department of depravity, none thought the ante could be upped beyond the previous film's rape sequence. Guess what, friends and neighbors? This time, we get a birth sequence (obviously resultant of an earlier rape) involving an innocent victim, then an horrific act of violence by Papa Hades. And that's just in the prologue. Michael Bailey Smith, who played the mutant Pluto in last year's outing, makes for an even more unsettling villain this time as Hades. Despite Pluto's axe-swinging prowess and Jason-esque features, you'll forget that character when you see the truly sinister creation here. Kudos for an exceptional performance from Michael Bailey Smith.
Principal photography for The Hills Have Eyes II was shot in Morocco, as with its predecessor. (For an entertaining anecdote of the shoot, read Paul Salfen's interview with cast member Jacob Vargas here.) And while the film bears no resemblance to Craven's own ill-fated 1985 sequel to his original, it's somewhat ironic the closing credits include snippets of a song entitled "The Hills Have Eyes," performed in imitation hair-metal 80's style by a band called Loudlion. Compare that with "Love Is A Lie" by real hair-metal 80's band Lion (used in Friday The 13th, Part IV), and there just might be an in-joke somewhere. Or I'm reading too much into end credits. Hell, who can blame me for not letting that one go, even at the possible expense of revealing my own nerdish tendencies?
The Hills Have Eyes II succeeds where it has every right to fail. It doesn't match its predecessor from a year ago, and it shares a title with a throwaway from twenty-two years ago. But strangely, it works. And not just marginally. It carries its 89 minutes with a marked and assured gusto, and it's even blessed by a more-than-ample cast who make the characters likable. When these folks fall, you'll be pissed. When they emerge victorious, you'll cheer. And when the film ends with its final revelation, you'll....well, no point in revealing that....
DISCUSS ON OUR FORUMS
Review by Petch Lucas, for Pitofhorror.com