The Hills Have Eyes II (2007)


Reviewed by Scott Weinberg
I see a lot of movies; last fall, I got to see one get made. Fox Atomic whisked me (and four other professional movie geeks) off to Morocco to visit the set of The Hills Have Eyes 2. And I was really impressed by what was going on there. The crew members were working hard and completely gracious. The actors, the producers, the screenwriters... All of 'em seemed convinced that they were making not only a quality horror flick, but one that would hold up alongside the original Hills Have Eyes and last year's surprisingly solid remake. All I can guess is that something crazy must have happened between that moment and this one, because the flick I just got done watching (late, because it wasn't screened for critics) felt rushed, cheap, lazy, and entirely slapped together. The movie I saw being made in Morocco was intriguing, impressive, and held promise as a good-time, sequel-to-a-remake sort of horror flick; the film I saw in the theater today had none of that. And in the end, until they can take every ticket-paying customer to Morocco, the movie's the thing.

The Hills Have Eyes 2 takes place in the same patch of rock-strewn desert that we visited in the recent remake. This time around, instead of a generally helpless family being terrorized by a group of man-eating mutants, we get a crew of amazingly clueless National Guard soldiers who venture into the wrong patch of the world, and really live to regret it.

(OK, only some of 'em live to regret it.) Each of the soldiers can be described by precisely one word: There's the "macho" guy, the "sensitive" dude, the "mothering" gal, the "blonde," the "idiot," the "Sarge," and the "lispy" guy. I think there were a few more in there, but they all kinda blurred into one supremely uninteresting character by the beginning of Act II. Anyway, the soldiers wander around for a little while before they (all together now) start getting picked off one by one by feral freaks, first on a mountainside and then again inside a mine that's been abandoned for 50 years but still has running electricity and fresh light bulbs. The premise is about as creative as a TV dinner, basically.

But it's silly to knock a movie called "Hills Have Eyes 2" for not possessing a dense plot, clever dialogue, or multi-hued characters. So I won't. Instead I'll simply state the opinion that nothing in this movie is even remotely scary. Gory, sure. Disgusting, yeah. Unpleasant, absolutely. But as far as stuff like mood, atmosphere, tone, and intensity are concerned, this sequel is a completely empty vessel. One could focus on the surprisingly bland screenplay (by genre legend Wes Craven and his son Jonathan), but I think much of the blame lies at the feet of second-time director Martin Weisz. (His first film was the very slow yet kinda creepy Grimm Love, which had more color and creativity in its first seven minutes than do all 88 of Hills 2.) Every non-mayhem scene is framed like a TV movie; we're constantly cutting to shots of characters who speak amazingly generic dialogue directly into the screen while positioned smack-dab in the middle of the frame. For a flick that's supposed to be drenched in grim anticipation and claustrophobia, it sure doesn't mind yapping away and then speeding through moments that might evolve into something dark, disturbing, or anything other than dreary.

The cast is composed of actors as photogenic as they are unremarkable.
The stunning mutant FX that I saw back in Morocco hit the screen in dimly-lit flashes and with next to no creativity whatsoever. (Several of my fellow viewers actively chuckled at a few of the beasties, and I really don't think that's what Weisz and Company were going for here.) The pacing is leaden, the characters are aggressively transparent, the kill scenes are generally flat, and the flick has a really unpleasant nasty streak that it doesn't really earn. (The rape scenes in the previous iterations of "Hills" were ice-water terrifying, and sprang from the story; in this film the 9-second sequence is just ugly, not to mention tacked-on, extraneous, and ugly.) And then the whole thing wraps up with a finale that's as abrupt as it is unsatisfying. Hardcore gorehounds will almost certainly appreciate the few stray moments of creative bloodletting, even if they find themselves semi-snoozing through everything else Hills 2 has to offer.

I feel torn about writing this review; I liked everyone I met on the Hills 2 set, and I really like horror flicks -- including sequels. But the end result of the process I witnessed simply didn't congeal into a good horror film -- simple, and sad, as that. Set visits are publicity, and, if you're lucky, light-but-fun journalism; at the same time, seeing the hardworking people on a set and contrasting that with a disappointing end result feels like an experience I don't wish to repeat again.