Home Video Hovel- The Hills Have Eyes Part 2, by Aaron Pinkston
In my opinion, the golden age of horror wasn’t in the 1930’s, but the late 70’s and early 80’s. From Halloween to Alien, master filmmakers were dedicating themselves to the often schlocky genre, perfecting most every trope that we see in modern horror. Wes Craven was certainly one of those filmmakers — the man behind genius films like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream and (to a lesser extent) The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes fully established himself during this golden age. The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 is probably not a film he continues to put on his resume.
While this time brought many great horror classics, very few were able to be equally successful in sequels. Sure, Freddy, Jason and Michael Meyers were able to haunt audiences for decades, but no one can argue that their follow-ups were better horror. Most horror sequels of the 80’s shed a lot of the “horror” for silly gags or over-the-top excess. The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 fits this trend.
Probably the major problem of The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 is that it simply isn’t scary. Using a few survivors from the first saga, the film carries a pretty similar plot, with a group of young people getting stuck in a desert infested with mutant, inbred, cannibal hillbillies. It opens with Bobby (a survivor of the first film’s attack), speaking about the incident to his therapist. In a strange way, I thought this was actually a pretty clever way to propel itself into the plot, with the therapist telling Bobby everything is fine and he should face the desert to fully get over his traumatic experience. We soon learn that Bobby is a part of a group of young people who have designed a super fuel that can be used for motorcycles or stock cars or something, and they need to drive it across the desert to a convention to sell it or something (really, I don’t think it’s that important). The film takes its sweet time finally getting to the desert, more than 30 minutes. This is tough test for a horror film to pass, especially being a sequel with the expectations of a high body count and a connection to the killer hillbillies who don’t show up until about 40 minutes into the film.
It has been years since I’ve seen the original film, but that’s OK, because The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 is loaded with flashbacks of actual footage from The Hills Have Eyes — as if Craven is saying, “Hey! Remember how much better this film was?” Once we’re finally fully settled in, the horror never really comes. Though “the Reaper” and Pluto (played by the always wonderful Michael Berryman) are back, they aren’t treated as serious monsters, but clowns. Unlike the original film, which is gritty and traumatic, there is no point here where you feel like the characters are in any serious danger. The fact that they run around like they are the Scooby Doo gang and a few of them are killed by accidents and booby traps establishes that pretty well.
All of this isn’t to say that you should totally ignore this film. Though I haven’t heard of it being regarded as such, The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 is certainly the type of film to invite some friends over, grab some beverages, and watch at midnight. There are a number of high camp moments in the film including Michael Berryman being chased through the desert on a motorbike and a dog having a flashback where it attacked hillbillies in the original film (yes, a dog has a flashback). It’s not exactly a laugh-riot, but there are enough weird, campy moments like this that it can be classified as “so bad it’s good.”
As for this specific Blu-Ray release, it’s only a must-own for huge fans of the film who don’t already own it on VHS. At times, the transfer does look great, especially during desert scenes in bright sunlight — the grain really comes through fantastically. Any sequences that takes place at night or in low light (aka the climax of the film), it is difficult to see what is going on. I’m sure you’re not shocked that the restoration didn’t exactly get the Criterion Collection treatment. It is also light on special features. You can find the original trailer (which is actually scarier than watching the 90-minute version of the film) and a gallery of production stills and images. This lack is unfortunate for actual fans of the film who may have been interested in picking up the disc.