"I don't think God knows about this place." -- Delmar
Last year, we were treated to a serviceable, if not fantastic remake to Wes Craven's classic The Hills Have Eyes. It did well at the box office, and like the original it was left open for a sequel. It took eight years for us to get the less than stellar follow up to the original. Remake sequel time was only a year. In what should have been a good decision, instead of remaking the original sequel, The Hills Have Eyes II goes off in a completely new direction.
For those who missed the original or last year's remake, here's what you need to know. In the ‘50s, the Army did atom bomb tests in the Nevada desert. However, the miners who lived in the area refused to move out. They hid in their sprawl of tunnels, were horribly mutated by the radiation, and their descendents are a batch of sub-human, cannibal mutants who kill and eat anyone who happens to wander through the area. Well, almost anyone. The women, as we're brutally shown in the opening credits sequence, are kept for breeding stock before they're butchered.
This is how The Hills Have Eyes II lets you know it's going to be a sub-par follow-up pretty much right off the bat: First, it has three pre-main event setups. The first is the one I described above. The second is a set of title cards that informs us that the Army is aware of the mutant infestation, and has sent in a team to find and study the mutant miners. We get to see them die horribly, leading to the third setup, the introduction of our heroes for the movie.
Our cast is the standard gang of military cutouts that we've seen ever since Aliens perfected the genre of soldiers vs. monsters. But this time, instead of the standard batch of hard-bitten experts, we're introduced to a group of nine Reservists who are just finishing training before being shipped off to Iraq. Oh, and their hard-bitten Sergeant.
We've got our "not quite sure about this whole war thing" Napoleon (Michael "Firefly" McMillian), tough gal/loving mom Missy (Daniella Alonso), calm but tough Delmar (Lee Thompson "Smallville" Young ), and more. There's the "Game Over" panic guy, our "Gomer Pyle" guy, and so forth. These green recruits are not a rescue team. They're bringing our dead scientists fresh supplies, and our mutants fresh meat.
Once our team arrives at the camp, and find it empty, they begin a search of the hills for the scientists. Due to the nature of said hills, the team is unable to radio their base to ask for backup or let them know that something weird is going on. From here, it's the standard game of cat and mouse/ten little Indians as the mutants pick the solders off one by one.
Now, this could have been great. Aliens, Dog Solders, and even DOOM showed that with sharp writing and interesting characters, this kind of story could be fun and edge-of-your-seat scary. Especially when the soldiers move into the mutants' caves to recover one of their own who's been kidnapped. However, none of these characters are particularly interesting or memorable. Which means it's really hard to care about them as they meet their bloody ends.
Speaking of those ends, there's only one that's really creative, and the rest are your standard fare of sharp things turning people into minced meat. While there is some impressive gore, the scares of the movie are just as rote as the character backgrounds. Most frights are of the "BOO! Ha, it was the cat. BOO!" variety. Now, those can be very effective, with the right tension before the jump, but all too often they're just a cheap scare. And that is the case here.
There is no tension in this movie at all. Sure, it's a little tense as our solders wander around in the dark, but you know in this type of horror flick that most of them are meat piles waiting to happen, so your tension can't come from there. It should come from our caring about the characters, so that we want them to be one of the lucky survivors, and that makes us afraid for them as the mutant with the cleaver stalks through the dark. Here, we're just waiting for their number to pop up.
Another thing that bothered me about The Hills Have Eyes II is something that's a bit sensitive. In the original and the remake there was an implied rape, which gave the movie an unseemly edge. It wasn't done just for shock value, because of the way it was just implied. In this sequel, there is a direct and brutal rape. It's not graphic, but it's pretty obvious that it was done to shock us. "Look how horrible these mutants are!" Yea, we know. We got that already.
With its rote direction, bad characters, and paper-thin story, there's not really a lot to recommend The Hills Have Eyes II. It has substandard slasher scares, good blood and guts, but no real heart.
And with an ending about as ambiguous as the originals and the remakes, I'm sure we can count on a third one. Maybe next time the mutants can hit the road, and move into the sewers of a major city, becoming cannibals habitating underground dwellings . . . nah, that pitch would never work for a movie.