In trying to find something positive to say about The Hills Have Eyes II, all I can come up with is that it’s relatively brief (89 minutes), it doesn’t bother with much in the way of character development, and it’s occasionally pretty funny. The last wasn’t intended, of course. Otherwise, it’s merely a stupid, sadistic, by-the-numbers exercise in lowest-common-denominator horror.
It may, however, be something of a landmark in that it’s the first film in living memory to make an issue of the fairly obvious fact that inbred mutant hillbillies are not merely disastrously bad housekeepers, but their personal hygiene is sufficiently wanting to make them unpleasant to be around. So even if these fellows didn’t want to eat you or breed with you, you probably still wouldn’t find them agreeable companions. Remember this when planning your next dinner party.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about The Hills Have Eyes II is that it isn’t the first time Wes Craven has made a lousy movie to follow his 1977 The Hills Have Eyes. He did it once before in 1985 with The Hills Have Eyes Part II. Did he learn anything in the intervening years? Well, he knew enough this round not to include a sequence in which a dog has a flashback to the previous film, and—perhaps more importantly—he learned not to sign the thing himself, but to turn it over to another director, Martin Weisz. Actually, the film’s name to one side, this new opus—penned by Craven and son Jonathan—bears no relation to the old 1985 sequel, which hardly matters since The Hills Have Eyes II is perfectly capable of being a rancid crapfest on its own merits.
The story—such as it is—picks up some time after the events of Alexander Aja’s 2006 remake of Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. Seems that the government thinks it has exterminated the mutated monsters from that film, and it now has a research team doing God knows what in the middle of the desert on a disused nuclear test site. Unfortunately, the research team doing God knows what hasn’t read the script (judging by the performances, nobody read the script till 30 seconds before filming each scene), and they are soon hacked, bludgeoned, mutilated and otherwise subjected to antisocial indignities various and sundry by the surviving monsters. But before the team had quite realized what’s afoot, they’d called in for a piece of replacement equipment, which the worst National Guard training unit on the face of the Earth (think about movies where Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello end up in the army, lose the laughs and multiply by nine) happens to be carrying around. The equipment-delivery side trip is, of course, bad news for the rookie soldiers, since the mutant larder needs restocking and the monsters’ breeding stock is running low.
That’s really all the plot there is. From here it’s just a matter of killing—or capturing and raping—the collection of meat-on-the-hoof military sorts. There’s a pretty high level of repellent scenes ranging from the birth of a new mutant via one of their previous captives (and, boy, does she need a chiropodist) to a nastily prolonged rape scene (on a woman who still seems to have her pants on when she’s rescued). There are also moments of credulity-straining humor, such as the scene where a mutant dresses up like one of the military-figure mannequins from the nuclear testing days in order to blend in with the other mannequins seated around a table on the off chance that a victim might wander past. For all we know, he might have been sitting there for years for this moment.
Occasionally, the film manages to be both repulsive and unintentionally funny: Consider the still alive be-merded victim who has somehow been thrust into the sewage compartment of a Port-a-John to die from infection. (One can only conclude that the compartment must be a close relative of the interior of Dr. Who’s TARDIS.) There’s a lot of running around and a vat full of gore, but so what? It’s all been done before and done better.
Somewhat bizarrely, Craven has ham-handedly—and wrong-headedly—grafted his politics onto all this via an anti-war vibe that simply doesn’t work. The liberal sensibility that actually informed his A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), which took on the results of vigilantism, and The People Under the Stairs (1991), which took on the Reagan era and Bush the First’s “Desert Storm,” is only a lip service veneer on this brainless exercise. Rated R for prolonged sequences of strong gruesome horror violence and gore, a rape and language.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke