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March 24, 2007 |

By Phillip Stephens | Film | March 24, 2007 |

Wes Craven’s original The Hills Have Eyes became a minor cult-classic due chiefly (I presume) to its crude exploration of American myth — the fear of savages lurking in the margins of civilization, often manifested as barbarous rural folk, much like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre before it. The conspiracy of a community of monstrous outcasts against hapless commoners is an overused trope of the horror genre, so when Craven returned to the premise for an abysmal 1985 sequel, the shallowness of the whole enterprise was brought into starker relief. Outside its disturbing conceits (nuclear mutation, inbreeding, deformity), Craven’s films were essentially exploitation-slashers — an excuse for gruesomeness and violence with little discernible quality to justify them.

Last year’s remake from writer-director Alexandre Aja was a rare instance of an improvement on the original idea. His film was far from perfect, but the operatic changes in style and his idea to bolster the nuclear fallout aspect gave some much-needed weight to Craven’s original. But Aja wasn’t around for this sequel, which, like Craven’s 1985 rehashing, ejects everything from the franchise that might’ve made it interesting or watchable. Craven shares co-writing duties with his son, Jonathan, on The Hills Have Eyes II, but I can’t tell if this film’s weaknesses are an attempt by Craven at intentional irony or not; given his metafictional masturbation in New Nightmare and the Scream series, though, it seems possible. But either way, this film is every bit as stupid and pointless an exercise as its ’80s predecessor.

The Hills Have Eyes II pans out like any typical Sci Fi Channel detritus: It stars a cadre of non-talents who fulfill some vague stereotype (hothead, intellectual, badass, goofball) and has absolutely no plot to speak of. It simply moves from scene to scene and inserts monsters when necessary.

After the events of the first film, the nuclear no-man’s-land is quarantined and investigated by the army, who are setting up some kind of surveillance when the mutants come a-knockin’. Later, a team of National Guard recruits (the aforementioned stereotypes) stumble into the area and discover the resultant carnage. All of the soldiers are so narrowly, stupidly characterized that it’s hard to mount any tension or find sympathy for them, and in spite of their military training and automatic weapons, they fare no better against the spear-wielding mongoloids than anyone else before them.

Indeed, not only is the film’s narrative completely devoid of any redeeming factors, it’s absolutely, unapologetically disgusting, so much so that it actually works to the detriment of the film. Usually this is a boon in horror films, a genre that, by conceit alone, shouldn’t be for the faint-of-heart, but Hills II offers up puerile savagery for the sole purpose of revolting the viewer. It was enough to give even me pause. Usually, I’m the first Pajiban to find gore and depravity amusing, where some of my peers would deem it unappealing (or unethical!). I was thoroughly indifferent, for instance, toward Eli Roth’s Hostel and enjoyed the degenerate stupidity of See No Evil. In fact, the only film I’ve found somewhat disturbing of late was Apocalypto, which showcased Mel Gibson’s childlike reverence for real human brutality.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been a horror fan for a long time, but I find most of these films merely detached throwbacks to our more juvenile indulgences — those “Ew! Gross!” moments of heightened sensation. Violence in horror films is seldom actually violent, but kind of comic excess that taps into our more unusual frames of mind. But the violence in Hills II — the severed limbs, gutted corpses, impaled heads, and exposed brain matter — isn’t entertaining; none of it is intended to be provocative or even funny. It’s just there because it dovetails nicely with the rest of the film’s wanton inanity; basically, it only serves to distract us from the movie’s utter lack of redeeming qualities.

It’s possible that, for the first time, I’ve begun to question my neutrality toward this kind of thing. There’s some serious nihilism going on here; director Martin Weisz and the Cravens seem to use it only to bolster their total lack of talent by highlighting the blood and guts for no reason save that it distracts the audience for the film’s otherwise deadpan stupidity. Hell, maybe it’s time I renounce my interest in this type of flick. Or maybe The Hills Have Eyes II was just an exceptionally dumb movie.

Phillip Stephens is the lead critic for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR.

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The Hills Have Eyes II / Phillip Stephens

Film | March 24, 2007 |

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