Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Director Report Card: Wes Craven (1984) Part 3

8. The Hills Have Eyes Part II

After “Deadly Blessing” was largely ignored by the public and “Swamp Thing” bombed, Wes Craven was in desperate need of some work. Out of this uncertain period, emerged the idea to sequelize what was, at the time, Craven’s biggest financial success. However, midway through filming “The Hills Have Eyes Part II,” time and money ran out. The film was abandoned. After “A Nightmare on Elm Street” reignited the director’s career, Craven tried to convince the producers to finish up “Hills Part II.” Instead, they told him to insert a bunch of stock footage from the first film into the new one. Thus, the misbegotten birth of “The Hills Have Eyes Part II.”

Picking up five years after the events of the first film, Ruby has integrated herself into polite society and Bobby is still haunted by the memories of what happened in the desert. He has also, oddly, invented a new type of super-active motorcycle fuel. His new group of motorcycle racer friends, including blind Cass, are headed out to the desert for a race and to test this new fuel. Bobby gets last minutes jitters and decides to stay home. This turns out to be a good decision. As soon as they are in the desert, the racers are attacked by a resurrected Pluto and his previously unmentioned uncle.

The movie is infamous for the amount of footage it recycles from the first film, perhaps only rivaled by “Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2” in the dubious category of literal rehash horror sequels. Even the original’s opening credits are reused. Scenes from the first film are so overused, and contrast so badly with the new ones, that the original is almost retroactively robbed of its power. It gets to the point where you wonder if a simple scene transition is actually another flashback. Every returning character gets a flashback, including the dog, a widely mocked, deeply silly moment. Aside from that, the opening scroll is obviously cribbed from “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” to a much lesser affect. If this is what was required to get the movie finished, I honestly wish the director had just left the raw footage in the vaults.

Even if the film had been finished as the director originally intended, I suspect it would still have been a pale shadow of the original. The script is hackneyed, goofy, and clichéd. A lot of horror sequels struggle with finding a good reason to place surviving characters back in the same harrowing situation. In the opening, Bobby recounts to his oddly enthusiastic shrink about how badly the encounter with Jupiter’s brood fucked him up. The mere thought of returning to the desert turns him into a weeping, quivering mess. So much so that… He doesn’t go back into the desert. The actor and character disappears abruptly at the end of the first act. This is a good indicator of the sloppy film to follow. That Bobby ends up being right isn’t something the movie addresses much. Actor Robert Houston is cashing a pay-check and his sudden exit seems unplanned. Ruby and the Beast, still the smartest dog in the world, able to detect evil, and incredibly spry considering he has to be pushing seventy in dog-years by this point; are the only reoccurring protagonist from the first film.

The movie’s excuse for getting everyone out in the desert again is weak. None of the characters in the first film ever displayed an interest in motorcycle racing. Its sudden intrusion into the story comes off as kind of random. The cast is headed for some sort of race but miss the deadline due to Daylights Saving Time, making “The Hills Have Eyes Part II” another eighties slasher film based around an unlikely calendar event. The prominent placement of motorcycles and dirt bikes makes me think that Yamaha put up some of the money for the film. Even the villains have them! The Super Formula of gasoline is such a blatant McGuffin and plot device. The film laboriously notes that it’s super-explosive, making the inevitable massive explosion even more predictable.

The script relies blatantly on clichés and hacky story devices. The movie knowingly indulges the slasher tropes of the day. Even though they are stranded in the desert and being hunted by savages, two young, nubile lovers sneak off for some nookie at one point. There’s a shower scene randomly inserted as well. A body is tossed through a window and Harry Manfredini’s score seems recycled from various “Friday the 13th” sequels. Despite this, slasher fans are bound to be disappointed. There’s little gore. A spear through the chest here, an axe in the head there, and two instances of blood from the mouth. The only true gore gag is an unconvincing throat-slashing.

What I hate most about the film is how fast and loose it treats the characters’ legacies. Making a sequel to “The Hills Have Eyes” without poster boy Michael Berryman would have been dicey, for certain. However, the character returns nearly without explanation. Pluto recovering from his wounds is given little explanation and doesn’t amount to much more then “He got better.” We are even shown Pluto’s very final seeming death in one of the notorious flashback scenes, making his miraculous recovery even more ridiculous. His eventual death is more-or-less recycled from Mercury’s demise in the first film. Getting pushed off a cliff by a dog might have befitted a minor character like Mercury but, for a horror icon like Pluto, it sure is unglamorous. Ruby too, has a very disappointing exit from the film, one that seems created more by sloppy editing then anything else.

Pluto’s mysterious reappearance is bad. The entire character of the Reaper is much worse. Papa Jupe having an older brother not only openly contradicts the information we were given in the first film, it’s a hacky, cheesy story choice. Perhaps that would have been forgivable if he was an effective villain. He’s not. The character looks silly, an undistinguished burly biker type with a ridiculous bulging forehead. He spends most of the movie whispering threats to characters off-screen. Near the end, he dives through a moon roof and gets stuck on the glass, allowing the final girl to escape. It says a lot about the Reaper’s effectiveness as a horror villain that a blind girl manages to escape him unharmed. Unlike Pluto, the character’s eventual death is totally fitting. (And features the movie’s sole Wes Craven Improvised Booby Trap.) When someone yells “The Reaper sucks!,” the audience is inclined to agree.

The new villain isn’t the only annoying addition to "The Hills Have Eyes” legacy. The whole cast are undistinguished spam-in-a-van (bus?) slasher bait. Harry, played by Peter Frechette, is maybe the most annoying prankster character to ever grace the genre. The events of the first film have become an urban legend, an admittedly interesting idea, which Harry recounts in extended detail, in an obnoxious “scary” voice. He does this several times. The character refuses to shut up. We are even denied the satisfaction of watching him die painfully, as the character is buried in an obscuring rock slide. Willard E. Pugh’s Foster is, similarly, maybe the most generic eighties black guy ever. His girlfriend, played by the lovely if otherwise uninteresting Penny Johnson, even calls him “a typical, paranoid black man.” His idea for winning her back after upsetting her involves chasing the girl down with a bus. The final girl, Cass played by Tamara Stafford, is blind, which is an intriguing idea. Scenes of her feeling around empty rooms, terror near-by, recall the much better, Mia Farrow thriller “See No Evil.” Even then, the movie pushes her advanced senses too far. A character asks if she’s psychic and she might as well be. The rest of the cast, with names like “Hulk” and “Jane,” don’t warrant mention. For the record, Michael Berryman hams it up as a cackling loon, which is at least entertaining. Janus Blythe contributes the only human moment in the whole movie, talking about her family and past while walking through the desert.

Yep, it's on Blu-Ray.
It probably isn’t worth mentioning but the movie isn’t scary. There’s an obvious, early fake-out scare involving a boyfriend in a mask which doesn’t even fools the film’s characters. This is the first of many obnoxious fake scares. There are so many that, when the actual scares come, you’re not sure if they’re the real deal at first. Silly as it is, the motorcycle action is at least somewhat excitingly shot. Weirdly, there’s a lot of focus on fight choreography. It’s actually not bad but seemingly untrained characters knowing how to pull off drop-kicks, judo tosses, and karate chops eventually comes off as ridiculous. The movie even acknowledges this when Rudy punches Foster straight in the face, the film’s sole moment of intentional comedy.

Well, the scenery is still nice. The design department contributes a few, cool looking bone sculptures. The movie is largely set around a mine shaft, a great location for a slasher film. It also appears to be where the cannibal clan keeps their plundered loot, which is a clever call-back to the first film. Over all though, “The Hills Have Eyes Part II” is a laughable, regrettable sequel. Wes Craven has publicly disowned it which says a lot, considering the films of his he does acknowledge. Also, the movie should have been called “The Hills Still Have Eyes.” [Grade: D]

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