Hills Have Eyes Part II (The) AKA The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Odeon Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (7th February 2016).
The Film

"The Hills Have Eyes Part 2" (1984)

It’s been 8 years since the events of “The Hills Have Eyes” in which the Carter family experienced the terror of being attacked and tortured by cannibals in the desert. Bobby Carter (played by Robert Houston) who was a teenager then, still has nightmares about the incident in which members of his family were killed including both his parents. Bobby’s motocross racing friends are getting ready for a race to take place near the same desert area where the traumatic events took place, but this makes Bobby’s flashbacks to the horrors even worse, so he decides not to go. Instead taking his place is Rachel (played by Janus Blythe), the co-owner of the bike team, understanding of his trauma.

The group of 8 young twenty-somethings take their motorbikes on a bus and ride out to the desert while talking about the crazy events of years back of the cannibal family, seemingly uncaring about their friend and colleague Bobby’s past. The driver takes a wrong turn off the main road in which the kids find an ominous looking sign saying “Welcum” with bones decorated, but for some odd reason they continue to move forward on the road which leads to an old mining shaft. Things start to take a darker turn when the aforementioned cannibal family spots the kids snooping around. Pluto (played by Michael Berryman), who was thought to be dead during the events of the first film, attacks Rachel and steals one of the motorbikes. The slightly injured Rachel must confess to her friends that she was actually the daughter Ruby of the cannibal family that helped Bobby 8 years back and she was able to escape. Not only that, but the man that attacked her was her older brother. Will they be able to escape from the desert alive or will they meet the same fate as Bobby and his family?

The 1977 original “The Hills Have Eyes” was a huge hit around the world, but also causing controversy just like the director Wes Craven’s previous film 1972’s “Last House on the Left”, with the use of violence, torture, and sexuality on film. Craven’s name was not exactly on the A-list as his 2 most famous films were more infamous for controversy and his subsequent films such as “Deadly Blessing” (1981) and “Swamp Thing” (1982) were not box office hits. In 1984 Craven was said to be broke and desperate to make something directing, leading him to cave in to writing and directing the sequel to “The Hills Have Eyes” as an easy sell to producers, and Craven persuaded some of the original cast members to return - Robert Houston, Janus Blythe, and Michael Berryman as Bobby, Rachel, and Pluto respectively. 1984 was a monumental year for Wes Craven, with his name becoming synonymous as a “master of horror”, though unfortunately it was not for “The Hills Have Eyes Part 2”, but for the other film he directed in 1984 - “A Nightmare on Elm Street”.

“A Nightmare on Elm Street” was released wide in late 1984 breaking box office records, cementing the financially fledging film company New Line Cinema, making Freddy Krueger a household name and also making the name “Wes Craven” a name recognizable not only to horror fans but also to mainstream movie fans. But what about “The Hills Have Eyes Part 2”? The production itself was not plagued with problems but it’s very obvious that Craven’s heart was not in the project at all. The script is clumsily written, with plot holes, silly dialogue, and scares that don’t scare enough. A major problem with the film is that it relies too heavily with scenes from the first film. Continuity between a series of films is one thing, but when scenes are re-used in flashbacks over and over, it is a lot of filler. The audience sees flashbacks of Bobby destroying the camper, Rachel’s flashbacks when she rescued the baby, and even the dog’s flashbacks. Yes, the dog. Are these to remind people about what transpired from the 1977 film for those who didn’t watch it or don’t remember it? But because of these flashback sequences introduced early in the film, the audience was not at all surprised at the later horrors. The original film was effective in building up the tension as the audience is not sure who or what to expect, as reveals were more subtly done. The characters were also problematic, first off with the returning cast: Pluto was curiously put in the sequel even though his throat was torn out in the first movie, and no explanation was given as to how he survived. Bobby’s character is only present for about 10 minutes and is probably one of the smarter characters not to go with the gang to the desert, but this goes against storytelling rules completely. With his character opening the film, he should at least have some purpose such as overcoming his fear by the end, warning everyone not to go because of what happened, or even die trying to survive. It just seems like a waste and a red herring to throw his character in the opening and never to see him again. Rachel is an interesting character to say the least, as the former member of the cannibal family who escaped to civilization, but her character is not very interesting on screen. If she had such an abusive traumatic life for the years in the desert, why was she so open to going with the group to the desert? She must have had more reason NOT to go than Bobby’s character. She also makes no warning and gives no advice to the friends even though she knows that her deranged family is near, only revealing that she was a family member after she gets attacked. Was keeping her family secret more important than the lives of her friends? And to give a spoiler to those who haven’t watched it, what happens to her character? She is not killed and we never see her at the ending. Was this to tease a possible “The Hills Have Eyes Part 3”? (Which that actually was made, but is better known as “Wes Craven’s Mind Ripper”, and her character doesn’t appear in it.)

For the rest of the characters, none of them particularly have much to keep them memorable. The boyfriend/girlfriend Roy and Cass are ones that stand out, with Roy (played by Kevin Spirtas) being the “hero” of sorts on the motorbike and his blind girlfriend Cass (played by Tamara Stafford) by his side. Cass’ character being blind doesn’t have much of a payoff or a reason except to give a little variety to the characters. There are great “blind-girl-in-distress” horror movies such as “Wait Until Dark”, “See No Evil”, or “The Eye” which have some great scare scenes, but her blindness doesn’t cause many problems or have any particular point. As to pad out the characters in diversity, there is the black boyfriend/girlfriend couple Foster (played by Willard Pugh) and Sue (played by Penny Johnson Jerald) who are able to sneak a little sex into the film (which horror fans should know what happens to sexually active kids in horror movies).

But horror movies are rarely about acting or plot as the main point, but about the terror and special effects. Unfortunately, even with a larger budget it wasn’t well spent on effects. The film is quite bloodless for the most part, with the death scenes being less than memorable. There is an explicit throat slashing scene which looked very good, but why couldn’t the other effects look anything close to that? Harry (played by Peter Frechette) getting crushed by the boulder looked silly in comparison. Also, everything looked way too dark in the night scenes. Possibly due to the transfer, the supposedly scary night scenes looked pitch black with detail very difficult to see.

Are there any redeeming points to “The Hills Have Eyes Part 2”? Well, it is not boring. The motorcycle chase scenes, the fight scenes are much better choreographed than the previous film, but not much else can be said. Craven seemed to be phoning it in and more preoccupied with pre-production on “A Nightmare on Elm Street” rather than this. It should be noted that “The Hills Have Eyes” was remade in 2006 based off the original film, but the 2007 sequel “The Hills Have Eyes II” was not based on the 1984 film and was an entirely new story also scripted by Craven, as a chance to make a sequel that he really wanted to? Unfortunately critical response and audience response for the 2007 sequel was not exactly positive.

Getting back to the 1984 film, distribution was spotty. It was not given a wide theatrical release in America, went straight to video in many countries, and disowned by Craven himself. It’s almost a mystery why the production company or distributors didn’t add “From the writer and director of A Nightmare on Elm Street” all over the posters. Maybe they just knew that it wasn’t good enough to be associated with Freddy…

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray which can be played back on any Blu-ray player worldwide

Video

UK based Odeon Entertainment presents the film in 1080p in the 1.57:1 aspect ratio in the AVC MPEG-4 codec. First of all, 1.57:1 seems like an odd ratio for any film. This new high definition master is the unmated film, with nothing on the top, bottom, or sides cropped off. The film was exhibited in 1.85:1 or 1.66:1 theatrically (in the very few places), so the 1.57:1 transfer does leave a bit of headroom but it is not distracting in framing. What is more distracting is the condition of the film. It looks very beat up, with minor scratches, spots, and dust flickering throughout, fluctuating colors, and everything looking overly dark. Blacks are very dark with very little detail able to be seen in many of the night scenes and indoor scenes. Though it should be said that things like cigarette burns, tramline scratches or tape splices are not visible, so sorry that this is not a complete grindhouse experience, though it is close. The flashback scenes featuring the original 1977 film look washed out, twice as grainy, and closer to stock footage than original elements. The film runs at exactly (90:00) on the disc. The same master for the film was used on the US Kino Lorber Blu-ray.

Audio

English LPCM 2.0 stereo

Although labeled “stereo”, it is just a mono track reprocesses to flow through the side speakers without any significant stereo separation. Played through a Pro-Logic decoder, the sound flows through the left, center, and right speakers. Although the video is problematic with the available elements, the audio is in much better shape. No hisses or pops to speak of, with dialogue being intelligible and no major problems with fidelity. It’s not one to give your speakers a workout but it’s certainly acceptable.

There are no subtitles offered for the film.

Extras

"Overview by Film Blogger James Oliver" featurette (5:07)
James Oliver, a contributor to Sight & Sound, Total Film, MovieMail, among others gives input on the film, from its background, Wes Craven’s disownment, and being more tongue in cheek than the predecessor. Oliver does bring up some good points but 5 minutes is way too short. I wish he had gone on longer and more in-depth. During the interview clips of the film are shown, as well as Oliver in front of computer screens. The obviously green-screened monitors show clips of the film on one and the Odeon website on the other, being overly distracting from Oliver’s input.
in 1.78:1, in 1080i50hz, in English LPCM 2.0 stereo

The US Blu-ray from Kino Lorber does not have the above featurette but instead has a Photo Gallery in HD and a Theatrical Trailer in HD. Extras on the UK Odeon release and the US Kino Lorber releases are quite paltry compared to many other Wes Craven directed discs. It would have been nice to hear Craven speak of the film in some way (before he passed away last year), or some interviews from the actors especially Michael Berryman. It should be noted on the Arrow UK Blu-ray of “Deadly Blessing” Berryman does talk a little about “The Hills Have Eyes Part 2”, both the 1984 film and the 2007 sequel which he was “promised” a part but continued without him. I wouldn’t call it a missed opportunity but sometimes critically maligned films are deserving of extras as much as the critically acclaimed ones.

Overall

“The Hills Have Eyes Part 2” was pretty much a failure creatively and commercially, and falls into the interesting category of the seldom seen Wes Craven films, such as “Deadly Blessing” (which was severely underseen and underrated on original release) and “Deadly Friend” (which the rumored Director’s Cut could possibly change the film’s negative appraisal). Unfortunately, “The Hills Have Eyes Part 2” is not worthy of reappraisal, and more of an interesting example in the oeuvre of the late Wes Craven’s work, who made genuine horror masterpieces as well as duds. Odeon’s Blu-ray presentation of the film is fine, but nothing breathtaking, and the lone supplement is really not enough to make a recommendation.

The Film: D Video: C Audio: B Extras: D Overall: C-

 


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