There’s already been one “Hills Have Eyes II”—back in 1985, the sequel to the original Wes Craven splatter movie that was in turn remade a couple of years ago. Now here’s the sequel to the remake. It has little in common with the first “Hills Have Eyes II,” which is okay, since the earlier movie was awful (apart from a hilarious “flashback” by a dog). Instead it’s more reminiscent of its immediate predecessor (in spirit, not story), which is not so great, because that was one of the most loathsome exercises in blood lust ever committed to celluloid. Still, genre fans lapped it up, so for them this sequel will probably be a cause for joy. Rest assured there’s gore galore, but not much more. And it’s a bore.
The script, credited to Craven and his son Jonathan, couldn’t be simpler. A group of National Guard soldiers training in the New Mexico desert find a research station abandoned and detect a rescue signal out in the surrounding hills, so they go off to investigate, only to be attacked, brutalized and systematically picked off by the horde of mutant folk living in the old mine shafts out there. Some of them fight back, getting as vicious about it as the attackers. Except for a prolonged rape sequence that’s even more unpleasant than the killings, that’s it.
The mayhem drags on for a full hour and a half, which is way too long since one soon becomes so desensitized to the carnage that he ceases to have any reaction but tedium. It might have helped if the assortment of victims had been made remotely sympathetic, but the characters are so perfunctorily sketched in (mostly consisting of macho windbags) that even the most engaging of the actors playing them—Michael McMillian as the slight private jokingly called “Napoleon,” for instance (who was very likable in the largely unseen “Dorian Blues”)—have virtually nothing to work with. Much of the budget seems to have been lavished on the blood and guts effects, which are certainly impressive in their gruesome way, so otherwise the movie looks cheap and washed-out (especially in the second half, when the blood-drenched action moves from the hills into the dank, dark caves), and Martin Weisz’s direction is woefully unimaginative, managing only a few successful “gotcha!” moments.
Maybe “The Hills Have Eyes II” is intended as a metaphor for the quagmire that the “war on terror” has become. The guardsmen are, after all, first shown doing exercises in a mock-up of Kandahar, and the most noxious of the group—the loudmouth bully Crank (played by Jacob Vargas)—does shout those immortal words “Bring ’em on!” at one point. (By contrast, good guy Napoleon, we’re informed early on, doesn’t support Bush’s Iraq policy.) But if so, the message never gets through. Instead we’re left with a genre exercise as exhaustingly pointless as the trek through the hills proves for the cardboard characters the Cravens have created.