Definitely a good deal more engaging than its usually-slandered and vilified reputation would lead you to believe, Wes Craven’s THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART II (1984) is far from Craven’s best, but, if taken as an undemanding ’80s slash-’em-up, it works just fine. Thanks to Arrow Video, this oft-derided sequel has finally been given some much-needed appreciation care of their new Limited Edition Blu-ray.
Attesting to this film’s hastily-structured status, it opens with Bobby (Robert Houston) – one of the few survivors from Craven’s THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) – discussing his ordeal from eight years previous with his psychiatrist (David Nichols), which sets-up a rather-too-convenient flashback to the rousing finale from THHE. As the charge-by-the-minute shrink glances at his watch impatiently, he offers Bobby a vote of confidence by suggesting, “Go thumb your nose at the desert. The boogeyman is dead!” Attempting to do just that, Bobby plans to test his newly-developed ‘Super Formula’ fuel for his motocross team in an upcoming race. However, unlucky for him, this event takes place at a remote desert location. Suffering a complete breakdown at the thought of venturing out into these desolate wilds yet again, he is unable to heed his psychiatrist’s advice to confront and conquer his fears, so Bobby’s girlfriend Rachel (Janus Blythe) reluctantly volunteers to escort his team to compete in this all-important competition.
Comprising many of the ‘usual suspects’ to be found in any number of slasher films – including Cassandra (Tamara Stafford), a blind girl with possible psychic abilities – the teammates excitedly pack their makeshift school bus and head off to the race-site. Naturally, while en route to their final destination, Harry (Peter Frechette), the group’s mandatory smartass prankster, ‘entertains’ everyone with urban legends of the first film’s dreaded cannibal clan and, as Rachel dozes-off, the sequel’s second lengthy flashback occurs. Recycling additional pre-existing footage from Craven’s original THHE, it comes as no surprise to us at all that the so-called “Rachel” is in actual fact Ruby, who, all those years before, had turned against her own (quote) “wild family of cannibals” to help the previous protagonist Bobby and his remaining family members escape; even Beast, the heroic German shepherd from the original film is, once again, also along for the ride. Sure enough, through a succession of highly-contrived yet somewhat forgivable sets of circumstances, our new group of characters wind up taking a shortcut across the open desert, thereafter coming to the grim realization that some of Ruby’s cannibalistic clan may still be alive… and are hungry for more tender city-slicker flesh!
Unlike Craven’s grim-’n’-gritty originator, this cut-rate sequel is quite the departure in both tone and style. Whether this stylistic change was entirely intentional or simply a fortuitous evolutionary development, this time around Craven’s approach to the timeworn material is much more playful and, quite frankly, this different approach is actually quite refreshing (it was made seven years later, after all, so perhaps the director just felt like a change of pace?). Hurriedly-developed following his entertaining-if-poorly-received DC Comics adaptation SWAMP THING (1982), and originating as it does from the tail-end of the ’80s slasher boom, THHE 2 is so cliché-ridden that it might easily be read as Craven’s sly attempt to poke good-natured fun at this once exceedingly overcrowded horror subgenre. Despite the script’s trivialities, it’s great to have Michael Berryman return as Pluto, who, in keeping with his familial devotion and psychotic tenacity, provides the strongest connection to the original THHE, and he easily overshadows the towering John Bloom (BRAIN OF BLOOD , THE DARK , HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS , etc.) as “The Reaper”, the present film’s new clan-leader, who it turns out is none other than the late Pluto’s long-lost uncle (!?), a revelation which makes for one of THHE 2’s numerous enjoyably silly developments.
While it’s fairly certain that, even in this optimal new presentation, THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART II won’t convert too many of its legion of vehement detractors, the team at Arrow Video nevertheless give it their best shot with this Limited Edition Blu-ray, which not only looks terrific but also includes a number of highly-substantial extras to help put everything about this financially-troubled production into their proper context. THHE 2 has been kept regularly available ever since its initial Thorn/EMI domestic Betamax/VHS videocassette release in 1986, and for their BD edition, Arrow utilized a (quote) “brand new 2K restoration from original film elements”, and even though this transfer still features some minor dirt and light scratches inherent in the original elements (which is especially evident during the opening credits), quality-wise this new edition appears sharply-detailed with excellent, true-to-life colours; and for once, the claustrophobic climactic scenes in the abandoned mine reveal more pictorial details than ever before. The (quote) “original uncompressed mono audio” also sounds fine, and it gives further prominence to Harry Manfredini’s all-too familiar FRIDAY THE 13TH-styled score.
Commencing with a feature-length audio commentary from those knowledgeable folks at The Hysteria Continues, our (quote) “slasher-loving movie” podcasters leave no stone unturned in their discussion of this (quote) “controversial” film, including its (quote) “perceived use of excessive flashbacks”; THHE 2’s exceedingly limited U.S. theatrical run; the superb desert locations, which they feel are (quote) “ripe” for a comeback; a broad selection of the cast and crew members; how The Hysteria Continues all appreciate slashers that don’t stray too far from the (quote) “tried-and-tested rules”; as well as, of course, how the film can—and indeed should be—regarded as (quote) “more of a black comedy”. Complementing the easygoing-yet-admirable commentary, the most-significant extra herein is Red Shirt Pictures’ superb making-of doc, Blood, Sand and Fire: The Making of The Hills Have EyesPart 2 (31m16s), which includes interviews with producer Peter Locke (or, as he jokily refers to himself as, the (quote) “reluctant financier”); star Michael Berryman; unit production manager/first assistant director John Callas; production designer Dominick Bruno; the score’s composer Manfredini; and star Janus Blythe, all of whom, first and foremost, discuss the film’s really low budget (“Two nickels and a quarter!”) and the various issues this caused. They also praise the wonderful Joshua tree locations, what an asset they were to the production, also mentioning how many of the young cast members had to (quote) “learn their trade on his [i.e., Craven’s] dime”. A quite extensive stills gallery (6m52s) and THHE 2’s theatrical trailer finish off the extras.
Beautifully packaged in one of Arrow Video’s sturdy slipcases, this Limited Edition set includes a two-sided fold-out poster, 6 collectible postcards, reversible cover art and a wonderful 40-page booklet featuring an essay by the talented Amanda Reyes on the merits of this neglected film and a vintage on-set report from Johnny Legend taken from an early issue of Fangoria magazine. All this adds up to another marvellous release from Arrow Video and proves—as the original theatrical trailer boldly proclaimed—that Wes Craven’s minor career-blip does in fact still have eyes. Order it from DiabolikDVD, or for you Canadian readers, Suspect Video.