It's a bit amusing to see major studios jumping on the edgy exploitation film genre by establishing specialty labels like Fox Atomic, through which Fox proper can shepherd gory productions like Turistas and Hills Have Eyes 2, and perhaps distance the finer studio material from the kind of rough and grungy sadism typical of the genre, yet letting horror fans know the new imprint is where the real shocks reside.
For the 2006 remake of Wes Craven's original 1977 Hills Have Eyes, the producers were smart in importing Alexandre Aja from France, and his blend of gorgeous widescreen visuals and outright nihilism made the remake a grisly yet engaging film – mostly because the screenwriters were smart in sticking with the original film's structure of entrapment, torment, and revenge.
Co-writer Aja was also astute in going deeper into the mythic past of the feral humans, thereby giving us a solid backstory and a sense of the kind of nastiness they were capable of inflicting. The mutants could also talk, and while gore fans might have found their explanations in the film's final third put the action on pause, one could at least understand where the sickos were coming from.
In the film's short and admittedly self-serving Q&A featurette between co-writer/co-producer Wes Craven and three film school grads, the veteran genre director explains how the new Hills 2 (which isn't a remake of Craven's own 1985 sequel) came about as dare: Fox gave him a month to concoct a screenplay, so Craven and son Jonathan (The Outpost / Mind Ripper) scribbled away in a hotel, and delivered a script that satisfied the studio.
Most of the allegorical material acceptably deals with a green military reserve unit submerged in primal warfare with locals who play by their own rules, but the main problem with Hills 2 is that our heroes are basically a whole team of Private Hudsons – the moronic character played by Bill Paxton in James Cameron's Aliens (1986).
Even Craven admits Hills 2 is similar to Cameron's film premise of a crack team of cocksure recruits routing out nasties from a sensitive area, but a whole batch of Hudsons means every character is an idiot, spouting amateurish, mouthy dialogue that feigns character-building material, and is supposed to establish internecine conflicts that will mitigate subsequent act of betrayal and selfishness. The group's ridiculed pacifist is also badly handled: ultimately responsible for the greatest level of gory carnage meted out to the mutants, there's no efforts to examine the irony, follow his transition or handle the sudden shift, and it leaves him as robotic as the other characters.
The Cravens also presume prior audience knowledge of the Hills mythos, and assume we'll get it that the current group of nasties are a more anti-social faction whose lives revolve around catching, eating and raping women to create babies – the latter eventually showcased in a brutal rape scene between the team's lone mom and the mutant's father-figure, which is thematically tied to an ugly pre-credit birth scene.
There's also a kitchen scene that has the surviving recruits wandering past moist and juicy body parts, and in the wake of Hostel, Saw, and Texas Chainsaw franchises, it's clear even from the unrated material intergrated in the Hills 2 DVD that a number of graphic elements that once might have pushed a film into NC-17 terrain have now become so commonplace among studio-funded productions, the R classification is less of a parental guide, and more of a multi-purpose gutter the MPAA uses to dump anything too extreme for younger teens, but covers everything else (except maybe two adults consensually copulating in the buff, or seen full frontal in naturally casual moments without any frothy blood, or the creative use of wire cutters, nails, needles, saws, blowtorches, scythes, or a hammer and a good steel-trimmed pick).
The film's gore is appropriately nasty and effective, with pretty seamless CGI effects to enhance tumbles, choppings, and splatters, and alongside gorgeous Moroccan locations and the creepy underground mine sets, the score by Trevor Morris does a nice job in bridging the fuzzy, bass synth drones of Aja's film with some clean orchestral bridges. The sound design is equally robust, and cheap scares are enhanced by some punchy music and sound effects stabs.
Like his feature film debut Grimm Love (Rohtenburg), former music video director Martin Weisz is less flashy than expected, but his efforts to give the largely no-name actors wiggle room can't transcend the painfully banal dialogue they're stuck with.
Fox' DVD includes a standard assortment of making-of featurettes, a piece on an intriguing graphic novel franchise, some deleted scenes, and an alternate ending featuring the film's sole sympathetic mutant, delivering some concluding but utterly incoherent dialogue. The production extras are only of interest if you actually care about dumb characters doing dumb things, and you're not shouting back at the screen in frustration and contempt (Taking a pee behind a big rock without alerting your team is stupid. Shooting rounds of precious ammo at nothing in particular is also pretty damn stupid).
In narrative film, there's something called Peter's Law: moronic characters deserve to die, but the real sufferer is always the viewer, watching a cinematic idiocy that could've been fixed at the writing stage before the official production green light.
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan