Release Date(s)1985 (September 24, 2019)
Studio(s)New Realm Entertainments/VTC/Castle Hill Productions (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: C+
In the early 1980s, Wes Craven was not enjoying a successful run. After The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, his career was slumping, especially after Swamp Thing failed at the box office. It wasn't until A Nightmare on Elm Street that he saw far–reaching success, propelling his career forward.
Right on the cusp of making Nightmare, he entered into a deal with producer Peter Locke to make the sequel The Hills Have Eyes Part 2. Unfortunately, the film was never entirely finished and Craven soon disowned it afterwards. Many proclaimed it to be the worst film of his career, but as so often happens, it managed to find a cult audience on home video and, in retrospect, is perhaps not quite the piece of garbage that it's perceived to be.
There are certainly reasons as to why The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 ended up the way it did. Purportedly, Wes Craven was not given the opportunity to shoot additional material for the film after his first assembly of it, and as such, it never lived up to his expectations. Exactly what that material was meant to be is all but a mystery, but even so, it's difficult to tell what might have been done differently. The basic structure of the story is there and manages to play out with only a couple of confusing moments. The flashbacks to the original film are unnecessary, but since it was so many years later, it does give you a background on the story if you hadn't seen it.
Above all else, The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 is an interesting film and (this is going to sound like blasphemy) is far more watchable than the original. It is by no means better on a technical or story level, but since the original is so brutal and more difficult to take in, a sequel with a more straightforward slasher type of story, complete with a Friday the 13th–esque Harry Manfredini score, is a little more palatable – and rather typical of the kind of horror movies that were being made at the time.
The characters are also more likable than your average slasher. They're not given the greatest dialogue to work with, but they're also not cannon fodder (or in this case, murder fodder) like so many other movies wherein the characters are incredibly unlikable and you're anticipating, even cheering for, their eventual demise. That in itself is a feat that few slasher films achieve.
That all said, there are plenty of flaws to point out, such as the character of Rachel/Ruby. It's difficult to imagine one of the wild, cannibalistic characters from the first film going back to civilization and becoming a normal human being so easily. It's also hard to swallow that nobody in this group of people didn't realize that it was Daylight Savings weekend. However, the film's most infamous item of interest and the biggest leap of logic for the audience is a scene in which a dog has a flashback to the events of the previous film. Need I say more.
Call it whatever you want: bad, good, mediocre, but The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 is an enjoyable film. It's not up to par with its predecessor for effective scares or gripping drama, but it's a fun, if off the beaten path, excursion by a director who was harder on it than he should have been.
The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 makes a second appearance on Blu–ray from Arrow Video with a new 2K restoration from a 35mm dupe negative and presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It's safe to say that this is the best the film is likely to ever look on the format. Though natural and film–like, it's a mixed bag when it comes to the source. The use of much grainier footage from the previous film is only amplified when reused. Transitions are also quite soft, though they aren't that frequent. The remainder of the presentation offers crisp though slightly softer images than what the original negative might have presented if it were available. The color palette offers a decent variety, from the harsh desert landscape to the dirt bike gear. Blacks are deep with minor crush built in while overall brightness and contrast levels are ideal. Scratches, speckling, and occasional staining are leftover, but otherwise, the transfer is stable and clear.
The audio is presented in English mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. It's a solid mono experience, though nothing particularly noteworthy about it. Everything is as it should be, including discernable dialogue exchanges, good sound effects, and a strong score – and none of it distorted. There are also no major defects or other instances of damage leftover, such as hiss, crackle, thumps, or dropouts.
As the previous Kino Lorber Blu–ray for the film featured nothing but a still gallery and the film's trailer, there was room for improvement. This isn't an extras–stuffed package, but there's plenty here to peruse. There's a new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues podcast members Justin Kerswell, Nathan Johnson, Joseph Henson, and Erik Threlfall, who enjoy a lighthearted discussion of the film's content while contextualizing the timeframe in which it was made; Blood, Sand, and Fire: The Making of The Hills Have Eyes Part II, an excellent new 31–minute documentary by Red Shirt Pictures containing interviews with producer Peter Locke, actor Michael Berryman, composer Harry Manfredini, first assistant director and unit production manager John Callas, production designer Dominick Bruno, and actress Janus Blythe; an animated still gallery featuring 75 stills of on–set photos, behind–the–scenes stills, promotional photos, home video artwork, posters, and the cover of the movie novel tie–in; the original Thorn EMI trailer; 6 lobby card and poster reproduction postcards; a 2–sided poster with the new cover art on one side and the original artwork on the other; and a 40–page insert booklet featuring cast and crew information, The Hills Have Heart by Amanda Reyes, On the Set: The Hills Have Eyes II by Johnny Legend, and restoration details. All of this material is housed within sturdy cardboard packaging.
Not a popular title within the horror community, The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 is due for a resurgence. Arrow Video's deluxe treatment of the title certainly offers a motive for re–evaluation, particularly for the documentary as most of the folks interviewed have rarely if ever talked about the film before. All in all, a terrific release of a problematic (though enjoyable) horror movie.
– Tim Salmons