I have to admit that the original The Hills Have Eyes is one of Wes Craven's stronger films, despite the fact that I still don't think it's quite the classic everyone says it is. It's a primal flick, with fairly believable antagonists in the guise of some desert dwelling scavengers and a somewhat genuine motivation for what they do. When Craven later became a household name with Nightmare on Elm Street, he earned the clout to revisit this territory, and the results are...well...decidedly mixed.
Bobby (Robert Houston), one of the victims of the last film, is now all grown up and has created a potent fuel for moto-cross racing that his team will be debuting at an upcoming race in the desert. Still scarred from his ordeal, Bobby opts not to join the team, fearing an emotional meltdown, and sends them off in the care of Ruby (Janus Blythe), the feral young girl from the Jupiter clan who is now known as Rachel and is Bobby's gal-pal. Beast the dog, who also played a major role against the Hiroshima Hillbillies, is along for the ride, as are a virtual who's who of slashable stereotypes. When the racing team loses its way, they come across a seemingly abandoned mine where they encounter Pluto (Michael Berryman), who survived the last encounter and was taken in by Papa Jupe's even crazier brother, Reaper. After a bike chase, and some convenient separation tactics, our "heroes" are summarily executed in the appropriate ways, managing to squeeze in some pre-marital sex, drugs, and even a shower along the way.
The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 is a much-maligned film, and probably for good reason. This sequel features much more humor (intentional and otherwise), absolutely idiotic and unsympathetic characters, and a slightly more polished feel than the gritty Hills 1. Add to that the fact that the protagonists might as well kill themselves since they willingly walk into every conceivable trap, dark mineshaft, and wander off alone even though they know they are in harm's way, and I can see why a lot of people don't like this flick.
I, however, find Hills 2 to be a bit of stupid fun.
Sure it's mostly ridiculous, but not many slashers can claim differently, and it's my feeling that Craven has his tongue firmly in cheek with this one. He seems to be having a blast revisiting the Jupiter clan, and it's virtually impossible not to share his enthusiasm. While it doesn't pack the visceral punch of the original, I don't think it was meant to. I really believe this is a case of Craven letting his hair down and just having some fun (for evidence, look no further than the "flashback" sequences featuring scenes from the original. Craven even gives the DOG a flashback!), and inviting his new, post-nightmare audience, to see what he was all about before Freddy. It's been said that Craven made this film under studio pressure to follow-up Elm Street, and did it for the money, but, whatever the case, this film is better than Deadly Friend (a film he supposedly loved making), that much is certain!
As for the DVD from Image Entertainment, well, it's a mixed blessing. The film is a welcome addition to the DVD market, but unfortunately it's a full-frame transfer (and has some pan-and-scan moments, so you know this isn't the original aspect ratio). The image is very solid, and looks better than I've ever seen the film look before, and the sound is crisp and clear, but I'm a pisser when it comes to films not being presented in their pure form when it comes to DVD, so, needless to say, I was disappointed. There are also no extras to speak of, with the exception of the theatrical trailer, so while Hills 2 is finally rescued from VHS exile, it's not the homecoming we'd hoped for.
Hills Have Eyes Part 2 is a dumb, fast-paced slash-fest and, while the DVD isn't the stuff of dreams, it's worth picking up if you want to see Craven's lighter side.