For this review, I go back into the desert to compare the 1984 sequel for The Hills Have Eyes to the modern remake of the same name. Unlike the original and its remake, however, the storylines in the sequels are vastly different from each other but do both tie back in to the originals that they follow. Was it worth taking the trip into the bloody, radioactive sand again or should the sequels be avoided like a sketchy, unmarked dirt road in the desert? Well, let’s discuss.
The 1984 version, The Hills Have Eyes Part 2, starts with one of the survivors from the original, Bobby (Robert Houston), talking to a psychiatrist about his experience. When a group of his friends want him to join them at a race in the desert so they can pass out samples of a new dirt-bike fuel he invented (!) he declines and warns them not to go either. Of course, they go anyway bringing along his dog Beast and the now civilized Ruby, who is also part of the crew but lives under a new identity. After an ill-advised shortcut and a predictable break-down, the gang finds themselves on the receiving end of the same kind of desert hospitality that Bobby and his family got in the first film.
By contrast, the 2007 version, The Hills Have Eyes 2, takes place after the events of the 2006 Hills film but does not connect directly to it with any of the characters. Instead, it centers on a group of young National Guard recruits that are halfway through training. On their way to another training location, they are tasked with dropping off equipment to a group of military scientists that are working on a mysterious project in the desert. Once there, they find the camp is deserted……or so they thought!
Ok, so as you can imagine, neither one of these sequels has been particularly well received by critics or fans. This isn’t especially surprising considering that both the original 1977 film as well as its 2006 remake were such good films that they made for tough acts to follow. Additionally, neither sequel exactly brought its A-game and both cases feel like a cash-in rather than a thought out expansion on the story. Even so, there were still some striking differences between the two versions.
Perhaps the most glaring of these is the fact that the 1984 version shamelessly recycles footage from the first film. It does so under the guise of “flashbacks” but what you really have is a highlight reel of scenes from the first film that simply play again, in their entirety, in the sequel. Honestly, I can’t think of any other sequel that so blatantly uses a device as cheap as cut ‘n paste to this extent simply to make their lackluster film more interesting.
If this was the only issue with this version it may have been forgivable (maybe) but the fact is this one is rancid all the way through. Right from the group of annoying twenty-something protagonists who you instantly want to die, to the repetitive fake-out scares, to the shoddy (and sparse) gore, there really is nothing to recommend about this film. It utilizes the most clichéd and over-used plot in the Horror genre ( a group of young people in the middle of nowhere picked off by the villain) and even when Craven wasn’t recycling actual footage from the first film, he still recycled ideas for plot points and kills. Even the character of The Reaper (one of only two hill-people in this one) makes no sense because if you paid attention to the plot in the first film you’ realize there’s no fucking way that Jupiter could have possibly had a brother that was simply absent during that film.
The most baffling part of this is the fact that these are the kinds of things you would expect to find in a sequel that’s made by a different director and rushed out the next year but in this case, the sequel was written and directed by Wes Craven himself seven fucking years later! In other words, plenty of time for the original creator to craft a brilliant follow-up to his own film.
The 2007 version, on the other hand, was made by a different director and rushed out the next year but against all logic, it’s actually, well, good. Now, to be fair it’s nothing earth-shattering and the 2006 version definitely leaves it in the dust but in this case director Martin Weisz does deliver a solid, gory film that is very watchable and will keep your attention to the end. This may have to do with the fact that the 2007 sequel was written by….wait for it….Wes Craven!
That’s right, after wisely stepping into the Producer’s chair for the 2006 remake so writer/director Alexandre Aja could flex his creative muscle, Craven got back into the game for the 2007 sequel and wrote the screenplay with his son, Jonathan Craven. I feel like this must have at least partially motivated by a desire to make amends for the immensely disappointing 1984 sequel and show that he could deliver fans a proper, if long overdue, sequel to one of his most iconic films. After taking the bloody, entertaining ride myself I can certainly say I’m glad he did.