The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2 (1983) *
I’m quite mad, you know. Evidently it isn’t enough for me to spend my summer running the gantlet of latter-day Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street sequels— I have to go subjecting myself to The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2 as well. I think I’ll begin by letting writer/director Wes Craven speak for himself on the subject, for he confirms what nearly every fan of The Hills Have Eyes must have thought upon first seeing the sequel. As quoted in Screams and Nightmares, Brian J. Robb’s rather uncritical overview of Craven’s career as a filmmaker: “I’m sorry about The Hills Have Eyes, Part II. The reason I did that film was that I was dead broke and needed to do any film. I would have done Godzilla Goes to Paris.” Honestly, that might have worked out better than this depressing sequel to Craven’s greatest achievement. This is a movie which will have to be given serious consideration if ever anyone takes it upon themselves to determine the identity of the worst horror film of 1983.
Eight years have passed since the Carter family became stranded in the Nevada desert and ran afoul of Jupiter and his brood of subhuman cannibals. Bobby Carter (Robert Houston again), one of the very few survivors of that ordeal, is now in the motorcycle business. He owns a Yamaha dealership, and sponsors a team of teenage motocross racers. Evidently he’s also something of a chemist, for he has developed a new high-yield formula for racing fuel, which he’ll be debuting at the next race that his team participates in. As it stands, he and his wife, Rachel (Janus Blythe, another familiar face from the previous film), are both slated to accompany the team to the contest, but Bobby is so reluctant to go that he’s had to see his psychiatrist about it. You see, the race is to be held in Nevada, at a desert town none too far from the site of his long-ago brush with Jupiter’s cannibals. I’m sure you can see why this would bother him, and in the end, Bobby just can’t bring himself to get on the bus. He entrusts everything to Rachel, and goes back home to sulk.
The makeup of Bobby’s racing team provides the second hint at what’s wrong with this movie. (I’ll get around to talking about the first hint a bit later.) Excluding Rachel and Hulk the mechanic (John Laughlin, from Space Rage and The Lawnmower Man), there are six occupants of the tour bus, three boys and three girls. Roy (Kevin Blair, later of Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood and Bloodstone: Subspecies II) and Harry (Peter Frechette, from The Kindred and The Unholy) are the star racers. They’re also (as one of the other characters will later put it) the world’s biggest practical jokers. Jane (Deadly Blessing’s Colleen Riley) might be Harry’s girlfriend; she’s so underwritten that it’s difficult to tell. Cass (Tamara Stafford) is definitely Roy’s chick, and Craven actually considered her important enough to write her a character trait— she’s blind. Then there are Foster (Willard E. Pugh, of RoboCop 2 and the live-action US version of The Guyver) and Sue (Penny Johnson), a Token Black Couple in a movie made long before Token Black Couples had become fashionable. Hey, at least Craven is breaking some new ground, right? Or maybe not. Foster is basically a teenage version of Mantan Moreland, while Sue taunts and belittles him in exactly the same way that Moreland’s love interests always taunted and belittled him back in the 40’s. So does this bunch look like typical slasher-movie Expendable Meat to you, too?
Oh, wait— I forgot a character. Before hitting the road in earnest, Rachel has Roy swing the bus by a kennel, so that she can pick up her dog for the trip. You guessed it— it’s Beast, the four-footed hero of the original The Hills Have Eyes, now being played by a dog that looks completely different! Allow me to shoot off a little Foreshadowing Flare here, and say that the reintroduction of the dog to the story opens up the door to what is, bar none, The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2’s stupidest scene.
Did I mention that the first third of this movie consists to a great extent of stock-footage flashbacks? Sorry. I really should be more careful about things like that. The first of these comes when Bobby is telling his shrink about what happened eight years ago. We get to see an edited highlights reel of the last film’s showdown between the Carter kids and Jupiter, from his first approach to the booby-trapped trailer to the parting shot of Bobby satisfying himself that the cannibal patriarch really is dead. A second extended flashback comes on the bus ride through the desert. Either Harry or Roy (they both look exactly the same to me unless they’re wearing their color-coded racing uniforms) entertains the team by recounting the legend of the anthropophagous mountain men who were said to haunt the hills just off the main road on which the bus is traveling (Do you want to ask Wes Craven how these kids could be under the impression that it’s all just a legend when it happened during their lifetimes— to somebody they know— or should I?), and Rachel starts flashing back. In her mind, she sees the cannibal Mars pursuing his little sister, Ruby, as she flees from their cave with the Carter baby. She sees Ruby meeting up with the infant’s father and handing the child over. Then she sees the girl helping him fight off the other cannibal. Say, hang on— just who did Janus Blythe play in The Hills Have Eyes, anyway? Ah, yes: Ruby! So I guess we know how the wife Bobby didn’t even have eight years ago could be so thoroughly clued in on what happened, don’t we? That also means we’ve got somebody in the cast who’ll be able to spot the bad end to which the rest of them are coming a mile away.
You’re not going to believe how that bad end gets set up, either. The team is running a little late; check-in for the race is at 11:00 am, and if Team Bobby hasn’t arrived by then, the whole trip will have been for naught. Roy (or Harry), still in the driver’s seat, isn’t worried. Looking at his watch, he sees that they’ve got plenty of margin for delay. But wait! It’s the first day of Daylight Savings Time, and not a single one of the shit-for-brains on the bus remembered to set his or her watch forward! Thus it is a full hour later than any of them realized, and when that dawns on Foster, the whole team flies into a panic. Harry (or Roy) has a plan, though. According to the map, there’s a small side-road that cuts across a defunct Air Force bombing range, and taking it instead of the main road should cut much more than an hour off the trip. Bombing range, huh? Dumb-asses.
Unsurprisingly, the bus breaks down while negotiating Roy’s (or Harry’s) shortcut. Specifically, a sharp stone in the dirt road tears a hole in the gas tank, causing most of the fuel to leak out. Fortunately, this happens not too far from a settlement that looks to have been converted from a disused silver mine (Silver mine, huh? Dumb-asses.), and the upperworks of the place are visible over the hills from where the bus breaks down. Rachel and the kids march off to the mine after Hulk improvises a patch for the fuel tank (out of chewing gum, I might add), on the theory that anybody who lives this far out in the sticks needs a generator to supply electrical power, and will therefore have a stock of gasoline on hand which they might be convinced to sell or barter. (The hole in this plan— that school buses run on diesel fuel— doesn’t occur to any of them until later.) There’s something fishy about the converted mine, though, and it isn’t just that nobody’s home even though there’s really nowhere for them to have gone to. Simply put, the mine is a dead ringer for the Leatherface house in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, except that the creepy-ass totems all over the place are made of scrap metal instead of animal bones. Rachel/Ruby knows why the place gives her the willies, but she doesn’t want to say anything— I think most of us would be reluctant to admit that we used to be cannibals when we were teenagers. So the only member of the party who is willing to voice any concern is Beast, who has a much more involved barking fit than that raccoon in the loft should be able to account for. Hulk shuts Beast up in the bus and goes back to exploring.
And now here we have it— the stupidest scene in the whole movie. The goddamned dog has a fucking flashback!!!! Beast remembers where he smelled the mine compound’s scent before. It was eight years ago, when he attacked and killed Ruby’s brother, Pluto, in the no-man’s land between the cannibals’ cave and the Carters’ crippled trailer. And while Beast is having his flashback, and the Expendable Meat is splitting up to cover more ground in their exploration of the mine, Rachel/Ruby is jumped by Pluto (a returning Michael Berryman, without whom nobody would ever have been lured back to the theater for this steaming turd of a sequel), who looks quite fit for a man who once had his throat torn out and his Achilles tendon severed by a pissed-off German shepherd. Then again, Pluto obviously isn’t the man he used to be, because his little sister mops the goddamned floor with him, and he runs off before any of the others have a chance to investigate the sound of their struggle.
Amazingly enough, Hulk is the only person on the bus who fully believes Ruby when she describes the attack, even after she comes out and admits that she was the teenage daughter in the legendary cannibal family. The others are forced to concede Pluto’s presence only after he steals one of the motorcycles out of their bus (I ask you— how in the hell did Pluto learn to ride a motorbike living out in the desert two hundred miles from nowhere?), at which point Harry and Roy fire up the other two cycles and take off after him. Between their own superior riding skill and the super fuel powering their bikes, they catch up with Pluto pretty easily, and if Rachel/Ruby could overpower him, he doesn’t stand a chance against the two boys. But the meaning behind Pluto’s cryptic warning that he’s “not the one you have to worry about” becomes clear a moment later, when a seven-foot freak with a machete appears and makes short work of both racers.
Right about now, you’re probably wondering, “who the hell is that guy supposed to be?” Jupiter, after all, was a big man, but he was no seven-footer. The answer is so idiotic that you’ll just want to slap Wes Craven when you hear it. Pluto’s hyperthyroidal new partner is named the Reaper (John Bloom, from Angels’ Wild Women and The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant), and he's Papa Jupe’s older brother! You see what’s so stupid about this, right? Last time around, when Grandpa Freddy told Bob Carter about how he ended up siring a clan of man-eating neo-Neanderthals, he strongly implied that his wife died giving birth to her monstrous second child. That child was obviously Jupiter, and as a grown man, he had the facial scar to prove it— Freddy bashed his son’s face in with a tire iron after the boy burned down the house, killing his older sister. In other words, there is simply no way to fit a hitherto unmentioned big brother for Papa Jupe into the first film’s back story! But impossible though he may be, the Reaper is here now, and he’ll spend the rest of the movie offing the members of Team Bobby one by one, until only Cass and Roy (who turns out to have been saved by his crash helmet from the worst of the Reaper’s machete-blow to the head) remain to oppose him. Oh, and Beast. Beast makes it to the end of the movie, too.
Despite its obvious kinship with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it has always been my contention that The Hills Have Eyes cannot properly be considered a slasher movie. The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2, on the other hand, could be called nothing else, and is a singularly retarded example of the form at that. Instead of the first film’s thematically rich opposition between two lethally antagonistic, mirror-image families, we have one huge, dumb psychopath killing off a gaggle of teenagers piecemeal. (Pluto is hardly more than a Crazy Ralph figure this time around.) Though Cass’s character is rather outside the norm for a slasher movie Final Girl, she certainly finds herself in a number of classic Final Girl situations: Cass is the one who stumbles upon the Reaper’s secret lair down in the mine, and she gets to do the inevitable finding-the-bodies scene right before her first face-to-face encounter with the killer. There’s a doomed practical joker in the form of Harry. Foster and Sue are killed shortly after having sex in the bus. (This after it has already been discovered that Pluto is prowling the area!) Craven has even found a way to work in a shower scene, for heaven’s sake! And as the capper to it all, the music for The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2 was written by none other than Harry Manfredini. The main title display before the opening credits may say The Hills Have Eyes, but the music that accompanies it unmistakably says Friday the 13th. The only thing differentiating this score from its more widely heard parent is the absence of that signature ch ch ch... hah hah hah hah sample. It’s appropriate enough, I suppose, in that the only things differentiating the rest of The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2 from an especially wretched Friday the 13th film are the absence of that signature goalie’s mask and the substitution of the Nevada desert for the woods around Crystal Lake.