Strangers in the night, exchanging glances

‘The Hills Have Eyes 2’ updates Wes Craven’s 1970s flick with tons of gore for gore’s sake

by Michael Garberich

If you’re one to wince at the idea of a 1970s horror film remake (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” please?), then forgive me, but I’d love to witness whatever involuntary reflex overcomes you upon hearing the phrase, “sequel to a 1970s horror film remake.”

“The Hills Have Eyes 2”
DIRECTED BY: Martin Weisz
STARRING: Jessica Stroup, Michael McMillian, Daniella Alonso
PLAYING AT: Area theaters

That’s right. Alexandre Aja’s commendable 2006 remake of Wes Craven’s 1977 cult killer, “The Hills Have Eyes,” which itself received a pitiable sequel in 1985, has done what any horror film would do to turn a profit in today’s market: It spawned a bastard child you’d sooner lock under your staircase than show to the neighbors.

But first time director Martin Weisz (a few music videos, a couple of commercials) apparently knows neither shame nor reservation for this unpardonable child damned to the innermost ring of Dante’s

seventh circle: Hell for those who commit violent acts against art, for whatever it’s worth.

He does, however, display a thorough understanding of every banality that bogs down the majority of contemporary American horror films – the youthfully ignorant characters, the single-strand plotline and the thinly veiled social commentary (this time about the military) solely for the sake of seeming conscientious.

The main cast is composed of a set of twenty-somethings, whom you might expect to hail from Orange County, though the military fatigues and rifles in lieu of bathing suits and surfboards is a dead giveaway, distancing them from the shoreline of Laguna Beach.

The group, instead, heads to a research facility in the lavish foothills of New Mexico’s desert on their final day of training for the National Guard.

Upon arriving, however, the station is abandoned and a vague, crackling distress message over a walkie-talkie turns their boring, routine check-in with military researchers into boring, routine 90 minutes of unnecessary, and not particularly noteworthy, killings by the mutant family inhabiting the hills (thus the eyes, you see).

Not much else can really be said to distinguish it from its gore-orgy brethren. Their day becomes a search and rescue. Few are rescued, many die. What’s there to look for?

Notably, Weisz does appear to have seen Gasper Noé’s devastatingly sober 2002 drama, “Irréversible.” But just as he has derived the worst of American horror, so too has he stolen the most provocative aspects of this French film – death by repeatedly smashing a hard blunt object into someone’s face until only a cavity remains, and the explicit anal rape of a woman – and transformed them to fit the new slapstick paradigm of the 21st century.

That’s not to say brutal violence and rape are now light and laughable matters, but why do they seem increasingly calibrated for cheap shocks that yield immediate, visceral reactions? And speaking of, what was the reaction that meets them?

At the Friday afternoon screening I attended, the audience responded to every death with cheers, laughter and chatter, while cell phone conversations frequently lasted for over five minutes when no blood was shed.

But that is apparently the blasé attitude toward horror violence these days. Expect violence. Get violence. Celebrate violence. Forget movies portraying disaffected youth. Show me the disaffected youths on their cell phones while the mutant with boils on its back molests a mom with a 4-year-old son (granted, your movie experience might be different than mine).

I said before I’d love to see your reaction to the phrase “sequel to a 1970s horror film remake.” Well, you won’t surprise me if you simply say, “Yeah, so, who cares?”

Speaking of “The Hills Have Eyes 2” (or is it 4?), I couldn’t have put it better myself.