Hills Have Eyes: 2 Movie Box Set, The (UK - BD RB)
Reviewer Marcus Doidge takes a dirt road and ends up in the hills on Blu-ray
Back in 2006, The Hill Have Eyes joined the wave of classic old school horrors to get the modern remake treatment and the original creator Wes Craven even went along for the ride with writing duties.
Bob Carter (Ted Levine), a retired police detective, is travelling with his wife Ethel Carter (Kathleen Quinlan), daughter Brenda (Emilie de Ravin), son Bobby (Dan Byrd), eldest daughter Lynn (Vinessa Shaw), her husband Doug (Aaron Stanford), their baby daughter Catherine (Maisie Camilleri Preziosi), and even the family dogs, Beauty and Beast, as they all drive cross country for Bob and his wife’s wedding anniversary. With only their Jeep and a caravan, they make the most classic of horror bad decisions and take that dreaded wrong turn. Due to some foul play by the locals the Carter family soon get cut off from civilization, fighting for survival as they become the play things of the atomic mutated family who use those ominous hills to prey on passersby.
At the time I made the mistake of writing this one off as yet another one of those glossy remakes of a horror classic that just didn’t need to be made. It looked to be much of the same nonsense and yet another twist on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre set up. Thankfully this remake came with a hell of a lot more than I ever expected. This came with the nasties in a big way and re-watching it for this release reminded me just how much I like it.
The movie by no means re-invents the wheel. In fact this is all pretty standard stuff for the genre, but what it does, it does very well. I think the fact the victims here are a family helps a lot. They are dysfunctional and believable and they really get you on board, especially when everything starts getting messy… and it really does get messy. The slow build up to the big nasty fallout does just enough to set you up for how grim this all gets. The attack on the entire family that comes around the midway point of the movie is truly the stuff of nightmares and considering that it’s a horror movie that actually delivers on some really horrific imagery and some genuine stomach turning events, I’m surprised this one doesn’t get more kudos. In fact, because of this gruesome set of events you are totally rooting for Doug when he ventures out to find his kidnapped daughter rather than thinking ‘WTF are you doing?’ like you do in most horror movies.
I just adore the last act of this movie. It’s so rewarding to see one of our victims believably take control of the situation after slowly working out what’s been going on here. The Hills Have Eyes’ multiple attacks on the entire family may be enough to turn people away, but I think it really adds a lot of weight to the closing scenes and it’s almost a release to see Doug taking down deformed freaks like it’s going out of fashion. The blood levels step up, the revenge element feels totally justified and the setting being an atomic town full of some memorable nasty baddies is just iconic stuff.
This remake is actually one I consider very worthy of the effort and I’d also consider it a horror that stands out amongst its very crowded field. It’s well structured, it actually delivers on the scares as well as the gore and the payoff is just horror greatness.
Then they made a sequel…
The sequel to the remake (which is not a remake to the original’s sequel) picks up in Sector 16, the same atomic test site from the first movie, but this time instead of a family going off track we follow a group of National Guards in training who find themselves being taken out one by one by the hill dwelling mutants, who reside within the long abandoned mines.
This outing was written by Wes Craven and his son Jonathan and it really doesn’t live up to the previous instalment at all. For starters it’s sort of inspired by the current war in the Middle East, or so Craven mentions in one of the features anyway—showing us the big brave, armed American soldiers running round the rocky desolate hills being taken out by people that we assume will be a walkover. It’s a tenuous link at best to be honest, mainly because the soldiers involved are so damn inept and show no professionalism at all, despite the bravado on display. These god-awful characters are written like teenagers on a day trip that have taken the clichéd wrong turn and have to fight for survival when they find themselves amongst a family of mutants. Y’know like in most mutant inbred freak related horror movies as opposed to the focused military-folk using their training to save lives which they are supposed to be.
Out of the bunch of National Guards, who are mostly made up of stereotypes, there are really only a few that get fleshed out beyond their allocations of the angry one, the Spanish one, the cool one and so on. The main focus here (and the character originally written to be the Emille de Ravin character from the original, who after the events of the first film joined the army to get over the trauma) is Amber (Jessica Stroup), who really is too damn cute to be a solider. I’m not saying there aren’t female soldiers out there who are this good looking, but remember this is a movie in which she is essentially the lead and she didn’t get cast for her acting skills. Backing her up right till the bitter end is Napoleon (Michael McMillian), whose only real character trait is that he doesn’t really fit into or even like being a soldier, which begs the question ‘why are you even in the National Guard in the first place?’. Everyone else is cannon-fodder. Some make the most of what they have to work with, but it’s all very one-note and plays the usual trick of covering a weak screenplay with a lot of hurling verbal abuse at each other.
The Hills Have Eyes 2 is essentially a very typical horror sequel. It doesn’t break any ground or progress the story anywhere. It just ups the gruesome and attempts variations on the previous instalments events and in this case with varied results. The opening birth/murder scene immediately makes you feel uneasy and really is a effective way of setting a mood (even if it’s not the actual mood of the movie) and there are a number of effective but ultimately forgettable graphic killings dotted throughout the entire runtime but none of them feel exciting or anything more than the next stomach turning event to relieve the humdrum of this silly little bunch of soldiers blindly bouncing their way through a massive horror cliché.
This is everything that sequels shouldn’t be—lazy, repetitive and about as subtle as a brick. It’s totally watchable and never outstays its welcome but it never feels as though out as the first film and is a sharp downturn in the wannabe franchise.
The transfers for both movies share much in common. They are both bright and colourful in the desert sun that beats down on the characters but both have issues with detail. At first glance both movies look to be a good transfer but on closer study the detail in the HD image that we’ve all come to expect from a naturally lit outdoor film just isn’t quite there.
Night shots and darker exterior shots are underwhelming. There’s a lot of grain and the darkness really shows off the lack of real HD detail. Of course it’s all still head and shoulders over what standard def provides, but this is not a transfer that is consistent enough to be considered a true representation of what HD can do.
The wider open space shots have a hazy feel and quite a wash of grain in places and while the sequel just takes the edge, probably because it’s a slightly newer movie, they are both just that little bit shy of being impressive.
Very much a modern horror affair with both movies’ DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Clear, crisp dialogue, fairly limited amounts of atmospheric sound and then boom, a scare knocks you out of your seat. Both sound mixes do a grand job at doing what horror is known for and both come with quite a lot of that jump out of your seat power when they want to.
I found the mix on the second movie to be a bit weaker in the action scenes. There was a lot of emphasis on the music in the scenes and the dialogue and sound effects felt a little muted but this may have been a stylistic choice over a mix issue as the technique was used purposely in the opening scenes.
The first Hill Have Eyes is a pretty lackluster effort besides the two commentaries, the first of which is from director Alexandre Aja, producer Marianne Maddalena and writer Grégory Levasseur. It’s quite lively and full of respect for the original The Hills Have Eyes as well as plenty of information on the remake. Secondly and probably a little more interesting is the commentary by Wes Craven and producer Peter Locke. This one has lots of great stuff on both eras of Hills movies and is just great to listen to considering Craven’s horror status.
Other than that, there’s a seven chapter ‘Production Diaries’ (11:21) collection of on-set camcorder moments, none of which are in depth, plus you get a set of trailers, one for The Hills Have Eyes as well as a few other Fox titles.
As for The Hills Have Eyes 2, this one drops commentaries and goes for featurettes. ‘Mutants Attack’ (9:47) is a brief background to where the freaks come from in the story and how they are different. There’s a ‘Birth of the Graphic Novel’ (12:40), which is essentially a big advert for the prequel graphic novel which throws around fake hype for the fact it’s a graphic novel, which is Hollywood’s latest angle it seems—like it being a graphic novel suddenly makes it respectable. I haven’t read it but it’s just the corporate attitude towards the medium being the current ‘in thing’ that winds me up.
‘Exploring the Hills’ (12:41) is the blink and you’ll miss it making of. It’s totally watchable and has a few good on-set takes of a lot of the key moment in the movie, but twelve minutes is twelve minutes and that ain’t long enough to be considered a making of in my book.
The best extra feature on offer here is the ‘Fox Movie Channel Presents: Life After Film School With Wes Craven’ (10:19), which is a short but sweet interview with Wes, in which he discusses the movie as well as the workings of getting films made—but again ten minutes is ten minutes.
There are also four deleted scenes (3:15) a ‘Gag Reel’ (3:39) and a hilarious alternative ending (0:56), which is worth checking out for its stupidity. Run ‘way, run ‘way’.
Fairly standard transfers for movies that should really be the best the horror HD catalogue should have on offer considering the brightly lit settings. There’s an acceptable set of features but as the majority are on the less interesting of the two movies, this may not be a selling point.
One great movie and one weak sequel leads me towards recommending you just get the first movie and avoid the second… but with some good deals out there for the two pack, completists or the intrigued may want to go for the whole hog.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 20th October 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS 5.1 French, DTS 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: Chinese, Danish, English, Finnish, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish
Extras: Commentaries, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Trailers, Gag Reel, Production Diaries
Easter Egg: No
Director: Alexandre Aja, Martin Weisz
Cast: Aaron Stanford, Ted Levine, Emilie de Ravin, Jessica Stroup, Michael McMillian
Length: 197 minutes
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