Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #119
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: June 1984 (Mystfest), January 1985 (video premiere)
Sub-Genre: Eighties Slasher
Country of Origin: United States/United Kingdom
Running Time: 86 minutes
Director: Wes Craven
Producers: Peter Locke, Barry Cahn, Jonathan Debin
Screenplay: Wes Craven
Special Effects: Dick Brownfield
Cinematography: David Lewis
Score: Harry Manfredini
Editing: Richard Bracken
Distributors: Castle Hill Productions, Thorn EMI, Redemption (DVD/Blu-ray)
Stars: Tamara Stafford, Kevin Spirtas, Janus Blythe, Colleen Riley, Penny Johnson, Willard E Pugh, John Laughlin, Peter Frechette, Michael Berryman, Lance Gordon, James Whitworth and John Bloom as The Reaper
Suggested Audio Candy
Iron Maiden “Run To The Hills”
I have a tendency to appear a little hard on Wes Craven. It’s not intentional and certainly not personal as I respect the living shit out of the guy for what he has achieved and contributed to horror over the past forty years or so. Indeed, there was a period when he provided us with more triple-A horror movies than most directors can ever dream of. When the slasher boom was beginning to show signs of floundering, it was craven that gave it the shot in the arm it so desperately required and A Nightmare on Elm Street did far more than simply jumping on the bandwagon. Instead of playing by the rules, he made up his own and, considering dreams are such an unknown quantity, Freddy’s playground couldn’t have been more extensive. Its success paved the way for films such as Clive Barker’s Hellraiser to explore our darkest fears and, while Krueger went on to become little more than a parody of himself, none of the blame can be laid at Craven’s door.
Over a decade later he was at it again and the nineties gave horror buffs precious few reasons to be cheerful so, when Scream arrived in 1996, his timing really couldn’t have been any better. Moreover, he was aware that times had changed and had a little fun with the formula as opposed to subscribing to something that was clearly way beyond long in the tooth. Once again, what happened afterwards was not particularly encouraging as numerous other filmmakers hopped on board and undone much of his good work by churning out all manner of increasingly powder-puff teen slasher fare. This time he retained control of the franchise and it ended up misplacing its edge. However, the fact remains that he provided us with one of few high points during a decade that was anything but bustling with them.
Of course, there were plenty of valleys amongst the peaks and his output ranged from inspired to insipid but, to his eternal credit, he never stopped plugging away. Films such as Shocker may have failed to ignite the same level of fervor but were never less than entertaining and The Serpent and The Rainbow was one of the last notable horror movies of the eighties. However, the seventies produced some of his best results and, after making himself known with The Last House on The Left in 1972, The Hills Have Eyes reinforced his claim to be one of the premier exploitation filmmakers on the circuit. It seemed inevitable that he would return to the fray at a later date and, with Krueger milking the fiscal teats for all they were worth, that time finally came. It doesn’t take a great stretch of the imagination to know which basket his eggs were placed as, while A Nightmare on Elm Street was moving boundaries, The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 was operating well within them.
Expectations were understandably high when Craven announced his return to those barren sands and his decision to distance himself from the exploitation in the seventies for the allure of the more fashionable eighties slasher, his devotees took it hard. Subsequently it garnered the worst kind of attention and disappeared from plain sight like Salman Rushdie around Ramadan, languishing on VHS rental before being consigned to perpetual limbo. Things only worsened as time ony appears to have deepened the abrasions and The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 has continued to be dragged across the hot coals. I have read some truly vitriolic words spoken about the sequel and many regard it as one of the lousiest follow-ups in recent history. One look at its lowly aggregate scores speaks volumes as, aside from 3.7 average on IMDb, it boasts a virtually unheard of 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While I’m not about to suggest that it’s a misunderstood masterpiece, it’s way beyond time somebody set the record straight.
You see, while The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 is little more than a generic slasher with little to elevate it above the glut of other wannabes doing the rounds at the time and a far cry from the tense cat-and-mouse of its original, once you apply a little perspective things could’ve been a darn sight worse. First up, it allows us to spend 86 more minutes with one of the nicest guys in the industry, Michael Berryman, and anyone who has brushed shoulders with this gentleman at horror conventions can attest to him never being less than accommodating. Granted, his distinctive features and gawking eyes aren’t put to the best use here as Pluto is far less formidable than beforehand and more of a court jester than anything else. However, he has also brought along some friends and, if you’re looking for reasons to be fearful, than that honor would fall squarely on the broad shoulders of the overbearing Reaper (John Bloom).
It ties in loosely with the original by reintroducing us to survivor Bobby Carter (Robert Houston) and now civilized Ruby (Janus Blythe) who own a motocross team and have invented a super fuel that can power bikes. Said team are due to race in the very desert where the Carter clan came a cropper but Bobby chickens out at the eleventh hour, leaving Ruby (now renamed Rachel in an attempt to put the past behind her) to take charge and lead the expedition. Hopping aboard a school bus are legally blind Cass (Tamara Stafford), her adrenaline junkie boyfriend Roy (Kevin Spirtas), fellow petrol head Harry (Peter Frechette), pretty young thing Jane (Colleen Riley), affable West Side Story reject Hulk (John Laughlin), and token black couple Foster (Willard E. Pugh) and Sue (Penny Johnson Jerald). To make up numbers, they swing by the dog pound and pick up the Carter’s family mutt Beast and head off into the eye of the sandstorm.
Needless to say, it isn’t long before they become lost and decide to take a shortcut through a bombing range. As their bus begins leaking fuel, they make a pit stop at an old mining ranch and it doesn’t take a genius to work out what happens next. One-by-one, they wander off and walk straight into their projected reprisals and, while Pluto is more than happy to run them ragged for his own sick amusement, The Reaper is far less forgiving.
While Craven’s screenplay is hardly his finest and paints largely by numbers, he drip feeds the dispatches at regular enough intervals and never once encourages us to take a glance at our wristwatches. Aside from our obligatory final guy and gal, the rest of the cast are largely lambs to the slaughter although they’re hardly despicable and fun enough to kick back with as we await their inevitable terminations.
I first watched The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 at twelve-years-old so admittedly wasn’t the hardest audience to please and, by the time I watched it again, my rose-tinted spectacles were firmly in place so perhaps my word counts for nothing. However I will say this. Slashers have never been rocket science and are only required to tick a few measly boxes to satisfy their target demographic. Craven’s sequel may well be something of a downgrade from the original but it is inoffensive and never tedious. Thus, it’s about time that somebody sees fit to fight its corner. If you’ve suffered the later entries in the Friday The 13th franchise, then there’s nothing here to have you up in arms. Sometimes a little perspective is all it takes.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: If a trick is missed here then it would invariably be the grue as there isn’t a great deal of splatter on the platter and plenty of missed opportunities. Throats are slashed, spear bolts launched, hatchets embedded and we even get death by plummeting boulder but, for me, the standout is entirely bloodless. One hapless harlot meets her end courtesy of the ultimate bear-hug, pressed against The Reaper’s reinforced chest plate, and we are treated to each snap and crackle as every last breath in her lungs is strained out. There’s even a dash of T&A too just for good measure.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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