Wednesday, 18 April 2007

The Hills Have Eyes 2 (2007)

Imperial guards vs Chaos cultists, fight!

There's no doubt that the sequel to the remake of last year's The Hills Have Eyes is a vile piece of cinema. The movie opens with a bloodied and dirty-looking woman chained to a bed giving birth to a deformed baby, and things just get progressively more disgusting and twisted: there's a mutant rape, people getting their heads or faces smashed in with axes, stones, bayonets and even wallets, two scenes with cannibalism, and a man crawling out from the hole in the toilet. Okay, the last image is probably a twisted homage to The Ring, but really, it's an indication that this film (like any other rose) isn't too far removed from the gutter.

Before you decide to buy your tickets at the box office, you should know that Weisz and the Craven team have overdone the disgusting elements in this movie, to the extent that there aren't any horror elements left in it. Yes, the heavily deformed mutant humans (unevacuated victims of nuclear tests in the New Mexico desert) are back, but there are no scares in this sequel (would you be horrified by their 1980s style prosthetics? Or the modern school of loud noises carefully calibrated for shock?). This is more of a slasher film, where one by one, a party of militia guardsmen are picked off by our favourite mutants in increasingly disgusting ways. That, interpersed with lots of ugly mutants molesting captured women or embedding foreign objects in the skulls of unsuspecting victims.

Given the pungent, almost sick approach to the slasher film, it makes sense to see this movie not as a horror movie, but as a successor to the long moribund genres of the video nasty and the monster nudie. You'd probably have far more mileage if you went into the cinema because you wanted to watch a vile, sick movie than if you went in expected a horror or straight slasher flick. In fact, you'd underappreciating The Hills Have Eyes 2 if you see it even as a straight slasher flick. You have to understand that sickening movies like this haven't been made since video nasties stop getting made in the mid-80s, or that the art of making monster nudies (or erotic horror) died off with Ed Wood in the late 70s, living in a strange afterlife as tentacle monster movies in Japanese cinema and anime.

But enough about how twisted and perverted the movie is. The more impressive stuff takes place in the second half, where our beleagered guardsmen militia enters the cavernous depths of the mountain mines in order to escape the mutant family hell-bent on eating them or worse. Here, Wes Craven's influence on production design is strongly felt - in an attempt to innovate the genre and cult series he created almost 30 years ago, the producer turns the second half of the movie into a vehicle for American-style, neo-German Expressionism. Like an Escher painting, the geography of the mines, tunnels and passageways connecting the caves of the mountains make no sense, but impart a very palpable sense of the weird and the ominous, much like the more traditional use of Escher-inspired sets in last year's Call of Cthulhu. But Craven goes much further than this, and pulls the unsettling Escheresque geometry inwards, onto the bodily frames of the mutants, making them the manifestation of horror within the horrific location of the caverns. This is what is completely lacking in modern slasher flicks like Saw, Hostel, et al: the sense of true, old school horror spit out with an unexpectedly modern take.

It is very easy to dismiss The Hills Have Eyes 2 as a tasteless movie, but if people would allow themselves a closer look...

Verdict: A pleasant experience that revives the monster nudie and video nasty genres. Personally, I'm waiting for Wes Craven to commission a Warhammer 40,000 remake of this movie!

First published at incinemas on 19 April 2007

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