Coming off of the success of his beloved horror classics, The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, Wes Craven's box office hot streak went cold with Deadly Blessings and Swamp Thing, both of which now have a cult following. With is filmmaking career nearly dead in the water and funds quickly becoming scarce, Craven did what most directors in the '70s and '80s had to do and opted to make a sequel to a hit. He agreed to shoot The Hills Have Eyes Part 2, a hastily-produced and a somewhat incomplete sequel to his 1977 cannibal classic. Mind you, this was a year or so before Craven's career saw the saw far–reaching success of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Considered by many to be the worst film of Craven's career, with the man himself "disowning" it shortly after its release, The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 has somehow developed a decent cult audience following its arrival on home video. This beckons the question: Is it really that bad? Well, the answer is yes and no. For me, it kind of falls into the "so bad, it's good" category. Yes, it uses flashbacks and repurposed footage to fill out a pretty big chunk of its runtime, and it ridiculously assumes that it audience hasn't seen or has, in some way, forgotten the events of the original film, but in retrospect, the film certainly isn't the steaming pile of garbage it's been conceived to be. Obviously, the folks at Arrow Video seem to agree, as they've given the film quite a stellar limited edition release.
In the 1984 follow-up, a motocross team on their way to trial a new super-fuel head out across the desert lead by Bobby (Robert Houston) and Rachel (Janus Blythe), who, unbeknownst to the rest of the group, are survivors of the cannibal clan which menaced the Carter family several years before. Opting to take an ill-advised shortcut across the desert, the busload of youngsters drive straight into the path of the remnants of Rachel's (formerly known as Ruby) demented cannibal kin, including the menacing Pluto (Michael Berryman), and a hulking, blood-hungry brute by the name of The Reaper (John Bloom).
While The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 follows a pattern very similar to the first film, it veers away from the grim tone of its predecessor in favor of fun '80s slasher-esque thrills, and I know this is gonna sound pretty blasphemic to some, but it's a lot more of an enjoyable film due to this. As in, I can have a few brews and be far more amused by it's slightly comedic, action oriented antics. This definitely doesn't mean it's superior in terms of storytelling or technical merits, the first film's brutality and disturbing content just makes it a harder experience to sit back and take in. Harry Manfredini's (Friday the 13th) score also makes the film a bit more palatable, giving it comparable sound to the slasher flicks being released at the time. The characters are fairly more entertaining than the those found in your average slasher. Of course, they're dialogue isn't the greatest, but they certainly don't feel like murder fodder, and they never really reach the point where you're anticipating their deaths. Michael Berryman is once again a pleasure to watch as Pluto and John Bloom does an adequate job in filling to void left by Papa Jupiter.
Clearly, there are plenty of reasons as to why The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 was met with such disdain, with the most infamous of the issues being it's numerous flashbacks, which can feel annoyingly repetitive. Hell, even one of the Beast has a flashback to the events of the previous film. Yes, it's ridiculously unnecessary, but utterly amusing at the same time. Additionally, it's insanely unrealistic to see a feral and savage character such as Ruby just leaving behind her cannibalistic tendencies from the first film and returning to civilization with no issues in adjusting to a normal human life. Even though it's not up to par with the original, The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 is a fun return the desert, one that admittedly receives a little more flack that it deserves.
Even for a film made on the remnants of a shoestring budget, the 1.85:1 1080p image seen on the Arrow Video release is insanely impressive. There's a natural film-like grain throughout the entire film, and while the much-grainier footage from the original film is unfortunately amplified during the flashback scenes, this Blu-ray's new 2K restoration (from a 35mm negative) is most likely the best this film will ever look on Blu-ray. Colors and contrast levels are well-balanced in both day and nighttime scenes. Of course, the daytime scenes offer up more crisp detail, but the stable black levels of the nighttime scenes allow all of the action to be seen clearly with minimal crush. The picture does suffer from some scratches and speckling, but for the most part, I'd say it's right there with Arrow's presentation of the first film in terms of visual fidelity.
As for the audio, it's presented in English mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. It's a nice upgrade over previous releases of the film, though there's nothing particularly outstanding about it. Everything is as it should be. Dialogue is clear and discernable, and there no major defects, such as crackles, hisses, or pops. All in all, the audio elements play just fine, even for a narrow track.
As is the case with many Arrow Video releases, the special features and bonus contents are a huge selling point, and they didn't skimp on them with this one! First up, there's an all-new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues podcast members Justin Kerswell, Nathan Johnson, Joseph Henson, and Erik Threlfall. It's a light-hearted discussion with a group of people who enjoy the film, so it's far from a total roasting. Blood, Sand, and Fire: The Making of The Hills Have Eyes Part II is a fantastic new 31–minute documentary by the always wonderful Red Shirt Pictures. This mini-doc alone helped grow my appreciation for the film. It contains interviews with actor Michael Berryman, actress Janus Blythe, production designer Dominick Bruno, composer Harry Manfredini and unit production manager/first assistant director John Callas. There's an animated stills gallery featuring over 70 behind-the-scenes stills, promotional photos, posters and more. It runs for nearly 7 minutes! Rounding out the on-disc content is the original theatrical trailer from when Thorn EMI released the film. In terms of physical goodies, there are 6 lobby card and poster reproduction postcards, a double-sided poster featuring Arrow's new cover art and the original artwork, and a limited edition 40-page booklet featuring new writing on the film by Amanda Reyes and an archival set visit from Fangoria. All of this is housed in Arrow's typical sturdy cardboard slipcase.
Like so many other cult films in recent years, I feel The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 is due for a resurrection, and if anything, Arrow's new Limited Edition release provides a very good reason to revisit the widely-overlooked sequel. It may be an awful film to some, but this release is far from that, and I really admire what Arrow Video has done here. Hell, it's worth buying just to see and hear the thoughts of those involved with the film's production, something that has rarely, if ever, happened since its release.