Sunday, October 23, 2011

Clyde’s Movie Palace: The Hills Have Eyes II (2007)

The Hills Have Eyes II (2007)
Cécile Breccia
Michael Bailey Smith
Archie Kao
Jay Acovone
Jeff Kober
Philip Pavel
David Reynolds
Tyrell Kemlo
Lee Thompson Young
Daniella Alonso

Directed by
Martin Weisz


When I first saw the list of worst reviewed movies for the first half of the year at Rotten Tomatoes, I kind of scratched my head in puzzlement. After watching The Hills Have Eyes II, I couldn’t figure out how they missed that one especially since it turns out that it only had an 11 percent critics rating. This was a full five percentage points lower than their number ten movie, Hannibal Rising. It seems Hannibal Lector just can’t get the respect that he once had when Anthony Hopkins is no where to be found.

So I took it upon myself to find out how that could be and after revisiting the site I found out why:

The list encompasses movies from January to June with 50 reviews or more; the rankings are based on a weighted calculation that factors in the Tomato meter and the number of reviews.

Hills II had 53 reviews so it made that criteria with room to spare. So the fact that it didn’t make the list has to be because of that “weighted calculation” doo hickey. You just have to love these sites with these top secret weighted calculations and ratings formulas that even Einstein couldn’t figure out.

Have you ever tried to figure out the IMDB rating system? No, it’s not just based on how many stars people give it. There’s about fifty other factors involved before they post the ratings on a film. In other words if you write a lot of reviews and rate a lot of films I guess your vote carries more weight than just the average schmuck who happens along. Then there’s the never seen, ghostly inhabitants of IMDB known as the 1000 top users. It seems they have more clout than anybody in the world.

I used to rate a lot of movies at the IMDB at one time, until I realized two things:

1. It was taking too much of my time for little or no purpose and
2. There’s been way too many films that I haven’t seen in years so it’s difficult to say how I would view them now. Some movies improve with age, some don’t hold up well, some will always be great but some will also always be shit.

For instance, Brokeback Mountain has an overall rating of about 7.8. With a healthy 44 percent of respondents rating it a ten you would think it would be even better than that and probably in the top 250 films. But as you go down the list you’ll see a rating of only 6.1 from the top 1000 users who actually hold the ratings pie in their hands. It is by far the lowest on the scale of all others who rated it which would lead me to believe that there may be quite a few of these “top users” whose homophobia encouraged them to stick a big fat one vote on it. Especially since that list is obviously male dominated.  Which also goes back to the real reason the film failed to garner the much deserved best picture award.

But that’s a discussion for another day. Getting back to The Hills Have Eyes II and Rotten Tomatoes, there’s another very important reason why Hills II may have been kept off of that ten worst list. The DVD was released this week, the very same week that this list appeared on the web site. Hills II was released by Fox Searchlight and Rotten Tomatoes is owned by Fox Interactive. Do you get the connection? (Clyde note:  At the time of the original writing that was true.  It was then sold by Rupert Murdoch to Flixter for a minority stake.  Flixter has now sold itself to Warner Brothers who can now manipulate to their hearts content)

The point I’m trying to make is that ratings are very subjective, and more often than not pretty useless and even more so when some nameless entities begin using “weighted” and “secret formulas” to make adjustments to steer the ratings in any direction they seem fit. Yeah, yeah, I know, you thought this was a movie review so why don’t I get on with it already.

In my review of the first Hills Movie, you know it wasn’t actually the first Hills film because it was a remake. You may recall that I didn’t look too kindly upon it. My grade for it was in the D range.  And of course, here we are many months later with that sequel getting a DVD release after a quick but brief run at your local multiplex.

Still, there was always the chance that Hills II could be better than the original mess of a film that spawned its creation. There have been a few times over the years when a sequel has actually been better than the first go round, although usually the original at least gives you some something to work with.

But despite the fact that Hills II only had a mound of cow droppings to create its sculpture from, maybe it could do better just starting from scratch. No, it could not. But look at the bright side of things. At least there was no way that Hills II could possibly sully the reputation of Hills I because you can’t make crap smell any worse than it already is. At least you wouldn’t have thought so until now.

When last we saw our radioactively deranged mutants in the deserts of New Mexico, they had just finished having lunch with the Carter Family, uh I mean making a lunch out of the Carter Family. Poor Mama Carter, Papa Carter, and daughter Linn didn’t quite make it through to the end credits, but two teenagers, a son-in-law, and an infant did. So in essence the Carters batted a very nifty 57 per cent against the Mutant Home Team. Now that was an average that any family could be proud of for one of these types of movies, so let’s have a round of applause for the Carter Family!   Yayyyy!

Whereas Hills I opened by pretty much letting us know the whys, hows, and wherefores of mutant existence in the desert, Hill II opens by giving us a quick painful lecture in Biology, also known as Mutant Reproduction 101.

The film begins with a very bloodied woman tied to a bed, screaming her lungs out as she is about to give birth. The woman is obviously not a mutant, and has been laying around and tied up for quite a while. We know this is true because the camera makes a point of letting us see her extraordinary long toe nails and finger nails. So after a lot of blood, insides squishing, bones cracking, and more screaming, the mutant doctor in chief, Dr. McScreamy, pulls the kid out then promptly finishes off the mother. We are not told who or what is going to breast feed the mutant half breed baby, nor are we told whether or not he will be accepted by the entire mutant society since he is only a half and half kid. But that doesn’t matter because the movie isn’t out to make any relevant social commentary regarding misfit mutants even if Cher is singing in the background:

Half-breed, that's all I ever heard
Half-breed, how I learned to hate the word
Half-breed, she's no good they warned
Both sides were against me since the day I was born

Okay, I made all of that Cher stuff up but you have to find fun anyway that you can when you’re watching this stuff. After being used to shock us as much as possible in the opening scene, we never hear from semi-mutant baby again and can only surmise that its mother became the entrée at the evening dinner table.

Score: Mutants 1, Humans 0

So, who is writer Wes Craven going to send out to the desert to be the next smorgasbord? After some quick on screen text reminds us about the fate of the Carter family, we are told that upon the return of the remaining family members, the Army conducted a thorough search and destroy mission in and around Sector 16. Recently, “for undisclosed reasons” electronic monitoring was ordered installed. It was nearly installed when…whoops, beware when there are those dot dot dots at the end of the text in a movie. It means there’s trouble afoot.

We quickly meet these government installers as they do their installing but don’t get too attached. In fact, it is wise to not get too attached to any of the actors sent down from the casting call to be mutant fodder for these films. It’s a guarantee that none of them will be around long enough for you to care. Not that you would want to anyway because the only reason you’re watching a film like this in the first place is so that you can keep track of the body count as it starts to mount.

So after a quick sequence involving three government electronic whiz kids and their one guard, the Mutants quickly add to their kill making the score 5 – 0 with the mutants pitching a shutout. But then again, you also never know how long somebody is going to stay dead in these movies because when you’re on a tight budget you like to have the luxury of killing off some of the cast two or three times. So it is always possible that you may have to temporarily deduct points from the mutant’s side of the ledger so keep those pencils and erasers handy.

This brings us to the answer of our above question about tonight’s main course. Will the Gomer Pyle Army Reserve National Guard Brigade please come on down! Yes, with most of the reserves already over in Iraq shooting real bullets, the Army has no choice but to send the biggest group of incompetent misfits they can find. We know they are incompetent because when we are introduced to the Gomer Pyle Brigade (my term by the way, not theirs) they are playing war type army shoot-em up games. And when one game is finished, they have managed not only to kill seventeen civilians but managed to get themselves pretend killed by a pretend suicide bomber carrying pretend grenades as well. You can hear mutants in deserts everywhere laughing their ass off.

Here are the names of our Seven Private Pyles: Johnson (Jessica Stroup), Medina (Jacob Vargas), Napoli (Michael McMillan), Stump (Ben Crowley),  Mickey (Reshad Strik), Missy (Daniella Alonzo),  Delmar (Lee Thompson Young), and their own version of Sergeant Carter, Sgt. Jeffrey Millstone (Flex Alexander). I’m only telling you this so that you can start chiseling their tombstones right now and get ahead of the game. This bunch can’t even make it out to Sector 16 without getting into a fight with one another. And of course you know that once the Gomer Pyle brigade does arrive, none of their radio communicators are going to work because the Klingons have set up a radio wave dissolving shield around the earth knocking out all earthy radio transmissions for the duration of the movie. Well, at least above Sector 16 they have.

After arriving out in no man’s land, they find it deserted at first, but Pyle Platoon does see someone signaling from a cliff with a mirror at the same time that they receive a garbled but inaudible radio transmission. Sergeant Carter decides to leave behind Johnson and Napoleon while the rest of the squad goes on to check out the mysterious flashing mirror signal. At this point you know what is going to happen next.

If you were hoping as I was that Johnson would strip and sunbathe, or that her and Napoleon would find a private tent somewhere to take the edge off for a change of pace, you can forget it. Nudity and Sex just for fun have no place in this R rated bloodbath. Did you think this was Camp Crystal Lake where you get to screw before Jason comes along to chop off your wing wang?

Instead Johnson and Napoleon are given a present. No, I can’t tell you exactly what it is except to say that Napoleon finds it and mistakes it for a Flintstone Automatic Butt Wiper. But Stone Age warranties being what they are, the Flintstone Butt Wiper quickly goes on the fritz. Okay, you talked me into it. Just look at the picture and put two and two together. I’d have rather had the sex scene though.

To make matters worse, while Johnson and Napoleon are busy with the Butt Wiper, one of the mutant takes the opportunity to blow up their only means of transportation. This happens at 28 minutes 35 seconds into the film, so if you have that number in your “when will their only means of transportation be blown up” lottery pool, you are the lucky winner. Go and collect your grand prize. And if you predicted that the mutants would steal Johnson’s and Napoleon’s guns while they are busy with the truck fire and the Flintstone Butt Wiper, you can pick up your runner up prize. Just call Wes Craven at 555 – 1313.

By now you should be able to write the rest of the script. Due to the general incompetence of the Gomer Pyle Brigade, they begin getting picked off one by one. Kiss anybody goodbye who hasn’t had anymore than about three or four minutes of their own screen time. You also know that eventually they will have no choice but to get their act together and begin working as a unit if any of them are going to have a chance to party on with the Carter Family Mutant Leftovers.

At some point it is explained to us that the mutants need to use the females for breeding purposes so that they cannot only keep from dying out but also so that they will have a chance to proliferate. And where does this information come from? Just keep in mind what I told you about keeping track of the body count. Keep those erasers handy.

The reason this explanation is offered is twofold. It explains the lengthy bloody and painful childbirth scene at the beginning of the film for those of you still in kindergarten who couldn’t figure that out in the first place. And the other reason we are told this is so that you can begin looking forward to the long and excruciating rape of one of our two lady privates courtesy of one of the mutants. You had also better keep in mind that if you like doing a little tongue twisting at home with your mate; you may never be able to do so again without thinking of this film. Don’t say you weren’t warned. And to add to the misery, the mutants don’t whisper words of love, but instead it’s simply “Give Me Baby.” Yeah, I kind of knew from the start these mutants were a bunch of right wing fanatics. Don’t make love, make babies.

It also certainly doesn’t take a genius to know that the reason Martinez keeps pulling her cell phone out to watch a video of her kid is so that it will play a part one way or another later in the film. Doesn’t it always?

You can easily predict what’s going to happen in any of these films before your buttocks have a chance to warm your recliner seat. Despite that, it is always possible that the directors and writers might drum up some suspense if they can make you care about who is going to be tonight’s Mutant Dinner Special. Failing that, at least maybe they can tweak the plot somewhat to change things up a little bit making it all a tad less predictable. None of that happens here. As a matter of fact they make things so predictable that they even borrow a plot device used in the first film to help the Pyle brigade.

So unless you’re really curious about the gore effects, or you have a sick mind and really enjoy lengthy rape and painful child birth scenes, or just want to completely see how much ridicule you can heap on it with your friends, there is nothing here for you. We really care no more about the Gomer Pyle Brigade than we did about the very annoying Carter Family in round one. The only thing I could think of is if there was a whole platoon of George W. Bush’s from his National Guard Days, then the incompetent Gomer Pyle Brigade would probably be that platoon.

Let’s not forget that the Rotten Tomatoes survey actually gave Hills I a very hefty fifty percent approval rating. So maybe you did like that film and are looking for more of whatever it was that attracted you to it.

I do hope you find it. As for me, I really couldn’t find anything here to enable me to recommend the movie to anyone just as I couldn’t a year ago. At least the first film did have some intensity to help relieve the boredom and predictability. So what else can I do?