Wes Craven is often placed near the top of lists concerning the greatest horror filmmakers of all time, and rightly so. He was at the forefront of the gritty, ultra-violent new wave of horror films in the 1970s making such low budget classics as The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. In the 1980s, he rejuvenated the slasher genre by creating the iconic Freddy Kreuger in the Nightmare on Elm Street, then reinvented it with the very meta and very ‘90s Scream films. But while he deserves all the accolades, let us not forget he was far from perfect. He made plenty of clunkers in his day including Shocker (which involves a serial killer getting turned into murderous electricity when he, you guessed it, gets executed in the electric chair), Vampire in Brooklyn (in which Eddie Murphy tried to be funny while wearing fangs and sucking blood), and Music of the Heart (in which Craven goes soft by making a weepy drama starring Meryl freaking Streep as a music teacher helping inner-city kids). Oh, and he made The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2, a movie so bad even nearly everyone involved with it has disowned it, including Craven himself.
Craven readily admits he made the film because he was desperate for cash. The film ran out of money mid-production and was shut down. When The Nightmare on Elm Street became a surprise hit the following year, the studio gave the green light to complete it but didn’t give him enough cash to film any more footage. Craven padded out the run time by adding in numerous flashbacks from the first film.
It is a bad film, but somehow not as bad as I expected.
Eight years after the events from the first film finds two of the survivors running a motorbike racing team. Bobby (Robert Houston) is still traumatized from the horrors in the desert (the film opens with him talking to a psychiatrist) but Ruby, who now goes as Rachel (Janus Blythe), and was originally one of the cannibals but came to her senses by the end of the last film, is doing well. She’s invented a new kind of super fuel that will give her team an edge at the next race.
It is one of the many flaws of this film that we never really see that super fuel in action. It is used only one time and it only makes the bike go slightly faster than the other one. It doesn’t make it fly or jump really far. There aren’t even any flames shooting out of the exhaust. What a letdown. The next race happens to be in the desert near where the attacks happened. Bobby decides not to go but Rachel is happy to take the group. They set off on a bus and almost immediately get lost in the desert. Naturally, they take a short cut through the bombing range.
Yet another weird flaw of the film is that while the team all seem to know stories about what happened in the first film, and are friends with Bobby, who lived through it, none of them seem to believe it. Or at least they don’t take it seriously. They also don’t know that Rachel is actually Ruby. I suppose she might not want anybody to know she used to be a cannibal but that feels like information that would be really hard to hide from your friends.
Naturally, the bus breaks down and they wind up at an old mining ranch. They are initially attacked by Pluto (Michael Berryman) who somehow miraculously survived Beast ripping out his neck (as seen in the first film). But the real Big Bad is someone called The Reaper (John Bloom). It is only the two bad guys this time around and the plot is basically The Hills Have Eyes meets Friday the 13th, Part 2. There are booby traps, violent deaths, some cheeky sex, and a lot of flashbacks. The first half of the film is mostly flashbacks. Even the dog gets one. Seriously. One minute, the dog is sitting on the bus staring into the distance, the next we see a scene from the first film of him attacking Pluto. I like to imagine all good dogs relive their greatest kills.
For a film with only a 90-minute run time, there is a lot of filler. Lots of sitting around talking on the bus or in the mine. But once Craven gets to the violence, it's pretty good. Not great mind you, but there are a few tense scenes and some decent action and bloody kills. I came in expecting a travesty and what I got was something a notch or two above that. It is a bad movie. It is a bad sequel. But watching the two back to back isn’t a bad idea. The first film has its flaws but it's pretty intense. Watching the second one right after will relieve all that tension and keep you laughing at its ridiculousness.
Arrow Video has given it a new 2K restoration from the original film elements. Extras include an audio commentary from The Hysteria Continues plus a long making-of with many from the cast and crew. Plus, the usual trailers, still galleries, and an essay in the booklet. You also get a nice reversible poster and six lobby cards. I wish this was a better film so I could display some of that stuff in my office.