While Wes Craven may possess a sterling legacy as a master of horror, his actual output is as up-and-down as the rocky California terrain used in his 1977 cult film The Hills Have Eyes. Though far inferior to the film it somewhat rips off—1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which is perhaps the most artful low-budget exploitation film ever made—the original Hills struck a chord with moviegoers and ultimately raked in 100 times its budget in worldwide box offices receipts. A sequel was inevitable, especially when, six years later, Craven was strapped for cash.

The Hills Have Eyes Part II might have helped Craven keep the lights on, but the flick is one of the biggest blemishes on his spotty career. Though Craven was contemporaneously creating one of the most iconic entries in the slasher genre by imbuing Freddy Krueger with a dark levity and self-aware mischievousness that gave him more dimension than the blank-faced Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees, Hills Part II comes off like a lazy Friday the 13th knockoff. The plot essentially boils down to a group of bawdy, irreverent teens isolating themselves in a remote, abandoned locale and getting picked off one by one without acting as though much at all is amiss.

As often happens in the worst of sequels, Hills Part II revises the facts of the original. The movie opens with Bobby Carter (Robert Houston), a survivor from the first desert massacre, speaking about the ordeal with the worst psychiatrist ever. In the eight years since the gruesome slaughter of his family (and one of his beloved dogs), Bobby has come to run a team of motocross bikers and to have developed some kind of super fuel that is sure to win them the big race. Problem is, the race is going down in (wouldn’t you know it) the very desert where his family was killed, triggering a bit of understandable anxiety on Bobby’s part. But his psychiatrist (David Nichols), who despite his profession is apparently unaware of trauma, basically tells Bobby his terror is silly because Jupiter, Pluto and the rest of the boogeymen are long dead.

Bobby still wisely chooses not to go, thereby disappearing from the remainder of the film and saddling his business partner Rachel (Janus Blythe) with the responsibility of supervising the busload of wacky bikers and their girlfriends. Rachel’s not without a little PTSD of her own, given that she’s actually Ruby, the turncoat daughter of cannibal clan patriarch Jupiter, a woman who killed her brother with a rattlesnake while helping one of the Carters escape in the original. It seems that despite growing up in a cave and being abused by her mutant brothers and monstrous father, Ruby/Rachel has acclimated just fine in the intervening years, becoming a regular suburbanite without a hint of stunted intellectual development or mental illness. She even dresses to impress.

From there, some revisionist history is needed to supply the film with villains. While the hairless wonder Pluto (Michael Berryman) had his Achilles tendon slashed and throat ripped out in the first movie, he’s back here. Jupiter’s mystery brother, a grunting giant named “The Reaper” (the 7’4” John Bloom), evidently appeared out of nowhere in time to heal him, as Pluto informs Ruby in a bit of exposition when the two meet again and come to blows. Problem is, Papa Jupiter was an aberration in the first film, a monster child who killed his mother at birth and was later beaten and abandoned by his father in the mountains only to sire a clan of violent cannibals with a deranged prostitute. There’s no plausible way for Jupiter to have had a brother, but with a film this bad that’s actually one of its lesser sins.

With the biker team stranded in the desert due to their bus springing a gas leak, Ruby reveals her identity to the rest of the group, which includes a wisecracking black guy (Willard E. Pugh) and a vaguely psychic blind girl named Cass (Tamara Stafford). Their friends can’t get over how respectively black and blind these two are, and Cass doesn’t help her cause by constantly joking about her lack of sight. Just like a bad Friday the 13th film, the gang splits up and explores an abandoned mining camp. They make out, take inexplicable outdoor showers, dodge booby traps and chase down a football helmet-wearing Pluto, who’s tooling around on one of the motorcycles he stole from them. One by one, most of them die. But with the help of Beast, a German shepherd from the first film who even gets his own flashback sequence (yes, a dog having a flashback), Cass and one of the bikers manage to pull off the most implausibly elaborate scheme to ultimately kill “The Reaper”—and just like the original the climactic moment comes via fireball.

Famously disowned by Wes Craven in subsequent years, this misguided sequel was shot in 1983, prior to the filming of Craven’s masterpiece on Elm Street. Production was scuttled when the film, given only a $700,000 budget, ran out of money. Freddy Krueger didn’t solve all of Craven’s bottom line issues either—despite Nightmare’s success, Craven had signed over to New Line Cinema virtually all ongoing financial rights to what would become his most iconic creation. The director has said in interviews that he only did The Hills Have Eyes Part II for the paycheck, and that he would’ve filmed “Godzilla Goes to Paris” in those lean years leading up to Nightmare’s smash success. Following Freddy’s box office bonanza, the studio asked Craven to finish up Hills Part II after all.

With the studio still pinching pennies, Craven was only allowed to finish the film with the footage he’d already shot. He’d only completed about two-thirds of this sequel during the first stint of production, and cobbling together unfinished scraps isn’t exactly a recipe for a classic. To pad the runtime, he’d be forced to incorporate many flashback sequences using hefty chunks of footage from the original 1977 film. These flashbacks make what was already a poorly acted, terribly written (one biker actually taunts, “The Reaper sucks!”) and illogically plotted cash-grab sequel into a film that insults the viewer’s intelligence. The Hills Have Eyes Part II has been one of most ridiculed horror sequels ever, and Craven would rarely speak of it again—and even then only doing so in apologetic terms. Craven may have been a master of horror, but was just as often a slinger of schlock.

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