The Hills Have Eyes Part 2, Not Just for Craven Completists Anymore

Alright, there won't be any comparisons today.  I've always had a bit of a soft spot for this one, but I decided long ago I wasn't going to buy it until they came out with some kind of special edition.  I'm willing to buy it once; but this is a movie I definitely wasn't prepared to double-dip on.  And it took until 2019, but it's finally happened.  Arrow has released a very attractive, deluxe collector's edition of The Hills Have Eyes Part 2.  You did it, boys; now I'm in.

Update 1/24/20: Adding the original Image DVD so we can see just how far we've come.
The biggest problem with this sequel that took seven years to deliver is the burden of expectations.  It certainly has a lot of dumb dialogue and a collection of other flaws, but it's most hurt by the fact that it lets down viewers who are naturally expecting higher quality not just from Wes Craven, but in particular The Hills Have Eyes original film.  Sure, everyone walking into the theater knows sequels have a natural tendency to decline, but Hills 2, has a returning writer/ director, plus most of the key surviving cast members, yet totally drops the ball.  It's not just the expected issues like trying to implausibly bring back everyone into the same situation as last time and recreating too many of the original films moments, although this film is guilty of both.
It's that it doesn't even try to live up to the tone or the emotional impact of the first one.  It's no longer about two families pitted against one another, or an unflinching look at our basest violent roots in nature.  It's a silly slasher with the most generic teenage cast possible, devoting half their budget and running time to Yamaha product placement.  We're expected to believe the mutant family living in the desert immediately hop on the racers' motorcycles and are expert riders, able to zip through dangerous terrain and out ride the pros.  Seriously, this movie asks us to accept that Bobby and the cannibal girl (who now sports a perm and speaks like a college graduate) from the first film have invented a super fuel, and all their friends will sell it and become millionaires if they can just get to a big race by 11 am.  That sounds more like the plot to Revenge Of the Nerds 3.
But if you put aside those expectations and just take this film on its own terms, well, it's still better than plenty of its 80s slasher peers which are so in vogue now right now.  If you're one of the many eating up all these DVD and blu-ray releases of titles like The Forest, Iced, Drive-In Massacre, Doom Asylum, Microwave Massacre, Don't Go In the Woods, etc. Wes Craven is still operating on an entirely higher level.  The look and staging is effective, the thrills are relatively fast-paced, there are impressive set pieces with fire, explosions and people flying through windows.  I mean, compare this to the film that most blatantly tried to emulate it, Memorial Valley Massacre, and this is like 2001: A Space Odyssey.  You know, the motorcycle stuff is dumb but fun, Harry Menfredini gives a dependable Friday the 13th-style score, Michael Berryman still brings a great characterization that goes far beyond his unique look, Beast is back and Wes is able to fully indulge his fetish for booby traps, which honestly never gets old.
So this is my first time springing for Hills Have Eyes 2, but it sure isn't its first time on disc.  Image first put it out as a barebones DVD back in 2002.  Anchor Bay UK got ahold of it 2004, but their edition was barebones, too.  Then Kino released it on blu in 2012, but it was not only barebones again, but in the unusual open matte ratio of 1.57:1.  Odeon then released that same 1.57:1 transfer over in the UK, and with the pretty much the world's first video extra: a five minute overview by a film critic.  But now in 2019, Arrow's gone and taken a fresh 2k scan of "an original 35mm dupe negative element," and turned it into a fancy, limited edition.
2002 US Image DVD top; 2019 US Arrow BD bottom.
And it looks great!  The film's matted properly to 1.85:1 and film grain is distinct and unmarred by compression.  Compare that to Image's washed, brown, 1.31:1, interlaced mess.  I was having trouble matching the first set of screenshots, where Tamara Stafford spreads her fingers, until I realized her fingers were too small to even show in the DVD's resolution.  Meanwhile on the blu, there is very slight wear to the film elements, but I barely even caught it until after watching the film when I went back for screenshots.  I suppose 4k would've brought it out a bit more, and individuated the grain, but I don't think it would add much more to the viewing experience, although with this film being shot in 35 rather than 16 like the previous film, there could be a little more clarity hiding away in the OCNs, if those still exist (I assume there's a reason they went with a dupe).  But really, there's nothing to complain about what we've got here.  The colors and contrast levels are completely natural and authentic feeling.  Gotta love these Arrow restorations.

And for audio, we've got the original, uncompressed mono with optional English subtitles. Image's DVD was obviously compressed and had no subtitles, but did throw in a French dub.
And for extras?  Well, it's not so much that they've packed in a whole ton of stuff.  But they've linked up with Red Shirt to create a definitive, just over 30 minute retrospective where an impressive amount of key players finally get on record about this film.  We hear candid reports from producer Peter Locke, first assistant director John Callas, production designer Dominick Bruno, Harry Manfredini, and stars Michael Berryman and Janus Blythe.  It strikes a great balance between them cast and crew acknowledging the flaws and dubious reputation of the film, and owning up to where things went wrong; but also respecting the qualities that did make it up on screen.  After that, though, things start to feel more like dressing than essential content.  The Hysteria Continues provides a predictable commentary which sways between informed insight and self indulgent chatter: worth a listen if you enjoy commentaries, but you won't be missing much if you can't be bothered.  Besides that, there's the trailer and a robust stills gallery.

Off-disc, we get a chunky little 38-page booklet with notes by Amanda Reyes and a cool vintage set report from an old issue of Fangoria.  There's a double-sided fold-out poster, six cool postcards and Arrow's standard insert card (mine's for The Horror of Malformed Men).  The outer box is designed to match their collector's edition of the first film, making them a handsome pair, and the interior case has reversible artwork.  I can't say I ever imagined this film would receive such a lavish presentation.

Image?  They just had a fullscreen trailer.
In short, Arrow has given this film more than it deserves.  A near-perfect presentation of the film, the documentary it's always needed, and a whole collection of superficial bells and whistles.  And the sum of all that is what makes it finally enough to add this film to your collection even if you're not a Craven completist.

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