The Hills Have Eyes II

Huh. I said in my review of last year’s “The Hills Have Eyes” that among its problems was that its characters were too likable and genuine, making it almost unendurable to watch them tortured and slaughtered later in the film. Now the sequel has remedied that problem by making all the characters combative, stupid, and vulgar, and yet it’s STILL not a good movie.

The right combination, I suppose, would be to have the characters as loathsome as they are in “The Hills Have Eyes II,” then to dispatch them as horrifically and distastefully as the nice folks in the first movie were. That might give us some kind of creepy pleasure, seeing people we hate killed by other people we hate.

But this sequel, written by Wes Craven and his son Jonathan and directed by German music-video director Martin Weisz, lacks the ghoulish imagination that can make a slasher flick entertaining. These people get bumped off, sure, and the survivors get some revenge against their attackers, yeah. But there’s no fun in it. There’s no wit in the dialogue, no surprise in the methods of death (a disappointing number are simply shot), and there’s a rape scene that’s ugly and gratuitous.

The characters, morons even by slasher-flick standards, are National Guard trainees who stop to deliver supplies to the real Army in the New Mexico desert, only to find that the Army guys have all disappeared. They get a radio call from a survivor, and a rescue party is assembled. Two privates are left at the camp while the other six soldiers and their commanding officer head up into the hills to find the injured Army dude, and also to be killed, one at a time, by the mutants who live there. A lot of scenes are thus set in the dark caves, recalling the vastly superior thriller “The Descent.”

For reasons unknown, the National Guard trainees all hate each other. The exception is that there are two women among them, and the guys sometimes pretend not to hate them long enough to flirt with them. But mostly, it’s hate. Hate, aggression, and defensiveness. Witness this exchange of dialogue between two of the men:

ONE SOLDIER: You’re not Rambo resurrected! (Meaning: “You’re not the ultimate soldier you think you are!”)

ANOTHER SOLDIER: You can Rambo resurrect my b***s!

Now, come on. What does that even mean? It’s something a violent, stupid person would say just to be quarrelsome. The first half-hour of the movie is full of that kind of thing, up until they started getting killed, at which point they (mostly) stop fighting and start peeing their pants instead.

I am not going to tell you the characters’ names, or the names of the actors who play them.

More than anything, “The Hills Have Eyes II” feels like an exercise, not a real film. It’s a chance for a new director to go through the mechanics of making a torture-porn hackfest — where to put the camera, how to sever the limbs, when to show the killers’ faces — without bothering to fill in the details. Unfortunately, this dry run has been put into theaters, unrefined and unwatchable, and I have watched it. The good thing is, you don’t have to.

D (1 hr., 29 min.; R, nonstop harsh profanity, a lot of torture, gore, and violence, a little nudity.)