It’s not just The Hills Have Eyes though. There’s also [REC]2, Hatchet II, and to some extent Child’s Play 3 and even The Descent Part 2. That’s right, ever since Cameron’s space marines faced off against Ridley Scott’s classic xenomorphs, horror has suffered from what I like to call Horror Sequel Militarization Syndrome. That is, a growing number of horror sequels involve sending the military (or police in the case of The Descent 2) to investigate the original threat and succumbing to it as well. In some cases, it’s really the logical next step in the story, but it’s rarely a good idea. Here’s why.
The rationale behind the military-minded horror sequel is that it gives the filmmakers the opportunity to display how utterly badass their franchise’s villain is. Anybody can pick off a bunch of stoned-out-of-their-gourds teenagers, but the meanmotherfuckerdom it takes to annihilate a squadron of highly trained soldiers is the stuff of legends. This, supposedly, makes the villain truly unstoppable and thus much, much scarier, right?
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Except that it doesn’t. As I like to repeat to the point of cliché, the fear you experience in a horror film comes from placing yourself in the victim’s shoes and vicariously experiencing the danger. When the partying teens enter the woods/desert/abandoned house, they are unprepared to fend off the threat they’re about to face. This helplessness is what generates sympathetic feelings in the viewer, and thus causes us to fear for them.
This is the whole reason The Final Girl is such a potent archetype. She’s usually the virginal one, not because she’s pure, but because she’s not empowered by her sexuality. Take Laurie Strode, for instance. John Carpenter, progressive-minded fellow that he is, wasn’t slut-shaming making Laurie the survivor. Lynda and Annie are the confident, risk-taking types who aren’t afraid to go after what they want. Laurie is the mousy, obedient one, and thus the one that comes off as the most helpless. Of course, as with all final girls, there’s more to her than you expect, and she’s able to summon the inner strength to survive her ordeal.
So what happens when the victims become heavily-armed warriors? In a nutshell, we don’t fear for them as much because they project strength, and rather than running, they’re usually confronting the enemy head-on. Thus, the horror sequel becomes something more akin to an action movie. Even though the protagonists’ weapons ultimately fail them, they go out fighting. And while the action may get your blood pumping, it’s not the same as fear.
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I know what you’re saying. “But Aliens kicks Ass right in the balls.” And indeed it does. It’s one of my favorite action movies ever, and 3 out of 5 times, I’ll choose to watch it over the original (yeah Alien is better, but Aliens is more rewatchable). And Cameron even manages to make it genuinely scary in spots. In short, I have no complaints about Aliens, just the tendency to militarize horror sequels.
This militarization is especially troublesome in The Hills Have Eyes 2, because it undermines the whole premise and selling point of the film. The concept here is that the mutants aren’t simply out to kill and eat people anymore; this time they’re seeking women to keep captive as breeders. It’s a chilling thought, and one that would have been better served by a film with less testosterone. There are a scant 2 female characters out of a squad of around 10, and as soldiers, they’re some tough chicks.
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What was so disturbing about the original (and the remake thereof) is that the victims were just an ordinary family that included the most helpless of humans, a baby. While the dad was a retired cop who was armed, he was also the first to go, leaving the rest of the family without a protector.
For the sequel, I’d have gone with a group of female friends on a roadtrip/bachelorette party who get ambushed by horny mutants. They’d have been unarmed and possibly hung over. When half of them are captured and drug off to the caves for repeated raping, the others would have to go in after them with little more than a tire iron as defense. That would have been some scary shit. Soldiers… meh. Kill or be killed is pretty much what they signed up for (no disrespect to any soldiers reading this, I just figure y’all know how to take care of yourselves).
In the end, taking out a squadron of soldiers doesn't so much make the mutants look like a formidable enemy, it just makes the soldiers look completely inept. But then, the dialogue already did that before the first mutant showed his bad complexion.
So what do you think? Do military-minded horror sequels work? Which ones did I leave out? Sound off in the comments, yo.
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