Did you know that there is actually a third movie in The Hills Have Eyes series? I’m not talking about any of the remakes, but rather a movie from the early 90’s called Mind Ripper and why they decided to call it that instead The Hills Have Eyes Part 3, I don’t know. Although after seeing it, maybe they were too ashamed to attach the franchise’s name to it, but not too ashamed to attach Wes Craven’s name to it. In fact, his name is right on the box as “Wes Craven Presents,” which I’m guessing is only because his son Jonathan Craven wrote it.
So where does Mind Ripper fit in with the other two The Hills Have Eyes films? Well, it doesn’t really. It’s more of an in-name only kind of tie in. Oh, it does take place in the desert, but aside from that, the plot is a ‘genetic experiment gone awry’ that low budget b-movies in the 90’s seemed to love so much. I could spend all day listing those movies and talking about how awful and full of holes those plots are, but let’s stay focused and talk about Mind Ripper.
The movie starts and right away some poor sap already wants out of the movie as a team of scientists in an underground lab, called Gentec, find his mangled body. Leading this estranged crew of nerds is Stockton, played by Lance Henriksen! I think it’s safe to assume that Lance is only appearing as a favor to Wes. Since his body is on their turf, he graciously volunteered himself to be their test subject. As the scientists race to save the quickly dying stranger’s life, Stockton gives him a shot of something he had been working on. It’s experimental, it’s dangerous, but it’s the only thing that could save the young man’s life. I’m sure the FDA or military would allow human testing on serum that is still in the development stage. Eh, what could go wrong?
It’s now six months later and folks at Gentec have been using the stranger as a lab rat and now call him Thor. I know what we’re all thinking, but that crossover isn’t happening. Remember earlier when I said the 90’s loved to use this ‘genetic experiment gone wrong’ plot? Well part of that was to load it up with the most stock, one dimensional characters in matching jumpsuits it can find. Leading the group is Alex, who is so secretly (but it’s not really a secret) evil, he should be twirling a mustache and laughing whenever lightning strikes. Of course there is also the fat slob Larry, the pervy tech dude Rob and the hot tough chick that is also a scientist, Joanne. From here, you can already guess how it’s going to play out for each one these characters.
Having left that project three months prior, Stockton is now trying to rebond with his daughter Wendy and her oversexed boyfriend Mark, who reeks vaguely like a Baldwin. Mark is the kind of guy who always has that look on his face like everything is bulls**t and has a double entendre for anything anyone says. This is the kind of character a movie can’t kill sooner and horrible enough. Also tagging along is Stockton’s cliched 90’s son (you know, the kind that hates authorities and his parents for no reason) Scott played by Giovanni Ribisi in his first movie role! Tough break kid. We all gotta start somewhere, but I heard there is this little World War II picture from some guy named Steven Spielberg… he may have a role for ya.
Scott spends most of his time smoking cigarettes and listening to his Walkman, because he’s full of angst and you just wouldn’t understand! Naturally, he doesn’t want to go on a camping trip with the rest of his family, but luckily for him, Stockton is called back to the lab since Thor is having seizures, thus having to cancel the camping trip. But work be damned! Stockton decides to bring his family… and Mark… along, because if there is any place in the world that can bring families closer together, it’s restricted secret genetic research labs.
Before Stockton can arrive, Thor’s seizures get worse and the team suits up in hazmat gear and tries to save him, but fail and he dies on the operating table… and then the team removes their hazmat gear, which leads me to believe that they are immune to all known and unknown diseases! Or… it’s lousy screenwriting. Speaking of, it wouldn’t be a failed genetic research movie if the test subject didn’t come back to life and slaughter all but Alex, Rob and Joanne. It’s here where Alex is revealed to be evil, which doesn’t come as a surprise, just as Thor captures him. Thor is looking rather sweaty and puking up weird egg-snake looking things, as he tells Alex that he is dying (didn’t he already die?) and needs brain juice to survive and then proceeds to suck out Alex’s brain with his tongue, which is now about two feet longer and has this little straw spike at the end of it. Maybe that was Alex’s goal all along: to infect random people so they mutate and their tongues turn in to straw spikes, which he can then market as the ultimate party accessory! Straw Spike!
Stockton now arriving, tells his kids to wait at the plane they arrived in, but do you think they listen? So screw it, everyone pile inside the super secret bunker that we somehow were able to get in to. Apparently they don’t delete the access codes of former employees. Talk about a overlooked flaw in your security system. But are you surprised? Thor is running around the airduct like a kid in a McDonald’s play pen! Rob and Joanne are trying to elude Thor in a room labeled with toxic waste warnings. The best thing about this room is that Nickelodeon must have designed this place, since leaky toxic waste barrels are insecurely placed at the top of a steep slope that leads right to the door. So what the hell is the point of that room? Or this scene? Finally, Thor happens to capture Rob, who just accidentally got his toe nail ripped off in what is honestly one of the most cringe worthy scenes I’ve ever seen, and then eats his brains.
As Stockton ventures off to find the other scientists, Thor tracks down his kids and nearly kills Scott, until Stockton tackles him, but he’s easily muscled down, beat senseless and left for dead. Yeah, great family and friends you have there. And now this is when the movie really becomes the ‘genetic experiment gone wrong’ movie, as Scott, Mark, Wendy and Joanne spend the remaining duration of the film trying to survive and giving each other pep talks about surviving, while giving exposition. A lot of these kinds of films seemed to do this after Aliens. I’ll give you one guess as to what they could possibly be doing with that serum at the research lab.
If you guessed ‘to make super soldiers’… DUH!
Nothing else to do now except come up with some lame brain plan, like leaving a trail of brains (oh yeah, there are a bunch of brains laying around… it’s a lab) to a freezer. Can’t say I’m surprised it it worked, because I’m not. Thor isn’t the brightest star in the galaxy, if you know what I’m saying. He’s an idiot. A buffoon. That is what I’m saying. He may be as dumb as a jar of melted molasses, but he sure is strong as he starts to smash his way out of the freezer as the group finds Stockton alive and they make their daring escape… or do they?!
Yeah, it’s that kind of ending where you think the villain is dead and they will escape and the he pops up and they have to kill him and escape again… repeat this several times.
I’m kinda in the middle of the road on this one. On one part, the cast is pulling in rather solid performances. Lance Henriksen is always great, regardless of how goofy the content in the movie is. John Diehl, who played Alex, really plays up the spineless villain, as he does in a lot of movies that he’s in. However, we don’t really spend too much time with these people to really get to know them. A detail about why they are the way they are is usually glossed over and explained in a sentence. And those we do spend time with, like Mark and Scott, we don’t really care for. Again, having some backstory could have made them more sympathetic… except for Mark. I do like the mystery of who Thor was before he was experimented on, but not much is hinted at or brought up, so you wouldn’t really think about it as a casual viewer. Although the visuals are pretty great, giving you some special effects that will make you squirm, the plot is old and tiring, offering nothing new or interesting. After about twenty minutes when you realize what kind of movie this actually is, you’ll find yourself waiting for the characters to die rather than be involved in what’s happening in the story.
Not a bad first attempt for Jonathan Craven, so surely his next attempt will be better… what was it? The Hills Have Eyes 2 remake? That pile of garbage that was only made to capitalize on the success of the original film’s remake? Ugh! Thank goodness he hasn’t written anything since… yet.
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