Before Wes Craven sold out to Dimension Films, HILLS HAVE EYES partner Peter Locke recruited him to lend his "presentational" input to the in-name only sequel THE HILLS HAVE EYES III: MIND RIPPER.
Deep in the Mojave desert in an underground bunker, scientists are experimenting with a virus for cellular regeneration created by Stockton (Lance Henriksen, PUMPKINHEAD) who agrees with his co-workers – Alex (John Diehl, STARGATE), Joanne (Claire Stansfield, DROPZONE), Rob (Gregory Sporleder, THE GRIFTERS), Frank (producer Peter Shepherd, MADHOUSE), and Larry (John Apicella, POINT BREAK) – to make a human guinea pig out of a young hiker near death after falling from a cliff near the bunker who they christen "Thor" (Dan Blom, BODY BAGS). As Thor's vitals start to go south and Alex insists on continuing the experiment, Stockton walks off the project and tries to salvage his neglected family life. While Thor seems to be dying, he has increased in size and it becomes apparent that his senses are becoming enhanced. When he suddenly wakes and kills some of the team, Joanne and Rob discover that Alex has been accelerating the virus treatments behind their back to create a super soldier to sell to the highest bidder. As Alex forces the remaining crew to help him hunt down Thor whose body is undergoing rapid changes that require him to feed off the brain cells of his victims, Stockton decides to make an ill-advised side trip to the bunker while taking his estranged son Scott (Giovanni Ribisi, THE POSTMAN), daughter Wendy (Natasha Gregson Wagner, LOST HIGHWAY), and her boyfriend Mark (Adam Solomon) on a camping trip.
Produced as THE OUTPOST and distributed overseas as THE HILLS HAVE EYES III, MIND RIPPER (as it is better known) has more in common with other 1980s and 1990s underground bunker terrors like J.S. Cardone's SHADOWZONE with a side of THE X-FILES than Craven's HILLS films other than the desert setting of which we see little (the film was shot on location in Canada and tax-break-friendly Bulgaria). A post-PUMPKINHEAD, pre-MILLENIUM Henriksen was not yet phoning it in for genre parts but Stansfield is the more interesting strong heroine while Diehl is also more entertaining as the ruthless and unethical project supervisor during his time onscreen. Ribisi gets in on the action during the climax but he and Wagner have little to contribute as the hero's estranged family. The film – scripted by Craven's son Jonathan who also scripted the sequel to THE HILLS HAVE EYES remake and produced the remake of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT – was a strange sophomore effort for director Joe Gayton after the indie drama WARM SUMMER RAIN, but it presumably gave him the chance to direct action as it consists of a lot of running around corridors (Gayton's more recent success has been as the creator/writer of the AMC series HELL ON WHEELS). The effects work of Image Animation (HELLRAISER) is of a high standard (a shot of a toenail being separated from its digit looks quite painful), as is the mobile photography of Fernando Argüelles (who went on to more mainstream prominence as a DP on shows like PRISON BREAK and SCORPION), but the film is recommended for Craven completists and fans of 1990s DTV fare.
MIND RIPPER was released on tape stateside by Warner Vision in a serviceable digitally-mastered fullscreen transfer that did the best with the film's hazy, backlit nineties visuals. A widescreen transfer appeared overseas from Anchor Bay UK but that turned out to be a PAL conversion of an NTSC master. Stateside, the fullscreen transfer prevailed on streaming services until Code Red's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen Blu-ray transfer which provides an improved visual experience with better delineation of light and shadow in the bunker settings while the enhanced detail does not detract from the Image Animation prosthetics the way new transfers have for the Hellraiser films. The pointless nightmare sequence in the middle of the film has slightly chalkier shadows than the rest of the film, but that appears to be a stylistic choice. The Dolby Stereo soundtrack is reproduced here in a clean DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that reveals just how anemic the synth scoring of J. Peter Robinson (RUMBLE IN THE BRONX) is compared to the full orchestral work he provided for WES CRAVEN'S NEW NIGHTMARE the previous year. The sole extra is a standard definition theatrical trailer. (Eric Cotenas)
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