The Hills Have Eyes: 4K Ultra HD Special Edition
(Dee Wallace, Michael Berryman, John Steadman, Peter Locke, Russ Grieve, et al / 4K Ultra HD / R / (1977) 2021 / Arrow Films - MVD Visual)
Overview: Horror master Wes Craven achieved critical and commercial success with the likes of Scream and A Nightmare on Elm Street – but for many genre fans, the director’s seminal 1977 effort The Hills Have Eyes remains his masterpiece.
Taking an ill-advised detour en route to California, the Carter family soon run into trouble when their campervan breaks down in the middle of the desert.
Stranded, the family find themselves at the mercy of a group of monstrous cannibals lurking in the surrounding hills. With their lives under threat, the Carters have no choice but to fight back by any means necessary.
Following on from his notorious 1972 directorial debut The Last House on the Left, Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes stands alongside the likes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Night of the Living Dead as one of the defining classics of American horror.
4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Verdict: Last House on the Left was one of those movies that was unpleasant to watch because it was so well made.
Wes Craven and producer Sean Cunningham pulled out all the stops and wrote in all of the most disturbing and cringe-inducing scenes they could think of into Last House on the Left, and I think that a lot of that depravity seeped over into Craven’s next film, The Hills Have Eyes.
My first assumption was that Craven had a hard time finding work or funding because of the controversy that resulted from Last House, but in one of the featurettes on this brand new 4K re-release of The Hills Have Eyes, he explains that the studios wanted another similarly horrible film but he didn’t want to do it again. As he explains, he resisted until he was almost broke, then made The Hills Have Eyes.
The similarities to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre are fairly extensive, as far as plot. A station wagon full of city folk are driving through the desert and ultimately find themselves struggling for their very lives from some sinister and disturbed people living completely cut off from civilization. And if that is not enough similarities, they are also cannibals.
On the one hand I want to say that the acting was sub-par at best, but on the other hand, there were some truly impressive scenes, even from the same actors that turned in some of the most disappointing performances in other scenes.
Of particular interest is the fact that the movies story is derived from things that Craven learned about Greek mythology, namely, the way that the forces of good and evil sometimes combined, blended, and ultimately became blurred on each side.
The evil curved toward good as the good reacted to the evil by becoming it. This is what The Hills Have Eyes does. It’s a study of how easily people can turn from good to the very evil that they despise.
Notice the end of the film when the character looks down at the blood all over himself and realizes that he has become one of the murderous cannibals that he has been trying to escape for the entire movie.
That such a raw and horrific horror movie is able to explore such a universal aspect of humanity should in itself lift it from the level of campy horror trash that so many people gleefully and immediately condemn it to, without making even the slightest bit of effort to learn what the movie was trying to accomplish.
On the one hand, it attempts to delve into a base aspect of the human condition, and on the other hand it tries to scare people out of their wits. And amazingly enough, it succeeds at both.
The Hills Have Eyes was overshadowed the year of its release by Smokey and the Bandit, which was released a week later, but it also shared theater screens with such tripe as Day of the Ants and The Exorcist II.
It wasn’t the most popular movie in theaters, but it was distantly the best horror film, and deliberately threw caution to the wind as far as breaking taboos and creating a potentially offensive cinematic experience.
Indeed, after Last House on the Left, Craven was hardly concerned with maintaining his politically correct reputation.
The movie plays into a favorite Hitchcock theme, that of extraordinary things happening to ordinary people. You have the typical all-American family hunted by a clan of monstrous cannibals and in the middle of the desert.
Not only do they have to deal with a broken down car and no mechanic in sight, but the dryness and heat of the desert and now these people trying to kill them.
What may be most disturbing about the movie is that it is based on the Sawyer Bean family, who committed similar atrocities along lonely highways outside of London, and whose story inspired Craven to write this film.
It’s true that the movie is unpleasant and makes you squirm at many points, but that’s because it is a true horror film, it’s not the sugarcoated nonsense that Hollywood cranks out these days.
This is the kind of raw horror film that Rob Zombie was trying to take us back to with House of 1000 Corpses, and it’s exactly the kind of movie that Craven’s longest standing and truest fans wished he had gone back to.
And after watching The Hills Have Eyes and comparing it to just about any contemporary horror film, it’s easy to see why. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Brand new 4K restoration of the film, viewable with both original and alternate endings
4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray presentation in High Dynamic Range
Original lossless mono audio
Optional lossless 2.0 stereo and 7.1 remixes (original ending only)
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Reversible fold-out poster
Limited edition 40-page booklet featuring writing on the film by critic Brad Stevens and a consideration of the Hills franchise by Arrow producer Ewan Cant, illustrated with original archive stills and posters
Audio commentary with actors Michael Berryman, Janus Blythe, Susan Lanier and Martin Speer
Audio commentary by academic Mikel J. Koven
Audio commentary with Wes Craven and Peter Locke
Looking Back on The Hills Have Eyes – making-of documentary featuring interviews with Craven, Locke, actors Michael Berryman, Janus Blythe, Robert Houston, Susan Lanier, Dee Wallace and director of photography Eric Saarinen
Family Business – an interview with actor Martin Speer
The Desert Sessions – an interview with composer Don Peake
Trailers and TV Spots
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper