Plot: What’s it about?
A family is traveling through the desert en route to California, but the road ahead offers some dangerous choices. If they continue on one path, they will drive through some isolated and undeveloped areas, which could mean trouble. When they stop to fill up on gas, their fears are confirmed by the gas station attendant, a man named Jupiter (James Whitworth). He warns them of the potential hazards ahead and recommends the main road, as it provides a safe and dependable venue. Of course, the main road is also a longer route and that seems to be important, since time is always an issue. As it turns out, the family ignores the advice of the man and ventures off on the shortcut, with hopes of cutting down on travel time. The road winds through an abandon stretch of land that happens to be trafficked after all, though not by cars or trucks, but by military planes that soar overhead. When one screams over the car, the driver panics and loses control of the wheel, which results in a crash. Now the family is stranded out in the middle of the desert, with no signs of relief anywhere in sight. As the heat begins to kick in, the family starts to realize chances of surviving are slim without a rescue. The family is not alone out in the desert however, though the eyes that watch them are by no means friendly…
This film is often referred to as a cult classic, but it played in mainstream theaters and found a solid audience. If you’re talking about cinema with even a casual horror movie fan, this movie is bound to come up and in a positive light. As director Wes Craven became more famous however, The Hills Have Eyes was kind of pushed to the back burner. Although genre fans have remained faithful and never forgotten this film, The Hills Have Eyes has always been the victim of lackluster attention on the home video market. But with this new Special Edition release, fans can rejoice, as The Hills Have Eyes has finally bee given the lush treatment it deserves. This is a dark, often brutal picture that has influenced droves of filmmakers. The tension and atmosphere is superb, as Craven and his crew made full use of what limited resources were available. You can tell Craven had polished his skills by this production, but that polish removes some of the raw edge, though The Hills Have Eyes still has ample raw presence. This is by no means a flawless movie, but it is a masterpiece of horror and more than earns it place as such. Anchor Bay’s two disc edition is a textbook example of how studios should treat their cult horror classics. As such, I am able to give The Hills Have Eyes my highest recommendation.
These days, you can find Wes Craven’s name slapped on countless bad movies, some he had no hand in, but some he directed himself. His Scream series ignited box offices, but left a lot of horror fans let down. Those movies sparked a tidal wave of bloodless, WB style horror films and the genre has suffered as a result. But before he went soft on us, Craven used to produce some nasty little shockers, including this all time classic. In The Hills Have Eyes, Craven creates realistic tension and very effective scares, all on a tight budget. He never shies away from violence, blood, and other controversial elements either, which ensures this movie has a brutal, unflinching texture that stays with you after the end credits. As a low budget feature, The Hills Have Eyes puts its limitations to use and comes across in an almost documentary style, which of course, adds to the sense of tension and atmosphere. I know it will never happen, but I wish Craven would return to his roots, as his earlier works stand as his finest. Other films directed by Craven include A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Last House on the Left, and Swamp Thing. The cast includes Dee Wallace (The Frighteners, The Howling), Michael Berryman (Cut and Run, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), and James Whitworth (She Devils in Chains, The Black Angels).
Video: How does it look?
The Hills Have Eyes is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. This film was shot on low end stock, on a slender budget back in the 70s, so it has never looked that impressive, let alone on home video. But this is an Anchor Bay release, so you know they’ve invested a lot of resources in giving us the best possible presentation. An extensive restoration was undertaken, which has perhaps even improved over the original materials. The print still shows grain, but that is due to the stock used and as on the whole, this is a clean print. A lot of debris, marks, and nicks have been removed, which yields a cleaner, crisper picture than ever before. I found colors to be quite bright and natural, while contrast is as stark as the material allows. If you’ve seen previous home video editions, then you know how miserable this movie has looked, but those days have come to an end with this release.
Audio: How does it sound?
In a bold move, this release includes two brand new soundtracks, as we have Dolby Digital EX and DTS ES remixes. Most studios won’t even go this far for their elite level releases, but Anchor Bay has pulled out all the stops on this one. But don’t go looking for miracles here, as even these fancy new soundtracks can’t overcome the limited source material. There is some added depth with these new versions, but surround use isn’t too frequent. I had hoped for more atmospheric presence, but these tracks wind up as basic, yet effective presentations. This is due to the material however, as I am sure these remixes represent the best possible sound, all things considered. I couldn’t tell much of a difference between the two, so whichever you decide to select, you should be pleased with the results. This release also includes a 2.0 surround option, as well as the film’s original mono soundtrack, which is a move sure to please fans.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The lone supplement on the first disc is an audio commentary track, in which director Wes Craven and producer Peter Locke remember the production. An honest, candid session, this proves to be an open and informative experience. Both men seemed excited to discuss the film, even when it involves talking about the lesser points. On the second disc, we start off with Looking Back at The Hills Have Eyes, an almost hour long retrospective documentary on this cult classic, which is an excellent piece. Some of the same material is covered in the audio commentary track, but there is ample new data to be found here. Craven and Locke return, while others interviewed in this piece include Susan Lanier, Michael Berryman, Dee Wallace-Stone, and other cast members. The Wes Craven installment in the series The Filmmakers is also found here, an hour long program which looks at his entire career behind the cameras. This was already released on DVD at one point, but it makes a great addition to this release. This release also includes an extensive collection of still photos, storyboards, and promotional materials, two television spots, an alternate end sequence, a talent file on Craven, and two of the film’s theatrical trailers.