Review Date: October 4, 2003
Released by: Anchor Bay
Release date: 9/23/2003
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
In the golden age of 70's horror, films could both frighten and provoke. They explored the nature of evil, the bonds of the family and the decay of modern society, all in uninhibited rawness. Movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
, and The Last House on the Left
helped define an era in both film and culture. Another film worthy of mention amidst the cream of the 70's horror crop is Wes Craven's only other 70's excursion, 1977's gritty and grim The Hills Have Eyes
. After a moderate theatrical run, it was doomed to a life of horrible home video releases, destroying the power of the original film. Out of the dust though, Anchor Bay has finally rescued this grindhouse of a film and have given it the two disc treatment. Pack your bags, lets take a trip out to the desert hills.
The film opens on the imposing rock formations in the south west, near California. The rural landscape is in decay, with the only gas station mere moments from crumbling. Fred (John Steadman
) is ready to get out of the barren wasteland, but has trouble when Ruby (Janus Blythe
) comes to the station begging for food. She lives out in the mountains along with a group of other cannibal misfits, and the weak 70's social climate has rendered them starving and scrounging for food.
Ruby's main course enters however, in the form of the Carter family. Complete with golden blonde hair and blue eyes, this neo-Aryan family (complete with a pre-stardom Dee Wallace
), traveling with their camper attached, is seeking out California and the Hollywood lifestyle they think it will bring. The Hollywood hills they never see however, as their car crashes in the middle of the desert, leaving them vulnerable to the pervading hills. In those hills lurk the cannibals...and they are hungry.
After one of their dogs is killed (poetically named "Beauty") the mayhem begins, as the lines between feral and civilized blur into a single mindset as the film enters its blood soaked credits.
Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes
is one of the great low-budget 70's pictures, one that new movies like Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses
strive and fail to be. Craven's film offers insight into what seperates civilized man from beast, and the answer is: not much. In all its politically incorrect glory, it encompasses the racial hostility, cultural dichotomies, distrust of religion and breakdown of the family that were prevalent in the turbulent 70's society.
Plotting the urban family against the rural, The Hills Have Eyes
was perhaps as close as late 70's horror ever got to the stagnated western genre. This was a new kind of western, Wes Craven style, where the sympathy lay more with the cannibals than it did the "civilized" family. The Carters are so self-centered, hypocritical and mindless that they virtually dictate their own fate. They split up at every possible moment, fail to communicate when their survival requires it, and their selfish Me generation aspirations make them hollow and unlikable. That is not to say that the cannibals are manifestations of the ideal family, but they are far more resourceful, always in communication with one another through radio, and they yearn for far less trivial things in life. All the cannibals ask for is survival. While the Carter's lived on the prospect of moving to California to seek out the fictional "American Dream," the cannibals were far more modest, and their plight seems more realistic. Think The Grapes of Wrath
but with dog evisceration.
Craven pits these two camps, rural and urban, civilized and feral, against each other throughout the movie, showing what makes them different yet ultimately the same. Like the Carter's two dogs, in everyone lies both a "beauty" and a "beast", and as the film progresses, the two polar ideas meld into one. In fact, the dogs in the film serve as a perfect metaphor for humans in general. Under domestic teachings, they are trained at acting civil and restrained, but ultimately, in the wild, their nature depends on primal survival. What Craven says with his film is that like with dogs, there is very little separating the cultured human from his primal ancestors. Here is a film that would make philosophers like Thomas Hobbes or even Jean Jacques Rousseau proud.
Despite their initial juxtaposition, the two families, at their center remain very much similar. Mirroring very much Craven's own upbringing, both families feature a harmful patriarchal figure, and in both cases the father is the one who brings to two families into ruin. Throughout his career, Craven has been fixated on the decay of family values, be it the discontinuity between the old and the young in The Last House on the Left
, or the effects of alcohol and overwork on childrearing in A Nightmare on Elm Street
. Wes Craven, like Cronenberg, Carpenter and Romero, is one of the horror genre's only lasting auteurs. His films always present similar recurring questions about society, seeped in allegory to the literature upon which he was raised. Although his films may be seemingly more polished today, they still remain fixated on many of the same themes prevalent in many of Craven's earlier works.
In Craven's universe, the "protagonists" ask and beg the lord for protection and salvation, but are given nothing but the cold shoulder from the higher-ups. The family is slaughtered, and there is little sympathy or restraint along the way. The final shot of the film is an explosion of anger and rage, pent up from societal reform, and only in the 70's could such a film end in such an intense epiphany. This film lacks the comic relief of his pervious effort, The Last House on the Left
. It remains bare and exposed, uncompromising and violent, and unhinged in its look at civility. It is one of the best American horror films of the 1970's.
Presented in a matted 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, The Hills Have Eyes
looks grainy, gritty and old, just like it should. This is an exploitation film of the 70's, and it retains that amateur look that made it so realistic back in the day. What Anchor Bay has done with the print though, is remove all the nasty print blemishes that littered the past incarnations of this film, and they have given the colors surprising vitality. Bad make-up aside, the blood looks its brightest, and saturation is right on the mark. A few blemishes remain, but this print is surprisingly clean. Given its 16mm origins though, Anchor Bay could do very little to fix the grain and softness inherent in the camera stock.
The Hills Have Eyes
is one of those films, like its other 70's brethren, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
and The Last House on the Left
, that looked absolutely dreadful on tape-based home exhibition. The blacks were so dark and detail so weak that many of the night scenes in the latter parts of the film remained indecipherable. Thankfully, Anchor Bay has given this film new life on DVD. This new transfer offers a cleanliness that would rival the original theatrical prints.
Like many of their other high profile releases, Anchor Bay has offered this film with no less than four separate audio mixes. DTS ES 6.1, Dolby Digital EX 5.1, Dolby Surround and the original mono track are all included. The two digital tracks remain mostly in the front, but there are some surprising bits of engulfment, such as when the jets fly over the landscape. There are even some clever directional effects put into place, most noticeably when the cannibals call out at the Carters from all directions and hence all different speakers. The actual audio elements are flat, but they are worked together better than some of Anchor Bay's other 5.1 remixes, like Halloween
or the virtually mono Day of the Dead
soundtrack. The DTS sounds a bit fuller and a bit louder, but both that track and the Dolby Digital track will definitely leave fans content.
Spread over two discs, this is quite the complete set for this forgotten little classic. The only supplement on disc one is a new audio commentary with Wes Craven and producer Peter Locke. Although there are some dry spells and plenty of forgotten anecdotes, the two participants are laid back, vocal and honest about the film and its shoot. There is some overlap between the commentary and the latter featurettes, but there is still plenty of good information to be had from the track. It ends on a very warm note too, with both Craven and Locke expressing their happiness the effort that Anchor Bay went to preserving the film, and I am sure they are not alone in their praise.
Next up are the bulk of the extras, in the form of two large featurettes. The first is the newly produced and anamophically enhanced "Looking Back On The Hills Have Eyes
," featuring new interviews with Craven, Locke, Michael Berryman, Dee Wallace, DOP Eric Saarinen and a few other actors. The shooting of this film was a tough one, and everyone talks at length at the problems they all faced throughout the production. Rattle snakes went wild, the desert weather was uncompromising and questions about killing the baby are all talked about at length in this feature. Running 55 minutes, this is definitely an hour well spent.
The next documentary is from "The Directors" series of documentaries, which can often be seen on television and can be picked up individually on DVD. Obviously, the focus of this directors episode is on the films of Wes Craven, with several interviews by actors of past productions, ranging from Adrienne Barbeau (Swamp Thing
), Bill Pullman (The Serpent and the Rainbow
) and Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street
). Wes Craven's career is looked at from his childhood all the way up to the pre-release for Scream 3
. Wes is vocal on his past and his inspirations, and plenty of time is spent looking at all of his significant (and not so significant) works. This one runs an hour in length, and kudos goes to Anchor Bay for leasing the rights to include it on this DVD. It may contain a bit of fluff, but generally this is a solid look at Craven's work in film.
A short little "Resotration Demo" is included as well, presenting in split-screen the difference between the original print and the new restoration.
The next significant extra is the original alternate ending for the film. Running nearly 10 minutes in length, it is a reworking of some of the footage in the final film, coupled with some new footage. This ending is considerably different than the actual one, and features a completely different tone and outlook on society. The original is much better considering the subject material throughout the film, but this one remains an interesting way to view the film as well. Of all the alternate endings I've seen, this is perhaps one of the best.
This disc is bottomed off with a number of smaller extras. Trailers, both US and German, and TV spots, both US and UK, are included here, and are wonderfully characteristic of the exploitation era of 70's marketing. Galleries for Behind-the-Scenes, Posters + Advertising and Storyboards are included, and each offers just what their titles proclaim. A comprehensive, textual Wes Craven biography is also included, offering a good summation of his career.
Lastly, some DVD-ROM only content has been thrown in with this already packed release. The original 90 page screenplay is included, entitled "Blood Relations - The Sun Wars" and has completely unshot scenes, including an ending with a cheesy happiness not far from the alternate ending. A couple grimy and cool screensavers are also included for both PC and MAC users. Packed from end to end, this is another one of Anchor Bay's comprehensive two-disc releases, and it was every bit worth the wait.
Violent, sadistic, intense and rich with commentary, The Hills Have Eyes
is one of the great 70's horror exploitation films. This DVD release is as good as the film itself, with newly restored audio and video, and hours worth of excellent supplements. This disc is one of the best horror releases of the year, and deserves to be in every self-respecting horror fan's collection. Civilized or not, run out to your local DVD shop and snag this genre classic. Tell 'em Pluto sent ya.
Movie - A
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B
Supplements - A
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English DTS ES 6.1
- English Dolby Digital EX 5.1
- English Dolby Surround
- English Mono
- Commentary with Wes Craven and producer Peter Locke
- "Looking Back on The Hills Have Eyes" documentary
- "The Directors: The Films of Wes Craven" documentary
- Alternate ending
- Theatrical trailers
- TV spots
- Still galleries
- Wes Craven bio
- Original screenplay (DVD-ROM only)
- Screensavers (DVD-ROM only)