Archive for the ‘The Hills Have Eyes (1977)’ Category

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Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: October 11, 2016

Region: Region Free

Length:

Original Ending: 01:29:59

Alternate Ending: 01:31:17

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: Original English LPCM Mono Audio (48 kHz, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.78:1

Bitrate: 34.95 Mbps

Notes: This title has been given an underwhelming Blu-ray release from Image Entertainment and is available in various DVD editions (including an impressive 2-disc edition from Anchor Bay).

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 “Everything you learn and know melts into what you make in a film. But I think Vietnam, more than anything, was the influence on [The Hills Have Eyes], just realizing that you could send out the nicest American kids and they’ll come back having done things they never thought they could do. That the whole nature of warfare, as it began for Americans in Vietnam, was the idea of guerrilla warfare, where there were not only no uniforms [sic], but civilians were used as a device for political gain or sway. Civilians were killed in a routine matter. It was a whole turn where, as brutal as war was, it just felt like it hadn’t quite been that low before. Now it seems to have descended even lower with Palestinians sending their kids out with bombs strapped around their waists. It’s nightmarish, you know. That was the strongest influence on those films, just coming to terms with the death of the American Dream and the loss of American innocence and [a sense of] clear good and evil.” –Wes Craven (KNAC.com, January 1, 2004)

Wes Craven achieved critical and mainstream commercial success with A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Scream (1996), but the 1970s was an interesting era in the history of American cinema. Westerns were violent, bloody, and painted a rather grim portrait of the American dream, while Horror became a home for angry and nihilistic young filmmakers to hold a mirror up to the current culture. Wes Craven was one of these filmmakers, and he made relentlessly unsettling horror films. His seedy $87,000 debut was originally titled Sex Crime of the Century (later titled Last House on the Left), and the film is famous for its unflinching depiction of rape and murder. Here was a filmmaker who thought nothing of breaking the rules. Anything might happen, and the low budget “documentary” approach made it feel uncomfortably real (despite a few questionable acting choices).

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The Hills Have Eyes was made by this same anarchic director for approximately $230,000. Taking a detour whilst on route to Los Angeles, the Carter family run into trouble when their campervan breaks down in the middle of the desert. Stranded, the family finds themselves at the mercy of a group of monstrous cannibals lurking in the surrounding hills. With their lives under threat, the Carters are forced to fight back by any means necessary.

As grueling a viewing experience today as it was upon initial release (although much less shocking in the wake of torture-porn), The Hills Have Eyes was undoubtedly a huge leap forward in the evolution of Wes Craven. He still had a relentless disregard for convention and good taste, but experience had taught him a few things. This film is better made than his previous effort. Arrow’s Blu-ray packaging calls The Hills Have Eyes Wes Craven’s “masterpiece.” This is stretching their credibility rather thin, because while the film is certainly a major entry in the director’s filmography; it is a far cry from his best effort. Having said this, it is essential viewing for avid horror freaks. Skip the remake and watch the original.

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The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

This is the epitome of wonderful packaging. It is such an attractive release that it might be difficult to do it justice here. Three items are held in a very sturdy box featuring artwork by Paul Shipper: The Arrow Blu-ray disc, a collector’s booklet, and a reversible foldout poster featuring both the original one sheet and the new Paul Shipper design.

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The Blu-ray disc is housed in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve that allows fans to showcase either the Paul Shipper artwork or the film’s original one-sheet. It is nice that Arrow has also offered fans the opportunity to utilize the film’s original one-sheet art because we feel that the new art is a bit busy. However, this is a matter of taste and there is little doubt that some will prefer the alternative. In addition to the Blu-ray disc, the case houses six postcards featuring various foreign posters used to market the film upon its original release.

The collector’s booklet includes an interesting essay by Brad Stevens that discusses various 1970s horror tropes employed by the film and a consideration of the entire franchise by Ewan Cant. As is usual, the book is illustrated with related artwork and still photography.

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The disc’s animated menu utilizes footage from the film and is easy to navigate. Everything about this release is remarkable, and Arrow should be commended for their efforts.  

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The Hills Have Eyes was given a 4K restoration that was supervised by producer Peter Locke and this allows for a superior image transfer than those included on the previous Blu-ray release from Image Entertainment. The Super 16mm source and low budget nature of the film’s production seem to limit the results somewhat, but this cannot be blamed on Arrow’s transfer. The important thing is that this is a fantastic representation of the 16mm source. The booklet included with the Blu-ray detailed the film’s restoration process in technical detail:

“The film was scanned in 4K on a Northlight Film Scanner, selecting the reels in the best condition from two separate 35mm CRI elements struck from the 16mm AB Negative reels, which have been lost… Grading was performed on a DaVinci resolve and restoration was completed using PFClean.” –Liner Notes

 In some respects, this restoration transfer should probably receive a five-star rating, because the film probably looks as good as it possibly can on Blu-ray. Unfortunately, the limitations of the source keep it from looking as wonderful as people expect from the format. These expectations brought us down to a slightly unfair four stars. (Note: We had a similar experience grading the disc’s audio transfer.)

This is a much brighter presentation than viewers remember watching on previous home video releases and this allows for a significant increase in detail. Colors are more vivid than one might expect and appear to be relatively accurate if flesh tones are any indication. Purists will celebrate the fact that Arrow hasn’t scrubbed the image of its original grain (and there is a significant amount). Arrow should also be congratulated for rendering the transfer with a much higher bitrate than the Image release. The earlier disc had a bitrate of 17.99 Mbps while this disc nearly doubles this number at 34.95 Mbps. This accounts for the marked increase in detail and clarity. Fans of the film should be smiling.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow has opted to represent the film with a linear PCM track at 24-bits that remains faithful to the films Mono origins. Purists will certainly be pleased with this decision, but there will be a few who might prefer a manufactured surround experience such as the 5.1 track that was included on the original Anchor Bay DVD. These viewers should be informed that Anchor Bay’s 5.1 track was merely blown up mono and never sounded like a legitimate surround experience. In any case, such an experience wouldn’t likely add much to their enjoyment. The film’s gritty aesthetic is part of its charm. Dialogue sounds a bit clearer on this disc than in previous releases and ambiance and music are given room to breathe. One cannot imagine that the film could sound any better than this considering its low budget “grindhouse” origins. Weaknesses in the track result from these origins and cannot be improved upon.

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Arrow offers up a fabulous supplemental package that goes beyond anyone’s reasonable expectations. There is no fewer than three feature-length audio commentaries and two full hours of legitimately informative video-based supplements. Disregarding the aforementioned commentary tracks, the disc provides over 2 hours of video-based supplemental entertainment. Other studios need to be paying attention. This is how you do it!

[Note: The only noticeable omission from the earlier home video releases of this film is a documentary on Wes Craven’s filmography. The program basically ran through the Craven filmography and included surface level interview commentary about each film up to that point in his career. However, Arrow Video has more than made up for that minor omission with a set of new superior additions.]

Audio Commentary with Wes Craven and Peter Locke

It is nice to have this engaging commentary from Wes Craven and Peter Locke ported over from the original DVD release of the film. The track repeats some of the information found elsewhere on the disc (including the incredible “making of” documentary), but it is rarely dull. It is probably the strongest of the three commentaries because it offers an account of the production from the actual filmmaker’s perspective.

Audio Commentary with actors Michael Berryman, Janus Blythe, Susan Lanier and Martin Speer

The actor’s commentary is perhaps less prone to give the listener concrete details about the making of the film, but all four participants are engaged and seem to be having a good time as they share general recollections about their experiences. There are some genuinely interesting anecdotes shared here, although it must be said that many if not all of these are discussed in the excellent documentary or the commentary with Wes Craven and Peter Locke. What stands out is how much fun they seem to be having re-watching the film some 40 years after they shot it. Even those who might be disappointed with the lack of practical knowledge shared here will no doubt enjoy listening.

Audio Commentary by Mikel J. Koven

Mikel J. Koven’s academic commentary offers an examination of The Hills Have Eyes and how the film owes a debt to the legend of Sawney Bean. Koven reads from the earliest published account of the legend in an effort to draw parallels between Sawney Bean and The Hills Have Eyes before drawing direct comparisons between the two. He also discusses the film’s various sequels and remakes in the same context. Those looking for an incredibly dry scholarly analysis of the film need look no further. However, viewers will want to stay on the main road if they prefer technical and anecdotal accounts of the production. What is nice about this track is that it offers the kind of theoretical examination that is missing in the other supplements.

Alternate Ending – (HD) – (11:35)

It’s always interesting to examine alternate endings but—as is often the case—one is glad that the filmmakers didn’t use this inappropriate “happy ending.” It drains the film of its power and the themes presented throughout the film aren’t quite driven home as effectively as it is in the “official” ending. One can even choose to watch the film with this ending instead of the theatrical ending but few will want to do this more than once.

Looking Back on ‘The Hills Have Eyes’(54:35)

This “making-of” documentary features interviews with Wes Craven, Peter Locke, Michael Berryman, Dee Wallace, Janus Blythe, Robert Houston, Susan Lanier and Eric Saarinen. They discuss in candid detail the trials and tribulations that went into the production in relatively comprehensive detail. This documentary was created for the film’s DVD debut and has been carried over to this fabulous disc. It might be the best supplement included here, and it is essential viewing for fans of the film (and for fans of the genre in general).

Family Business: Interview with Martin Speer (16:08)

Martin Speer was conspicuously missing from the “making of” documentary but Arrow makes up for his absence by offering this interesting stand-alone interview. Here he divulges some of his recollections from his experience working on the low budget production such as auditioning, stunt work, working in the elements, and special effects. This is a very nice companion to the included documentary.

The Desert Sessions:  Interview with Don Peak (11:00)

Don Peak is engaging and informative as he discusses writing and recording the film’s score. This short interview is another well-done piece that should be of special interest to anyone who has an interest in film scores. There is really quite a bit of value packed into this eleven minutes.

Never-Before-Seen Outtakes – (18:58)

One feels privileged to have the opportunity to watch this material. There are few truly amusing moments included in this reel of scrap footage but it is certainly interesting to see small glimpses behind the scene of the film.

Theatrical Trailers and TV Spots:

US Trailer – (02:43)

Vintage trailers are always amusing curiosities but what is striking about this trailer is that Wes Craven’s name is already being touted as a selling point due to the surprise success of The Last House On The Left.

German Trailer – (02:46)

This German trailer seems to be the same as the American trailer dubbed in German with “Hügel der blutigen Augen” written under the film’s American title. It is certainly interesting to hear the footage in German.

TV Spots – (01:54)

These TV Spots aren’t dissimilar from the theatrical trailer and utilize much of the same footage. The most interesting of these contain an opening text-based warning: “The following spot is for a new motion picture already acclaimed a terror classic. It might not be suitable for viewers under 17. You have five seconds to make your choice: turn the dial or discover… The Hills Have Eyes.

Image Gallery – (00:40)

The discs image gallery is really pretty standard and contains a collection of stills, advertisements, and posters used in the marketing of the film.

Original Screenplay (BD/DVD-ROM Content)

The PDF copy of the film’s original script is an interesting artifact and an instructive reading experience. It is really nice to have it included it on the disc.

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Final Words:

Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes is an essential exploitation film for anyone who has a particular fondness for horror. This is gritty balls-to-the-wall filmmaking with no regard for rules and reverence. Meanwhile, Arrow has been described by cinephiles as “The Criterion Collection of horror and exploitation.” Anyone who has ever wondered why they have such a great reputation should indulge in this great limited edition release as it is a sterling example of why the aforementioned description is absolutely on target.

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 Review by: Devon Powell