The Hills Have Eyes (1977) – By Roger Carpenter

 

If you are reading this review, I’m going to assume you haven’t been living under a rock for the past 40-odd years and you have probably seen this movie. Probably more than once. Like multiple times. So I won’t waste your time with a discourse on the plot or a comparison between the original and the remake. There are plenty of reviews out there if you want that kind of information. So why review another Hills Have Eyes Blu-Ray? Well, because this is an Arrow USA release. Need I say more?

Arrow Video has again put a classic horror film through a 4K restoration, resulting in what will very likely be the best this picture will ever look. Director Wes Craven, against the wishes of his DP, Eric Saaranin, chose to shoot the film in 16 MM due to the need for filming quickly as well as simply ease of use (I’m sure cost probably helped determine this as well). The result, when blown up to 35 MM, is a graininess that simply will never disappear. No restoration of any kind can fully correct this problem. But honestly, that’s okay, because, at its heart, The Hills Have Eyes is a grindhouse film, so the grain actually helps create mood and atmosphere in this case.

It’s hard to underestimate the impact of The Hills Have Eyes four decades after its initial release. At this point, Craven had made only one “mainstream” film, The Last House on the Left. It was another five years before he was able to create Hills, but this film not only helped to solidify his reputation as a premier director of horror films, but has made a lasting impression in the genre. Think of all the films you’ve seen about groups of people stranded in desolate locations. It’s an overused plot device at this point, but in 1977 it was still quite fresh. Think of Rest Stop and the Wrong Turn series, both series which rely on various tropes pioneered by Hills, itself made in homage to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

One aspect of the film I do want to touch upon is the incredible score by Don Peake. It is haunting and insidious. As with many great scores, sometimes the viewer isn’t even aware of the score. Unlike the crashes meant to coincide with a quick edit that creates a jump scare in today’s film, many times you won’t notice Peake’s work even though it creates a thick atmosphere of tension in unique ways other than using an orchestra. Simply put, it is masterful. In fact, the one feature I wish had been, but was not, included on this disc would be an isolated musical score.

That being said, Arrow has seen fit to include a ton of special features, both ported over from other releases as well as made especially for this release. There are no less than three (!) audio commentaries. The first is a commentary with Craven and producer Peter Locke. It is funny and informative, and very entertaining. The second is a cast commentary including Michael Berryman, Janus Blythe, Susan Lanier, and Martin Speer. It is also very lively, informative, and entertaining. The last commentary is by film scholar Mikel J. Koven. It is a much more academic commentary and focuses on the legend of a Scottish cannibal clan which Craven used as the inspiration for this film. I enjoyed this commentary very much, though some may find it too scholarly for their taste.

Along with the Craven/Locke commentary, another feature ported from an earlier release is a 2003 making-of documentary called “Looking Back on The Hills Have Eyes.” At just under an hour, it is a treasure trove of information and includes many of the cast and crew describing their experiences while on set. There is also an interview that runs 16 minutes, “Family Business with Martin Speer,” as well as an 11-minute interview with composer Don Peake, in which he describes his inspiration for the unique score he created as well as a description of how some of the unique sounds were recorded. By now, most fans of the film know there was an alternate, perhaps happier, ending that was filmed and then scrapped. While earlier releases include this alternate ending in the special features section (as does Arrow), there is also an option to watch the entire film with the alternate ending. Along with outtakes, photo galleries, and several movie trailers and television spots, the first printing comes with six postcards, a reversible fold-out poster, as well as a 40-page booklet with new writing about the film.

So, if you are a fan of this terrific film and have been wondering if you should spring for yet another version on disc, the answer is—especially if you want the best-looking version and love special features—a resounding “yes!” You’ll still want to keep your other versions for some exclusive features not found on Arrow’s disc, but there is enough new material in the Arrow package that justifies making another purchase. So what are you waiting for? Go. Now. You can order from Amazon or directly from Arrow at: http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/category/usa