Review by James Klein
This fall, Image released a series of horror films from the 70’s and 80’s on blu ray and DVD called the Midnight Madness Series. One of the films, Children of the Corn, was reviewed here. While that disc didn’t import all of the extras from the older DVD, (in fact, neither did the blu ray discs of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II, which just seems odd given that these films are now considered modern classics) I am happy to say that all of the special features from the Anchor Bay DVD of The Hills Have Eyes have made it on to the blu ray.
For those of you who have not seen The Hills Have Eyes, (and why haven’t you???) the movie is about a modern American white bread family out on vacation. Dad and Mom have taken their adult children and their significant others for a big cross country trip to California. After being warned by an old coot who runs a broken down gas station (played by the great character actor John Steadman – best known from The Longest Yard) to stay on the main road, the family’s car breaks down after Dad tries to miss running over a jack rabbit (it’s a 70’s station wagon, just go with it). Broken down in the desert and in the middle of nowhere, Dad journeys back to the gas station to find the old man murdered and thus begins a full night of pure terror and violence as the family is terrorized, raped, and killed by a family of inbred, cannibalistic mountain people who don’t take kindly to strangers.
Heavily inspired by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, (the late Robert Burns served as art director on both Chainsaw and Hills which he used much of the same props) director Wes Craven and producer Peter Locke came up with the story after doing some research on the Sawney Bean family, a clan who in the 1400’s would live in caves and high terrain. They would capture and eat passerby’s who came into contact with them. Having just come off the controversial The Last House on the Left, Craven himself was pushed into making Hills which does contain aspects of House, such as the family members exacting graphic revenge on the villains and using booby traps to capture them. Craven continues with his documentary-esque feel, using hand held cameras and tight close ups much like he did with House, thus adding to the tension. Watch The Hills Have Eyes and then take a look at his most recent film, My Soul to Take. Night and day.
While not as graphic as House, Hills offers up some pretty brutal scenes. People are shot, stabbed, bitten, raped, burned and eaten. Even a baby is thought to be slaughtered at one point, which I guess Craven and Locke were originally going to intend, much to the dismay of the cast. The real nasty highlight involves the inbred Pluto (played by horror icon Michael Berryman) whose Achilles tendon has been bitten and ripped off by a German Shepherd. Sitting in the sand, crying and playing with his gory foot, that scene still makes me wince, even though I have seen Hills plenty of times.
The blu ray disc looks fine for the most part, given the film was shot on Super 16 mm. The picture looks about the same as the DVD. Colors are as sharp as can be. The bright blue sky still looks a bit dreary and there is some DNR noticeable during night scenes. The sound is great and the disc offers you the choice of listening to the film in its original mono and a new 6.1 surround sound. There is a long “making of” featured on the blu ray which includes interviews with cast and crew, going through every bit of the production, from concept to the MPAA slapping the movie with an X rating. There is an alternate ending which is a more happier climax. There is a small featurette on Wes Craven’s career (turn it off after New Nightmare is discussed, I believe he hasn’t made a good film since then. Yes, I am including the much overrated Scream franchise). The highlight of the blu ray is the audio commentary by Craven and Locke who seem to have a lot of fun remembering certain situations and stories – good and bad – on the making of Hills.
The Hills Have Eyes is a cult classic and a much loved horror film from the glory days of the 1970’s. The film still packs a punch and has not lost its creepiness and high tension. Sure, some of the acting and a few plot points may seem dated or silly compared to now but I’d rather watch this any day of the week than some of the big budgeted, CGI infested crap that is now playing at your local multiplex. With a bunch of special features to enjoy on top of a great movie, Image has put out one hell of a disc that is well worth your money.