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In the early to late 70s, before anyone had ever heard of ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ or ‘Scream’, director Wes Craven cut his horror teeth on low budget films such as 1972’s ‘The Last House On The Left’. Now I’m not the biggest horror fan you’ll come across, but when I was offered the opportunity of reviewing Craven’s follow up to ‘Last House’, 1977’s ‘The Hills Have Eyes’, I decided that it might be interesting to examine an unfamiliar genre for a change.

Hills Have Eyes, The

The basic premise of ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ is your typical ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ affair. Recently retired police officer ‘Big’ Bob Carter is taking his family across the desert wastes of America on their way to California when he decides to detour in search of an abandoned silver mine, left to him and his wife Ethel as a silver wedding anniversary present. Although warned by the locals to stick to the main roads, Bob takes a dirt track to the middle of nowhere through an area used by the US air force as a test firing range. When a broken axel leaves the family stranded in the remote and inhospitable desert Bob sets off to the local gas station on foot, while son-in-law Doug goes to the base for help.

Their teenaged son Bobby makes a gruesome discovery when searching for one of the family’s pet Alsatians, but decides not to report it to the rest of the Carters. Unbeknownst to him the dog was killed by a member of a primitive, cannibalistic family of savages that inhabits the mountains. When night draws in the terror really begins, as the cannibals attack and begin looting the Carter’s mobile home. Robbery turns to rape, then to kidnapping and murder. The surviving members of the Carter family must rely on their own primal instincts if they are to survive the horror, but can they really hope to defend themselves against their vile tormentors?

I have to say that I didn’t find the film as shocking as I’d expected. Perhaps people are generally desensitised to violence and other taboo subjects nowadays, but much of the unpleasant content is implicit rather than explicit. Even so, the violence that did appear onscreen was clearly done on such a low budget that it failed to inspire either fear or disgust. However, fans of the film will no doubt be overjoyed to hear of its uncut status. Previous incarnations of ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ have suffered heavily at the hands of the censors, but this edition includes all footage previously axed at the request of the BBFC, right down to the controversial ‘gutted dog’ scene.

Hills Have Eyes, The

‘The Hills Have Eyes’ features a restored, anamorphically enhanced 1.85:1 transfer. In my experience Anchor Bay have a fine tradition of releasing discs with both outstanding audio and visual quality, and considering the age of the film they’ve delivered a damned good effort. You’ve only to examine the pre-restoration footage on disc two to see what a marvellous job Anchor bay have done - they’ve managed to transform an un-watchable mess into something resembling DVD quality. With that said, there’s only so much that restoration can accomplish, and the image isn’t without its share of faults.

While the video is relatively free of major defects, there’s no escaping the almost constant ‘shimmering’ and the occasional obvious fleck on the print. The picture is also very soft and grainy, with an unnatural colour palette that is, for want of a better term, very ‘70s’ in appearance. However, this is more to do with the technical limitations of shooting handheld 16mm in the 70s than a fault of the DVD transfer. While most of the speckles have been removed from the print there is an almost constant vertical tear down the left hand side of the frame, and this became slightly distracting on occasion.

While ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ isn’t going to rival the latest Hollywood blockbuster in the video stakes, it’s still a great effort considering how badly damaged the print was to begin with, and I’ve reflected this in my scoring.

Hills Have Eyes, The

There are mixes aplenty to be found on this disc. In addition to a restored Dolby Digital Mono mix, Anchor Bay has seen fit to include both Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS 6.1 ES tracks. Rather than listen to the original mono mix, I decided to opt for the DTS mix for review purposes because I like a bit of surround action. However, I found it refreshing that Anchor Bay saw fit to include the original track for the purists out there. In my opinion too many discs do away with original tracks in favour of all-new 5.1 surround mixes that are often inferior (a good example of which is the region two release of The Terminator).

I have to admit that my expectations weren’t particularly high for the remixed tracks, as these things tend to be ‘fudged’ surround tracks at best, but I’m happy to say that I was very pleasantly surprised with what was on offer. The rear channels are used to good effect from the outset, with plenty of discrete effects in evidence (this, in particular, came as a real surprise). Dialogue is perfectly clear throughout, free from distortion, and is frequently redirected around the soundstage catching the listener unawares at the most worrisome moments. The score, if it can be called that, seldom puts in an appearance, but when it does it’s a sparse, uneasy affair that is perfectly matched to the tone of the film. All in all this is a fantastic audio effort.

Both discs feature nicely animated menus with accompanying transitions, but the only extra to be found on disc one is the commentary from director Wes Craven and producer Peter Locke. There commentary flows pleasantly, with both participants delivering interesting titbits of information on the film throughout. Thankfully they also engage in some light-hearted banter, which makes a nice change from the seemingly never-ending stream of banality that seems to inhabit most discs (if the participants are even in the same room that is).

‘Looking Back at The Hills Have Eyes’ is a fifty four minute retrospective look at the making of the film, featuring interviews with director Wes Craven and much of the cast. Like the commentary, this is an entertaining and informative source of information, and certainly puts most of the promotional fluff you find on ‘big’ titles to shame.

Hills Have Eyes, The

‘The American Nightmare’ is an hour and ten-minute documentary focusing on some of the most prominent horror directors of our time and their influences. Featuring interviews with Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, George Romero, David Cronenberg, John Landis and Tom Savini, the piece includes footage from many of their films interspersed with real-life footage from the war in Vietnam, the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King and other atrocities that helped shape their careers. While not strictly related to the feature film this is an interesting and informative documentary, and I applaud Anchor Bay’s decision to include it.

Also included is an alternative ending, which is basically a re-editing of the final two scenes in the film. The only new footage added in this sequence is a brief meeting between the surviving members of the Carter family and one of the Jupiter family. The quality of the video is appalling for the duration of the sequence, but at least it goes to shows just how badly damaged the print was, and what a nice job Anchor Bay did all things considered.

The ‘Restoration Demo’ is a neat little addition that demonstrates just how important video restoration can be. A four-minute excerpt from the film plays in split screen, with Anchor Bay’s restored print playing on the left hand side and the original image on the right. The differences are immediately apparent. The level of noise in the restored image is much lower than in the original image, as are instances of other nasty artefacts like speckles and scratches.

Next up we have the usual selection of trailers and TV spots, of which there are six in total. Along with both the US and German theatrical trailers, we get two US and two UK TV spots of varying length. Surprisingly the video quality of the trailers is pretty good, which leads me to believe that they’re been restored somewhat.

DVD Rom content is fairly limited, with only a screenplay and screensaver on offer, but the disc is bolstered with the inclusion of some extensive still galleries that cover everything from behind the scenes, storyboards and advertising, and a biography of director Wes Craven.

Hills Have Eyes, The

While I’m a fan of some of Craven’s work, specifically the original Nightmare on Elm Street, and to a lesser extent Shocker, I didn’t really take to ‘The Hills Have Eyes’. It starts well enough, with a first act that manages to be genuinely foreboding, but things soon degenerate into a string of scenes designed for maximum ‘shock’ value. The biggest problem for me was that, in times when ultra-violence and evisceration are the norm, the impact of these scenes is significantly reduced, the end result of which undermines the film as a whole. Still, it was nice to have the opportunity to view such an influential genre piece presented in its uncut entirety. To put it simply, for fans of ‘The Hills Have Eyes’, and horror fans in general, the outstanding presentation and generous amount of interesting bonus material make this a must buy. However, due to the film’s violent content and taboo themes, casual viewers might like rent before parting with their money.