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THE LUCKY ONES DIED FIRST...
 
Horror master Wes Craven achieved critical and commercial success with the likes of Scream and A Nightmare on Elm Street – but for many genre fans, the director’s seminal 1977 effort The Hills Have Eyes remains his masterpiece.
 
Taking a detour whilst on route to Los Angeles, the Carter family run into trouble when their camper van breaks down in the middle of the desert. Stranded, the family find 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 gruelling a viewing experience today as it was upon initial release, The Hills Have Eyes stands alongside the likes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Night of the Living Dead as one of the defining moments in American horror cinema.
(Taken from the official synopsis.)

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 axle 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 teenage 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. Unbeknown to him the dog was killed by a member of a primitive, cannibalistic family of savages who inhabit 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?

Video


The Hills Have Eyes arrives with an AVC encode derived from a freshly-minted 4K master of original film elements. Unfortunately, since Arrow outsourced its PR we don't get copies of the booklets that contain technical details of the transfers, so I had to do a big of digging. It appears that the original 16mm negative has been lost, so two separate 35mm CRIs were used as the basis for the 4K scan. As such it's never going to look as good as it could, but it does look a lot better than previous editions. As you can see from the accompanying screen captures, definition, colour, stability and general quality are all improved. However, not everything is rosy...

While there are significant gains the image still suffers from a number of unavoidable issues. Firstly, there are numerous film artefacts present throughout. Generally these manifest as white/black specks, but there is at least one sequence where a fairly thick, distracting vertical line can be seen. The right hand side of the screen often appears faded and the image pulses and shimmers throughout, although most noticeably during the night sequences. Colour also varies wildly from shot to shot, which of course has an adverse effect on the overall uniformity of the picture. Despite the 4K scan the image barely looks like 2K for most of the running time on account of the source limitations.

The above negativity aside, some sections of the film do look very impressive given the less than ideal source. In mitigation The Hills Have Eyes wasn't the best looking film to begin with so some allowances have to be made. Those of you used to the previous DVD and Blu-ray offerings should be pleased enough with the upgrade.

Audio


The old Anchor Bay DVD I reviewed back in 2003 featured a number of audio tracks, but this Blu-ray includes only the original mono audio (encoded in LPCM). To be fair I'm pretty happy with this, as I usually prefer to listen to a film with its original audio track whenever possible. Of course it sounds every bit of its almost forty years, with dialogue, music and effects that lack balance. Dialogue is generally intelligible though, so there are no worries there. As with the video before it the limitations here are the source. You can't expect the same sort of fidelity from a film like this as you can from bigger budget features from the same era. Still, it's perfectly serviceable even if the overall effect is pretty flat.

Extras


A host of bonus material is included, from commentaries and making of documentaries, to outtakes and an alternate ending. Here's a breakdown of what you will find on the disc andin the limited edition packaging:

  • Brand new audio commentary with actors Michael Berryman, Janus Blythe, Susan Lanier and Martin Speer
  • Brand new audio commentary by academic Mikel J. Koven
  • Audio commentary with Wes Craven and Peter Locke
  • Looking Back on The Hills Have Eyes – making-of documentary featuring interviews with Craven, Locke, actors Michael Berryman, Dee Wallace, Janus Blythe, Robert Houston, Susan Lanier and director of photography Eric Saarinen
  • Brand new interview with actor Martin Speer
  • The Desert Sessions – brand new interview with composer Don Peake
  • Never-before-seen Outtakes
  • Alternate ending, in HD for the first time  
  • Trailers and TV Spots
  • Image Gallery
  • Original Screenplay (BD/DVD-ROM Content)
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper
  • 6 x postcards
  • Reversible fold-out poster featuring new and original artwork
  • Limited edition booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Brad Stevens and a consideration of the Hills franchise by Ewan Cant, illustrated with original archive stills

It's worth mentioning that we didn't receive a retail copy of the set, so I can't comment on things like the sleeve, postcards, poster or booklet. The Craven/Locke commentary from the old DVD release is bolstered by the inclusion of two new tracks. The old ‘Looking Back at The Hills Have Eyes’ doc is fairly hefty at around fifty minutes in length, the alternate ending is presented in HD quality (and there's even an option to watch the film with this ending reintegrated, should you so desire), and the two new interviews and outtakes flesh things out even further. The rest of the content (trailers, TV spots, gallery and ROM content) were also to be found on previous DVD releases.

Overall


On my first viewing of the film way back in 2003 (the Anchor Bay DVD) I have to say that I didn’t find it anywhere near as shocking as I’d expected. Not much has changed in the intervening time. I've clearly been desensitised to violence after years of exposure to ever-increasing levels of gore and viscera on the silver screen (and the small screen with shows like C.S.I. and Hannibal), not to mention other taboo subjects such as rape an cannibalism. As such I just wasn't fazed or repulsed by the The Hills Have Eyes' content in the way that audiences would have been back in the seventies, especially given that much of the unpleasant content is implicit rather than explicit. In all honesty while I’m a fan of some of Craven’s work, particularly the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, I've never really taken to The Hills Have Eyes. I respect its place in genre history, but it's not a film that I enjoy per se.

Anyway, my relative indifference to the film aside, this release is clearly aimed at serious fans not casual like me. Although it doesn't look at good as many of Arrow's other restorations (or indeed contemporaries such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), it's still a huge improvement over what's come before. The other elements of the release are also very good and should prove to be particularly attractive to collectors.

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

 Hills Have Eyes, The
 Hills Have Eyes, The
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 Hills Have Eyes, The
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