BADass SINema Unearthed - Blu-ray Review
- Published Date
- by Loron Hays
I am not a huge fan of Horror maestro Wes Craven. I tend to check out of the whole adoration club when the discussion turns to his most recent offerings. Yes, Scream included. I just think that, of all the names in horror, his filmography is one of the spottiest. That’s just my Craven hiccup. I’m in the minority and I realize that. But you can see EXACTLY what I am talking about, when it comes to the quality of his work, by watching 1977’s The Hills Have Eyes. I have no bone to pick with that one. At all.
Recently remastered and BEEFED UP to a deluxe release on blu-ray by Arrow Video, Craven’s second full-length feature is far better than what Craven wound up producing and directing later in his career. If only we could have more of these exploitation efforts from him before his got swallowed up by everything related to an Elm Street address and Ghostface.
Craven, operating as writer, director, and editor, creates an atmosphere of sheer evil throughout the movie. It’s eerie just how quickly that fact sneaks up on you. Still. He takes your typical American family - parents Bob (Russ Grieve) and Ethel (Virginia Vincent), teenagers Bobby (Robert Houston) and Brenda (Susan Lanier), and oldest daughter Lynne (Dee Wallace), her husband Doug (Martin Speer), and their baby daughter – as they travel from Ohio to Los Angeles and strands them in the middle of the desert. Along with two dogs, Beauty and Beast, the family is already at odds against the cruel elements.
Complicating matters immensely is the deranged family of cannibals that live in the surrounding areas where the family’s broken vehicle has come to rest. They won’t even make it through the first night without knowing that they aren’t alone. We know this, yet Craven masterfully stitches together a narrative that can’t help but pull audiences in. You have the weighty warning from the old gas station attendant about not trespassing into the hills. You have the young feral girl. And then there’s all that breathing as the family is being spied upon from a great distance away.
What happens in The Hills Have Eyes involves a lot grisly shit. We have corpses used as booby-traps, cannibalization, the eating of dogs, beatings with tire irons, and so on. It is indeed a horror-themed trial by fire for the Carter Family. Do they have the strength to endure? The wherewithal to snatch victory from the very hungry jaws of defeat? Looking at their initial response to things, it’s hard to think that, in fact, they do. But keep your eyes on one. Calm and steady wins this flesh-eating race.
Damn near everything – including the idea of the family as a form of terror – works in The Hills Have Eyes. The gas station attendant is to blame. The hell Fred (John Steadman) unleashed upon the desert is all about eternal damnation. His son, Papa Jupiter (James Whitworth), after one beating too many, took to the hills and found himself a trashy whore to have a family with. Three sons and one severely abused daughter later, Mars (Lance Gordon), Pluto, (Michael Berryman) and Mercury (Arthur King) will do anything to please Mama (Cordy Clark), especially if it involves killing and eating another human being. Hell, even the dogs aren’t safe.
And Craven gives us everything. He makes us feel, quite intensely, the absolute danger this family is in. The baby in the family is used so shockingly effective that it still sends shivers up and down my spine to imagine. What if? What if? What if? And Craven goes there. He absolutely does. Without a doubt, this is Craven’s masterpiece.
The Hills Have Eyesis often imitated. Its influence is immeasurable as it stretches far beyond the film itself and its era of birth. You can see for yourself just how powerful of a film experience it is with this 4k restoration from Arrow Video.
MPAA Rating: R.
Runtime: 89 mins
Director: Wes Craven
Writer: Wes Craven
Cast: Suze Lanier-Bramlett, Robert Houston, John Steadman
Tagline: Wes Craven's Classic Original!
Memorable Movie Quote: Do you always try to stop trespassers by hanging yourself?
Theatrical Distributor: Vanguard
Release Date: July 22, 1977
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: October 11, 2016
Synopsis: On the way to California, a family has the misfortune to have their car break down in an area closed to the public, and inhabited by violent savages ready to attack.
The Hills Have Eyes (1977) Limited Edition
Home Video Distributor: Arrow
Available on Blu-ray - October 11, 2016
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles: English SDH
Audio: English: LPCM Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc
Region Encoding: Region A
The 4k restoration and 1080p treatment from Arrow Video is breathtaking. If you’ve ever seen any other print of this, you need to erase it from your mind. The highs of the new print are glorious. Shadows are defined. Night scenes FINALLY have definitions and the sun-drenched desert is both vivid and detailed. Clothing is textured and, while grainy, the dirt and debris have been cleaned from the print. The sound – released here in a mono track – is effectively engaging. Even Don Peakes score sounds livelier thanks to the newly-minted picture to accompany it. It’s amazing what upgrades can do to B-movie.
There are three commentaries. Two of them –one with actors Michael Berryman, Janus Blythe, Susan Lanier and Martin Speer and the other with film academic Mikel J. Koven – are brand new. An older commentary track with Wes Craven and Peter Locke is also included.
Arrow Video continues to spoil us. The hardback slipcover packaging is only the beginning of the nasties inside. There are 6 postcards and a reversible fold-out poster featuring new and original artwork that slide out first when you open the package. A 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 is also in there. There is a 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 interviews with Martin Speer and composer Don Peake, never before seen outtakes, and alternate ending are on the disc itself. A reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper, rounds out the collection.
- Looking Back on The Hills Have Eyes
- Martin Speer Interview
- The Desert Sessions