Directed by Wes Craven
Written by Wes Craven
Produced by Peter Locke
Director of Photography Eric Saarinen
Music by Don Peake
Cast: Susan Lanier, Robert Houston, Martin Speer, Dee Wallace, Russ Grieve, John Steadman, Michael Berryman, Virginia Vincent & James Whitworth

1977/89 mins/Color/Dolby Digital EX, DTS-ES
1.78:1 Anamorphic/English/US/NTSC Region 1

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THE HILLS HAVE EYES is one of those films that have been overlooked by many over the years - for whatever reasons. In fact, the movie was overlooked by me until this very DVD release. This just was not a film that jumped out at me from the rental section. I know I passed it several times over the years - Michael Berryman's face glairing at me from the cover and while looking interesting, I still for some reason ignored it and ventured further along the isle to choose another film to rent. Given the special 2-disc treatment Anchor Bay gave this DVD, I'm glad I dove in to see what all the fuss was about. THE HILLS HAVE EYES is one of the best exploitation films of its era, on top of being one of the best horror films ever made - a truly forgotten classic, until now.

The Carter's, your typical all-American family in search of the American dream, are on their way to L.A. They stop at the only place they can find - 'Fred's Oasis', an old rundown gas station surrounded by a graveyard of building frames and rubbish. Fred, the plaid clad old-time cowboy gives them as much gas as he has left, and the family is back on the road. A short time after the family befalls bad luck and the car breaks down in the middle of the desert. Surrounded by a prehistoric rocky landscape far from civilization, the group quickly disperses from one another to find help. As the day draws to a close the blazing heat of the desert is no more, instead bringing a freezing chill. The father, Big Bob Carter (Russ Grieve) has still not returned, and son Bobby (Robert Houstain) is keeping a secret from all. Earlier that day he found one of the family dogs slain, with the other missing. The situation gets stranger when the family tries to radio for help and all they get is heavy breathing on the other end. The family is not alone, for another family lurks the land. The only thing is they are cannibalistic savages, and the Carter's are now their pray. The situation turns for the worst when half of them are brutally murdered by the inbred bunch, and now predator turns into pray.

THE HILLS HAVE EYES is a savagely gruesome and cruel film that holds no punches. It is also a study of humanity as a society and how the tranquil can become just as cruel as the barbaric. Wes Craven's muse for writing HILLS was based on a 16th century legend of the Shawney Bean family, a family of inbred cannibals that resided in a Scotland cave, murdering and eating passersby for more than 25 years. Once the family was captured by the King they were tortured more viciously than their acts of depravity, hence the idea for this film. The Carter's were prayed upon, but yet, the table quickly turned and the civility of the family turned to bloodthirsty vengeance resulting in a complete turn around. The unique thing about the two families' is their way of interacting with one another. The Carter family, were spread apart during times of trouble, with very little communication, while even hiding pertinent information from one another, but yet the cannibal family were closely knit, communicating all the time through radio, always knowing the others whereabouts. Much like Craven's first feature effort in the exploitation genre with LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, this time he perfected the showing of primal instinct in times of peril, without utilizing the comic relief that LAST HOUSE had.

For a group of unknown filmmakers, with a widely unknown cast, working on a second feature on a sparse budget for the times, the end product was a definitive first class horror film. The cast of characters work perfectly in the movie. While neither family showed redeeming characteristics of likeability, the film without a doubt showcased a believable portrayal of human instinct and actions. The cannibal family was compiled of characters predominantly named after planets, the leader being Papa Jupiter which gave a nice added touch to the film. One supporting character who stole the show for me was Grandpa Fred (the fantastic John Steadman R.I.P.), the gas attendant who unravels the story of how this barbaric family became. Grief-stricken, frightened and subsequent to attempting suicide by hanging, Fred relives the story to Bob Carter, explaining how his wife gave birth to a huge baby, and how some years later he returned home one day to find his house burned to the ground with his wife dead, and his son was unharmed. He hit him in the face splitting his head open and left him to die in the desert. "It was a long time ago" Bob replies - with a swig of whisky Fred continues with one of the best lines in the movie "Long enough for him to steal a whore that nobody would miss. Long enough to raise a passel of wild kids. Long enough for a devil kid to grow up to be a devil man."

THE HILLS HAVE EYES takes its time in telling its story. Films of today don 't take the time to do this which is often the problem with modern horror. Many films have to make homage to or remake films such as this to get an end product that more often than not comes nothing close to a film of this epoch in horror. Many mainstream audiences may find it hard to sit through this classic due to its lack of rapid editing, and that is a shame. One thing is for sure though, HILLS doesn't relent to political correctness. One particular scene shows Big Bob being crucified to a cherished Joshua tree and then set on fire as he screams in agony. Another classic moment is when the brood uses their mother's corpse as bait to capture the leader of the cannibals which is an ultimately creepy sequence. Additionally, the use of a baby for a thanks-giving-like-feast would never be used in a Hollywood horror film today. THE HILLS HAVE EYES will never be made again. No modern horror film will ever be able to capture the grittiness of such a film. People will try (ain't that right Rob Zombie), but these are films of an era. They started it all, and at least now they can be cherished, and are finally getting the dues they desserve.

Anchor Bay, while releasing genre films infrequently right now, present this stellar disc in a 1.78:1 matted widescreen. From every version existing prior to this (including the LD), the film has never looked better. THE HILLS HAVE EYES has always been tainted with print damage, grain and evil white scratches. This presentation is still grainy, and is to be expected from a 16mm film of the 70's, but this however works in the favor of the movie. The grain is the icing on the cake for this exploitation film. I wouldn't want to view a crystal clear print - if that were the case the effect of the film would be tarnished. The re-master job that Anchor Bay presents is fantastic. Beneath the grain are vibrant colors and since the film was shot with minimal lighting, rich darks creating a great atmosphere. Just compare the trailers for the film to the end result. The disc even has a section where you can watch the opening of the film split-screen with one side showing those nasty white scratches making you appreciate the re-master job. On to the sound department, Anchor Bay gives the viewer 4 sound options! The original mono track is there, as well as a Dolby surround 2.0 track for basic viewers. The main presentation is the Dolby Digital Surround EX 5.1, and the DTS ES 6.1 tracks. The Dolby Digital EX track, while predominantly located in the front speakers, the sound does venture to the back during various scenes in HILLS where people call out to one another. The Sound is bold and loud and presents Don Peake's score with shouting fury. The DTS track does basically the same as the prior with the exception of bolder sound. The audio presentation is fine, but don't expect the DTS to kick your ass like the DTS tracks of more recent films.

The extra features of HILLS are spread out over two discs - the first containing a commentary from producer Peter Locke and of course director Wes Craven. The two recall upon filming and enjoy themselves while giving the viewing some nice anecdotes. It slightly overlaps points given in one of the featurettes on the second disc but overall, it is a great viewing for fans of the film, with very few sound gaps. Disc two contains two interesting featurettes - one presented especially for this disc by Anchor Bay titled 'Looking back On The Hills Have Eyes, and another 'The Directors: The Films of Wes Craven'. The first is a great compilation of interviews from the cast and crew of HILLS. People from Michael Berryman (the films poster boy) to Robert Houston (Bobby) relive the situations on set. While the filming was hard since it was a low budget production and was shot in the middle of the desert with peaks of 120 degrees, they all seemed to be glad they were a part of it all. The second featurette was from the series on various directors. The docu goes through the films of Craven's career, complete with interviews from an assortment of people that have worked with him in the past such as Bill Pullman, Robert England and Courtney Cox. They even mentioned LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT which was a cool bonus. Several trailers from the US, UK, and Germany can also be viewed, which really presents HILLS as the true exploitation film it is. An alternate ending can be viewed that runs approximately 10 minutes. It is a re-cutting of certain scenes with a brighter happier ending, which you'll be glad they didn't use. Under the section of 'Still Galleries' exists some behind-the-scenes footage, advertising and posters, as well as some storyboards. Additionally there is a 'Wes Craven Bio', and some great DVD-ROM content. Both MAC and PC users get two THE HILLS HAVE EYES screensavers with sound, as well as the original HILLS script titled 'BLOOD RELATIONS THE SUN WARS'. The DVD packaging is bronze with fantastic artwork and a highly informative insert booklet by Jon Putnam containing some cool mini poster reprints. The two discs have a great brown, white and yellow color scheme, and overall this is one of the best assembled DVD's existing on the market.





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Review by Chris Mayo. All Right Reserved. 2004. ©