The Hills Have Eyes
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Susan Lanier, Robert Houston, Dee Wallace
Review by Brian M. Sammons
Please tell me that you already know about this movie? I mean, not only is it old enough to be a certified a classic (but then, sadly so am I), not only has it been paid homage to (read as: ripped off) in countless other horror films, not only was it one of horror master Wes Craven’s early (and very well regarded) movies, not only did it have the remake business put to it (which was surprisingly not all that bad), but it has one of the best titles ever with, The Hills Have Eyes. Yes that’s a bit goofy, but it is memorable.
So if you somehow have never seen this movie, then shame on you.
The good news is that Image Entertainment has just released a bunch of old horror flicks under the banner of the Midnight Madness Series and this is not only one of them, but easily the best in the bunch. But just in case you have yet to see this awesomely effective fright film, allow me to give you the nickel tour.
A typical white bread family called the Carters is driving through the desert, towing a camper along with them, on their way to California. While passing through one particular desolate spot, their car breaks down. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the titular eyes of the titular hills belong to a wild family of psychotic cannibals and the nice little family from the Midwest has just been put on their menu. What follows is not your typical stalk and slash, but more of a desperate survival tale as Carter family is assailed and tormented, time and again, by the cannibal clan led by the intimidating Papa Jupiter, but best remembered for the iconic Pluto, played by the distinctive looking Michael Berryman. Believe me, if you’ve ever seen this movie, then you know who I’m talking about.
What makes this movie truly horrifying is the way it relishes in an unblinking fashion on the violence and brutality. This was Wes Craven’s second movie, after Last House On The Left, and he still had plenty of demons to exorcise himself of, using film as his personal Father Merrin. This was Craven still at his darkest and nastiest, a director who wasn’t afraid to “go there” in any way, shape, or form. This is clearly evident in this film which features murder, rape, torture, cannibalism, immolation, kidnapping, probable inbreeding, and more. Even now, watching it again after quite a few years, this movie has loss none of its punch. At its core, The Hills Have Eyes examines the idea of what “normal” people are capable of doing when confronted by true evil and pushed to the edge to survive. This becomes manifest when after the Carters has been horribly savaged by the cannibals, and lost most of their family, the survivors must face down Papa Jupiter and his clan of crazies in a bloody battle to the last.
Now I’ve purposely been vague in regards to the horrors enacted in this film, because if you watch it for the first time, I don’t want to weaken any of its shock value by forewarning you any more than I already have. But I will stress that this is pretty brutal, and yes, horrific stuff. This is not the current trend teen-friendly PG-13 horror, nor is it gore for the sake of gore, like the (thankfully over?) torture porn trend. No, The Hills Have Eyes seems far more real, and therefore it is far more disturbing.
Released for the first time on Blu-ray, Image does a decent job. There’s a nice collection of extras, but sadly they are all from the previous DVD version of the movie. No new material has been added here, but at least nothing has been left off this disc from the previous one. Sadly the same can’t be said about most of the others discs in this Midnight Madness Series, but I digress. Here you will find a commentary track by director Wes Craven and producer Peter Locke. There’s a sizable documentary about the making of this movie at nearly an hour in length. There’s also an hour long special called “The Directors: The Films of Wes Craven” and both of these featurettes were informative and entertaining, I liked them. There’s even an alternate ending, but it honestly brings nothing new to the table and is basically just a rearranging of the events in the original climax. The usual trailers, TV spots, and still galleries round out the extras and all of these things present a nice, if not new, package of goodies for fans of this film.
However, as far as how good this movie looks in HD, I really can’t remark on, it looks pretty much just like my old DVD copy on the screen. Maybe it has been enhanced a little bit, but if so it wasn’t that noticeable. Don’t get me wrong, this version of the movie doesn’t look bad, but it doesn’t look like how a real Blu-ray ought to look, either.
If you do not already have this film in your home library, you need to rectify that oversight at once, and this new Blu-ray is a great way to do that. This disc is out now for a must have price all over the place, so you really have no reason not to get this film if you are any kind of horror fan. Do yourself a favor and do so at once, but only if you have a strong stomach for the unpleasant and the truly dark.