THE HILLS HAVE EYES
Review by Michael Jacobson
Susan Lanier, Robert Houston, Martin Speer, Dee Wallace, Russ Grieve,
John Stedman, Michael Berryman, Virginia Vincent, James Whitworth
Director: Wes Craven
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, DTS 6.1 ES, Dolby Surround, Dolby Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Anchor Bay
Features: See Review
Length: 89 Minutes
Release Date: September 23, 2003
hell they are.”
day for me that Wes Craven’s most brutally horrifying masterpiece The Hills
Have Eyes has finally made it’s way to DVD…and via the right studio, as
well. More on that further down.
first horror film was a low budgeted, grisly assault of terror with the
enigmatic title The Last House on the Left.
The fact that a $90,000 movie garnered plenty of attention and turned
a successful profit might have opened doors for the young, aspiring filmmaker.
But the picture’s dark, unflinching subject matter and revolutionary
approach to screen violence seemed to close them instead.
you can’t stop an artist from doing what he does best, and Wes Craven, despite
being a quiet, thoughtful and sweet man in real life, was born to scare the hell
out of us. When he returned to the
director’s chair and the genre some five years later, he was more in tune,
more confident, and more singularly focused.
The resulting picture, The Hills Have Eyes, is arguably not only
one of his two or three best films, but one of the all time great horror films
with a deserved cult following.
Last House, Hills was direct and unapologetic in its depiction of the
true horrors of violence. There is
gruesome bloodshed, almost always followed by tears and terror.
This isn’t violence for the sake of action, but the kind with stark
realness and rippling consequences.
film pits two families against one another in the desert:
once civilized and one feral. One
is off the beaten path, alone, and vulnerable, the other is in its element.
And when civilization meets the uncivil, its only hope for survival is to
become the very thing it fears most, which is probably the underlying and most
unsettling point of the picture.
a family heading for California gets distracted from the main highway despite
warnings, they end up broken down in the middle of nowhere.
Scary enough, especially given that the desert is unbearably hot during
the day and nearly freezing at night. As
the father and stepson set off in different directions for help, the mother,
brother and two sisters are left behind to make do against a barren, beautiful
and unnerving landscape. But
what’s got that dog barking so fearfully in the direction of the hills?
hills do indeed have eyes, and as it turns out, teeth as well.
A ferocious mountain family of murders and cannibals is watching our
hapless group. What follows isn’t
always what you expect, but it is often what you’d most fear.
of the aspects of the film that makes it such a classic for me is its
inseparable marriage of content and style. Though still a low budgeted film, Craven makes incredible use
of the resources at his disposal…most notably, his location, which he takes
the time to establish and contemplate, and gradually turn it in our minds from a
beautiful place to a place where death could be around every rock or in any
camerawork is impeccable, too, taking us at uncomfortable speeds through the
hills and over the rocky terrain as the danger unfolds.
He makes you feel like you’re part of the action and not just a casual
observer. Your home theater chair
is a safe place to be, but for some 90 minutes, it won’t feel that way.
Even more impressive is his use of focus, which sometimes not only hints
at activity going on in the deep background, but sometimes the foreground as
well, as we’ll watch a medium shot of the family and something indiscernible
suddenly breezes by close to the camera lens, momentarily throwing the carefully
constructed scene out of balance. Simple
techniques, but extremely effective.
violence is frequently strong and brutal, even for those who think they’re
quite desensitized to this type of movie. Family
members see loved ones harshly cut down in front of them…the impact goes
beyond the stylized shedding of blood. Yet I don’t believe any of it was done gratuitously.
The entire point is to show how ‘normal’ people can only be
terrorized so far before they find the only way to fight back is to become the
terrorizers themselves. It’s easy
to cheer when our civilized family takes revenge against the feral one.
But Craven’s brilliant, short, final shot, which essentially leaves the
movie at its point of climax with no denouement to resolve our feelings
concerning what has unfolded, leaves a bitter taste.
And it’s the right taste, otherwise the shock and horror that led up to
that point would have been cheapened.
is not a picture for the weak of constitution.
It’s the kind of horror movie that will even horrify the most astute
fans of the genre, which is probably why its popularity has remained so strong
over the years. I love the film,
but I can’t describe the feeling of watching it as pleasurable.
It’s definitely a walk on the darker side of filmed entertainment;
brilliant, uncompromising, unsettling and immediate.
I think it’s probably Wes Craven’s second best film after the
under-appreciated New Nightmare, and easily his most horrifying, but you
can judge for yourselves.
Bay would have been my first and only choice for company to put The Hills
Have Eyes on DVD, and the attention to quality given this release justified
my faith. I’ve never seen a
version of this movie on home video before that I would have considered good
looking; given the age and inexpensiveness of the shoot (lots of high contrast
film stock, etc.), I don’t think a full four star rating would ever be
possible. But with an anamorphic
widescreen transfer and attention to cleaning up most of the marks, scratches
and spots, fans can now experience this film as never before.
Colors are good, as are image details, and the print plays free of undue
grain (some, because of the stock, is unavoidable).
There’s still an instance of ‘shimmer’ now and then caused by the
age of the material, but it’s very light and infrequent, and barely worth
mentioning. I can’t imagine this film looking much better than it does
here; fans should be very pleased.
Bay also remains the best studio for remastering mono horror soundtracks for 5.1
plus sound. Choices of DTS and
Dolby Digital extended digital sound are the cornerstone, but a standard
surround and original mono are also available.
All channels are opened up for maximum effect, and new mix really
enhances the creepiness, as you’ll hear menacing action taking place behind
you from time to time, and atmospheric effects in all directions.
Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, as are the musical cues.
The subwoofer signal is bare to non-existent, but there really isn’t
much in the film that calls for an extra punch of bass.
Once again, very high marks.
a loaded double disc set filled with goodies, horror lovers will find plenty to
eat up (no pun intended) in this juicy offering. The extras start on Disc One with a commentary track by
writer/director Wes Craven and producer Peter Locke. It’s an enjoyable listen filled with memories and little
details, and a pleasant reminded that both men are actually good souls despite
the mayhem they unleashed on the screen!
Two starts with two terrific documentaries.
“Looking Back On The Hills Have Eyes” is a solid retrospective
featuring interviews with Craven and Locke and several of the cast members and
crew (Michael Berryman, whose fearsome physique became the film’s most
recognizable image and poster shot, is especially a treat to listen to…despite
playing one of horror’s most unsettling villains, he’s a sweet fellow in
real life). The second, “The
Films of Wes Craven”, is an hour long look back at his entire career, from his
most famous landmark pictures to the ones you may have never heard of.
Stars and co-workers chime in with tributes to the man who gave us some
of the most indelible horror of the last quarter century.
is also an alternate ending, which looks to have come from a videotape source.
Thank goodness Craven scrapped it; the ‘happily ever after’ sentiment
would have been a gross misstep. There
are trailers from the U.S. and abroad, TV spots, galleries of art, advertising
and behind-the-scenes photos, a Wes Craven bio, and DVD ROM content.