• The Hills Have Eyes (Arrow Video) UHD Review

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: November 9th, 2021.
    Director: Wes Craven
    Cast: Dee Wallace, Michael Berryman, John Steadman, Peter Locke, Russ Grieve
    Year: 1977
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    The Hills Have Eyes – Movie Review:

    Written and directed by Wes Craven in 1977 five years after his notorious directorial debut The Last House On The Left (and two years after his foray into the world of adult movies as ‘Abe Snake’ with Angela The Fireworks Woman!), The Hills Have Eyes is visceral horror in its purest form. The movie is, in a word, lean. It’s efficient. It doesn’t mess around.

    “A nice American family. They didn’t want to kill. But they didn’t want to die.”

    The film follows the carter family. Bob Carter (Russ Grieve) and his wife Ethel (Virginia Vincent) are out to celebrate their anniversary and along for the ride are their teenaged kids, Bobby (Robert Houston) and Brenda (Susan Lanier). Their adult daughter Lynne (Dee Wallace) and her husband Doug (Martin Speer), parents to a new born baby girl, are also riding along. Along with their two dogs, the Carters all pile into a big old seventies station wagon and a trailer and head out into the desert with a large trailer in tow, leaving the comfort of the suburbs in the rearview mirror.

    As the Carters head further into the desert, they wind up inadvertently voyaging into what was once a nuclear test sight. The axel on the car soon breaks and they’re stranded. It’s then that they learn very quickly that they are not alone. The effects of the radiation from the testing has taken its toll on a few of the locals – Mercury (Arthur Kung), Jupiter (James Whitworth), Pluto (Michael Berryman) and Mars (Lance Gordon) – a family of hungry cannibals savvy enough to separate the family and use the terrain to their advantage…

    Like Last House, The Hills Have Eyes deals with a gang of reprobates terrorizing a family unit, but whereas the earlier film worked as a home invasion picture, this follow up opens things up and plays out across a harsh desert landscape. This means that the Carter’s are dealing with two threats – the human one and the environmental one. The desert is a tough and unforgiving place and the mutant pack that prowls about know the landscape far better than our tourist family could ever hope to. Mercury and his crew have adapted, they’ve learned to live in this place and this makes them all the more dangerous. They’re not just crazy, but they’re smart and they have every advantage when they launch their assault against the Carters. But Craven is clever enough not to give us too much too soon. We hear the mutants before we see them and like the protagonists, we know they exist before we truly know what they are.

    This makes what happens in the film’s last act all the more potent. As the tagline makes perfectly clear, these people are put into a position that requires they fight for their lives and the end result isn’t too far off from cornering an animal. The mutants are the savages to be sure, but then, they’ve got to eat – and once it all hits the fan, are the Carters really that different? Craven puts this out there, after all these guys are mutated because of the radiation testing and there are times where, as brutal as they are, we have some sympathy for them. The cast do a fine job of bringing all of this to life. The actors who play the Carters are all quite good, they play their typical ‘white bread’ family really well. We buy them in their parts, there are no problems here and they seem like perfectly nice people. The baby is cute, the dogs are awesome, and they don’t do anything to really bring this on themselves, they just make a bad call by going off the main road. It’s the players that make up the pack that really impress, however. Arthur Kung is great as the father figure, able to talk the three younger men into doing pretty much whatever he tells them to. He’s intimidating, completely insane, but wily enough. James Whitworth and Lance Gordon give their all and craft interesting characters, but it’s the completely iconic turn from Michael Berryman that sticks with you. His unorthodox features (the result of “Hypohidrotic Ectodermal Dysplasia, a rare condition leaving him with no sweat glands, hair, fingernails or teeth”) really do make him look otherworldly and the relentlessness of his work, alongside the other three ‘mutants,’ results in a pretty unforgettable performance.

    The movie isn’t heavy on effects, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s quite well shot, capturing both the vast openness of the desert and the claustrophobic interior of the trailer nicely. The score is pretty much perfect, it works in the way that the best scores do in that it highlights what’s happening in the film without you really realizing it in spots. What’s most memorable about the film though is the element of danger that hangs over it. It starts off calmly enough but once Craven gets the ball rolling, all bets are off and nobody is safe. The concept of radiated mutants aside, the film never feels unrealistic or even implausible, with the distinct lack of gloss somehow adding to the film’s biting charm.

    The Hills Have Eyes – UHD Review:

    This UHD 4k upgrade of The Hills Have Eyes, from Arrow Video, arrives in an HEVC encoded 2160p high definition transfer with HDR framed at 1.78.1 widescreen and taken from a “new 4k restoration of the film” and it looks pretty impressive. Shot on Super 16mm, this has always been a gritty, grimy looking movie and that’s very definitely carried over to this 4k edition, just as it should be. Detail is very strong here, noticeably better than the previous Blu-ray (which admittedly looked very good) and the colors are stronger and bolder here as well, the blues of the desert skies being a great example. Black levels are inky deep and while there’s a bit of noticeable print damage in the opening credits sequence, the rest of the movie looks almost shockingly clean… but thankfully not too clean, meaning there isn’t any noticeable noise reduction employed here. Compression is never problematic and the picture is free of any edge enhancement. The end result is a beautifully filmic presentation that presents the film in great quality without trying to digitally erase its modest origins.

    Audio options are offered in DTS-HD 1.0 Mono, DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo and DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio options with removable subtitles available in English only. The Mono track is definitely the way to go for purists, and it sounds quite good – nicely balanced, clean and free of any hiss or distortion. The 2.0 mix spreads things around a bit in the front of the mix but doesn’t deviate too far from the original Mono, while the 7.1 track, which is sure to please those who want new surround mixes for older movies, uses the rear channels frequently for effects and score placement. To each their own, it’s great to have options here of course, but the single channel mix is certainly the most authentic of the three provided and therefore, for some of us at least, the only choice that matters.

    Extras, all of which are ported over from the previous special edition Blu-ray release (there’s nothing new here), start off with an audio commentary with the late Wes Craven and producer Peter Locke, the same track that was included on the special edition DVD and previous Blu-ray release. It’s a fantastic discussion for those who haven’t yet had a chance to listen to it. Craven is in a great mood and very keen on sharing his experiences from the shoot. They talk up the locations, working on the picture out in the desert, working alongside the different cast members and working on the script. They also talk about censorship issues, the film’s release and its reception and quite a bit more. Carried over from the previous Blu-ray release is a second commentary track that features Martin Speer, Susan Lanier, Janus Blythe and Michael Berryman moderated by Michael Felsher. This track is a lot of fun as all involved have got some interesting stories to share. By all accounts, this was not a particularly easy shoot and the desert and some of its venomous inhabitants didn’t help things much, but they look back on this with some fondness, particularly when it comes to talking about Wes Craven. They also talk about landing their parts, their thoughts on the characters they played, some of the film’s more intense moments and loads more. This is a busy and engaging track and quite a nice addition to the disc. A third commentary features academic Mikel J. Koven and given that the history and details of making the picture are so well covered in the first two tracks, it makes sense this his approach would lean more towards the type of critical analysis we delivers in his talk. He covers how various folk stories and urban legends worked their way into the storyline, how the story arc follows aspects of classic literature, the way that the two different families featured in the film relate and some of the other themes, subversive or otherwise, that The Hills Have Eyes takes on.

    Also carried over from that past release is the fifty-four minute documentary Looking Back On The Hills Have Eyes which includes interviews with Craven and Locke as well as with Michael Berryman, Dee Wallace, Janus Blythe, Robert Houston, Susan Lanier and director of photography Eric Saarinen. This is a pretty thorough look at the making of the film and while the interviews do cover some of the same ground as the commentary tracks, the archival material used throughout is interesting and it’s always interesting to see people talk as opposed to just listening to them.

    Speer pops up again in a new sixteen minute interview entitled Family Business. Here he shares some more memories from the shoot, talks about what it was like working with his co-stars and with Craven and offers up some thoughts on the film itself. The Desert Sessions is a new interview with composer Don Peake that runs roughly eleven minutes. He covers what went into composing the music used in the film, the different studio musicians that he worked with to make this happen, and some of the tricks that were used to get the sounds just right. Interesting stuff.

    Be on the lookout also for almost twenty-minutes of outtakes from the film. None of what is here really would have changed the tone of the film or the storyline all that much but it’s interesting to see the cast performing and occasionally showing a more casual side, thus giving us a bit of a feel for what it was really like on set. Arrow have also included the film’s alternate ending, presented in high definition, available as a standalone supplement or as an alternate way of watching the film (meaning you watch the movie with the theatrical ending or you can watch the movie with the alternate ending – kind of a nice touch). Rounding out the extras on the disc are a couple of theatrical trailers, the film’s original screenplay (available off of the main menu rather than as a PDF which is how it appeared on the Blu-ray release) and TV spots for the feature, a nice still gallery, animated menus and chapter selection.

    As only a test disc was made available for this review, we can’t comment on the packaging or any physical inserts included with this release. Should this material be made available to us, we’ll update when that happens.

    The Hills Have Eyes - The Final Word:

    The Hills Have Eyes remains a high point in Wes Craven’s filmography, a remarkably tense film that overcomes the limitations of a modest budget with smart writing, great performances and some seriously blistering tension. Arrow Video done a very nice job bringing this grainy beast of a movie to UHD with a really strong upgrade, new audio options to appease both purists and surround sound fans alike and all of the extras from the previous Blu-ray edition.

    Click on the images below for full sized The Hills Have Eyes Blu-ray screen caps that don’t look as good as the UHD reviewed above (but reviews without screen caps are boring)!