Horror master Wes Craven has achieved critical and commercial acclaim with the likes of Scream and A Nightmare on Elm Street – but for many genre fans, the director’s seminal 1977 effort, The Hills Have Eyes, remains his masterpiece. Taking an ill-advised detour en route to California, the Carter family quickly runs into trouble when their RV breaks down in the middle of the desert. Stranded, the family finds itself at the mercy of a group of monstrous cannibals that prowl the surrounding hills. With their lives threatened, the Carters have no choice but to fight back by any means necessary. Following his notorious directorial debut in 1972’s The Last House on the Left, Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes stands alongside The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Night of the Living Dead as one of America’s defining classics. American horror.
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Arrow Video presents The hills Have Eyes with a beautiful 2160p transfer in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio from a 4K scan of two separate 35mm CRI elements hit from the lost 16mm AB negative reels. It should be noted before we dive into this one that this film was shot on 16mm, which means the film is extremely grain-heavy. For those who come to 4K strictly for a sleek, clean picture, you should probably look elsewhere. That being said, this is by far the best this movie has ever watched and probably could ever watch.
The level of detail and clarity is stunning with all the natural film grain intact. The coarse grain resolves much more favorably than before with only minor fluctuations due to the original photography. The texture on display in the grimy outfits and in the landscape is a revelation. Even special effects details are presented with impressive clarity that makes his work all the more visceral. This transfer saves nothing in terms of print damage. This presentation is true to the original look of the film with the added resolution that makes the elements look more natural. There don’t seem to be any jarring digital anomalies such as compression artifacts, banding, or any other such nuisance.
It should come as no surprise that it’s not the most colorful movie ever, but that doesn’t diminish the impact of the Dolby Vision presentation. The new version features colors in the hot desert landscape that pop off the screen with vibrant intensity. It may not be candy-colored, but it achieves precision impossible on a lower format. Lighting is an essential element to heighten the terror of this film and this disc easily handles every slight change of environment. Black levels are strong with no hint of crushing, and white levels are rock solid with no hint of bloom. While it’s not the most visually lavish film, this presentation is the ultimate representation thanks to the folks at Arrow Video.
The 4K UHD Blu-Ray disc comes with three terrific tracks, including a DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio track, a stereo DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track, and a mono DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio track. These tracks deliver an expansive soundscape that perfectly captures artistic intent while harnessing the technology of the present. The surround tracks don’t feature constant activity in the side and rear channels, but they help make the world feel fuller. Don Peake’s score never sounded better and is used impeccably to set the mood of the story. There’s never a moment where it threatens to overwhelm competing sounds, and it maintains a good balance to keep the dialogue flowing through clearly. Environmental sounds such as the wind across the plains and barking dogs are rendered well alongside everything else. There doesn’t seem to be any noticeable cases of age-related wear. Arrow Video has given this film a perfectly preserved audio presentation that brings the film to life in an exciting way. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided.
- Audio Commentary #1: Actors Michael Berryman, Janus Blythe, Susan Lanier and Martin Speer provided a commentary track hosted by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures in which they discuss their journey to becoming performers, their casting in this film, memories of locations filming, from the pet tarantula on set, what it was like working with Wes Craven, the scenes they refused to shoot themselves, the harsh filming conditions they experienced and more.
- Audio Commentary #2: Writer/director Wes Craven and producer Peter Locke provide a very informative commentary track in which they discuss how this film was born out of an urge to make movies and a limited budget, the unique way they chose certain cast members, the lore they drew inspiration from, desolate filming locations, the realities of filming with dogs, dangerous stunts, elaborate elements that were cut from the script and more.
- Audio Commentary #3: Academic Mikel J. Koven offers a very entertaining and insightful commentary track in which he takes a critical look at the film, including themes, allusions to other cinematic works, connections to famous serial killers, misconceptions about the movie and more.
- Looking back on The hills Have Eyes: A 55-minute vintage making-of documentary with interviews with Craven, Locke, actors Michael Berryman, Janus Blythe, Robert Houston, Susan Lanier, Dee Wallace and cinematographer Eric Saarinen. In this piece you get a sense of Wes Craven’s background, the motivation behind making this film, the impact it had on the performers, the starkness of the characters, the symbolism injected by Craven, the collaborative nature on set, the tension around the baby’s death, the special effects, the reactions to the image and more.
- Family affair: A 16-minute interview with actor Martin Speer from 2016 in which he discusses auditioning for the role, playing in extreme weather conditions, memories of Wes Craven, light-hearted criticisms he has of certain aspects of his performance, his relationship with the film over the years and Aftermath.
- Desert Sessions: An 11-minute interview with composer Don Peake from 2016 in which he discusses meeting Wes Craven at a meditation center, how he had to work on the film during the day because it was so scary, unique instruments he used in the score, creating “wicked” music suitable for the film and more.
- An alternate ending: A nearly 12-minute alternate ending to the movie that can be accessed on its own or through seamless branching when you go to watch the movie.
- Exits : There are 19 minutes of unused footage from the shoot which is provided in rough quality.
- Trailers and TV spots: This disc provides the US trailer (2:42), the German trailer (2:45) and TV spots (1:53).
- Image Gallery: There is a collection of posters, advertising material, business cards, photos and more.
- Original screenplay: An option to browse a digital script for the film.
The Hills Have Eyes (1977) is a truly unsettling film that elevates the genre with thrills from its constant buildup. The performances from everyone involved are highly effective, but it’s the effort behind the camera to shape the film that elevates it to something special. The combination of the score, gritty cinematography and effects work is too much to resist. It’s the kind of movie that will give you a cold sweat the next time you travel to the Midwest. Arrow Video has released a sensational 4K UHD Blu-Ray package featuring an A+ audio/visual presentation and more special features than you know what to do with. It’s the type of release every fan dreams of getting for their favorite movie. Highly recommended
The Hills Have Eyes (1977) is currently available for purchase on Blu-Ray and 4K UHD Blu-Ray.
Note: Images shown in this review do not reflect the image quality of 4K UHD Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Arrow Video has provided a free copy of this set for review purposes. All opinions expressed in this review are the honest reactions of the author.