THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) Blu-ray Limited Edition
Director: Wes Craven
Arrow Video USA

"The lucky ones died first" in Wes Craven's shocking cult classic THE HILLS HAVE EYES on Limited Edition Blu-ray from Arrow Video USA.

On their way to the Land of Milk and Honey, retired Cleveland detective "Big Bob" Carter (Russ Grieve, DOGS), his wife Ethel (Virginia Vincent, I WANT TO LIVE!), son Bobby (Robert Houston, CHEERLEADERS WILD WEEKEND), daughters Lynn (Dee Wallace Stone, THE HOWLING) and Brenda (Susan Lanier), along with Lynn's husband Doug (Martin Speer, KILLER'S DELIGHT) and infant daughter Katy (along with dogs Beast and Beauty) make the unfortunate choice to go off the beaten path into the desert on a side trip in search of an inherited silver mine despite the cryptic warnings of grizzled gas station owner Freddie (John Steadman, FADE TO BLACK). When Bob is distracted by the low-flying jets that use the desert as a gunnery range and crashes the station wagon, the family catch the eye of desert dwellers who are the dark flipside of their "white bread" Midwestern Christian ideal: a "coyote" clan of cannibalistic scavengers lead by Papa Jupiter (James Whitworth, TERMINAL ISLAND) consisting of Mama Jupe (Cordy Clark), daughter Ruby (Janus Blythe, EATEN ALIVE), and sons Mars (Lance Gordon, TWICE DEAD), Pluto (Michael Berryman, DEADLY BLESSING), and dim-witted Mercury (producer Peter Locke). With the men distracted by a grisly diversion, the brothers stage a raid on family's trailer, raping, pillaging, and killing before making off with the family's supplies, food, and baby Katy. While Doug takes off into the mountains to get his baby back, the other survivors must set a trap for the flesh-eating marauders out more blood after Beast avenges the killing of Beauty on one of Jupiter's own.

As gritty, raw, and intense as THE HILLS HAVE EYES is, it is perhaps the more accessible and palatable of Craven's early pre-NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET cinematic "endurance tests" over LAST HOUSE OF THE LEFT (with the made-for-TV SUMMER OF FEAR and the atmospheric but compromised DEADLY BLESSING somewhat more gentrified works). Drawing as much inspiration from Craven's noted source – the legend Sawny Beane family of Scottish maurauders/cannibals of the sixteenth century – and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (with that film's art director Robert Burns festooning the cannibal clan's cave with leftover props from the Sawyer house), the gore of TOURIST TRAP's David Ayres and DEMONOID's Ken Horn is not plentiful with the film's savagery conveyed through performances and Craven's staging (with scenes that are hard to watch rather than hard to look at as in LAST HOUSE). Interestingly, the Carter family are caricatures from the start who become increasingly shrill while Jupiter's family is given more subtle character delineation (partly due to Craven giving them the names and archetypal characteristics of mythological characters) with Whitworth's Jupiter a menacing monster (whose hatred for Big Bob and others like him who "come out here and stick your life in my face") and Berryman more articulate and even savvy compared to what some of his later character roles afforded him. The climax also anticipates A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET with its pair of young siblings baiting one of the cannibals into a set of elaborate booby traps. The film was followed up by a less-satisfying sequel that adhered to the slasher body count formula (available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber's Redemption Films line) while Locke later sold the unrelated film known stateside as MIND RIPPER and in some territories as THE OUTPOST under the title THE HILLS HAVE EYES III in other territories.

Released theatrically by Vanguard, THE HILLS HAVE EYES was first released on VHS in the very early 1980s by Harmony Vision – a short-lived company that also included John Waters' PINK FLAMINGOS and the shortened American dub of PATRICK among its few releases – followed by more widely available release by Magnum Entertainment. Anchor Bay released the film on DVD with commentary by Craven and producer Locke, souped-up DTS-ES and Dolby Digital 5.1 EX tracks, and an entire second disc of extras. Image Entertainment carried over many of the extras to their Blu-ray edition along with the remix in DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 but the dull-looking, low bitrate image (with the remix and extras squeezed onto a BD25) was unsatisfying despite Image not bothering with extras or remixes on any of their other Midnight Madness line titles.

Arrow's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen Blu-ray is derived from a brand new 4K restoration which was scanned in 4K from the 35mm CRI (color reversal intermediate) blow-up of the original 16mm A/B reels which are unfortunately lost. Already grainy due to the shooting format, the vintage blow-up accentuates the textures perhaps a bit more than a from-the-negative transfer might have. Detail is far superior to the previous transfers, however, with some shots of the sky revealing rolling clouds where there once seemed solid grey (some background sky shots still look blown out but that is due to the original cinematography). The desert and the rocky environs of the Jupiter family's dwellings seem more a character of the film in this new presentation, and the prosthetics of Jupiter's split-open face look grislier in close-up during his "Your dog made sport of my blood" rant. The Vanguard logo looks particularly vibrant but the right edge of the frame is faded during the logo and opening credits. Arrow has dropped the remixes in favor of an uncompressed encode of the mono mix in LPCM 1.0 that presents the "ugly" and "nasty" scoring of Don Peake (THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS) and some emphatic sound effects (starting with the sloshing of liquid in Freddie's booze bottle) with unnerving presence while making some post-dubbed dialogue more apparent. The English SDH subtitles have one glaring error in transcribing Lynn's comment that the breathing she and her mother heard over the CB sounded like an obscene caller as "an Epstein caller." The Blu-ray provides the option through seamless branching of watching the film in its theatrical cut (89:57) or with the film's alternate ending (91:17) which is also available separately in the extras (note that the commentaries can only be audited with the theatrical cut). Without giving too much away, the alternate ending switches around the order of the denouements of Brenda and Bobby versus Jupiter and Doug's fight with Mars while also adding a less abrupt closing shot not featured at all in the theatrical cut. Also exclusive to the alternate ending is a LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT-esque ending montage of actor close-ups preceding the "cast in order of appearance" crawl.

The film is accompanied by three audio commentary tracks. The first new track is a cast track with Berryman, Blythe, Lanier and Speer (moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures). They discuss how they became involved in the film (Blythe was originally considered for Brenda but wanted the role of Ruby and had to win a footrace during her audition to show that she could move swiftly), the extreme heat of the desert days and chill of the nights, their favorable impressions of Craven and not always favorable ones of Locke (the dead dog for the insert shot was a German Shepherd that had drowned and Locke expected animal lover/rescuer Berryman to gut it for the shot), as well as the cult following of the film and their experiences with its fandom. On working with the animals, Blythe and Berryman recall the time that the venomous Mojave Green rattlesnake that figures into the climax got loose, and Berryman recalls that Beast was played by Striker, the "Bionic Dog" from THE BIONIC WOMAN, and that his own dog was often used in the staging since Striker had arthritis (he also recalls the trust he put in celebrated animal trainer Moe Di Sesso for the scenes where the dog had to clamp onto his limbs).

The second new track features academic Mikel J. Koven eschewing production anecdote and behind the scenes factoids for discussion of the ways the film corresponds with the Sawny Beane story – which he relates in full – and makes a case for TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE not only featuring elements in common with THE HILLS HAVE EYES but also the legend more so than the facts of the Ed Gein case as popularly credited, as well as the themes of "poverty of rural America" and isolation (to reject society is to become monstrous as the desert dwellers and later the Carters when stripped to their primal instincts). Ported over from the Anchor Bay and Image releases is the track with Craven and Locke. Craven recalls not wanting to make another horror movie after LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT when initially approached by Locke. They reminisce over being "two guys from New York who knew nothing about the desert" as they too went off the main road into the Mojave in search of locations. Craven discusses the film's origins in the legend of Sawny Beane as well as the significance of the names of Jupiter's clan (and the way they are mirrored by the "white bread" family) as well as Beauty and Beast, along with basing Big Bob and Ethel on real people from his Baptist mother's circle of friends. They recall that cinematographer Eric Saarinen and his crew had just come off of the Roger Corman production EAT MY DUST and were resentful of Corman for running them ragged.

"Looking Back on THE HILLS HAVE EYES" (54:34) is a comprehensive featurette with Craven, Locke, Berryman, Blythe, Houston, Lanier, Wallace, and director of photography Saarinen. Craven discusses his childhood and not seeing movies until college due to his Baptist upbringing and becoming a movie nut even as he pursuing a career in academics. He recalls his reluctance to do another horror movie due to his concerns about what people thought of him after LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. He and Locke rehash the circumstances from the commentary that lead to them mounting a low budget horror movie in the California desert. The actors discuss the contrasts in personalities between the patient Craven and the aggressive Locke (Houston recalls that his audition consisted of crying and being hysterical as well as believing that Craven was not aggressive enough to make it in Hollywood), as well as warm memories of some of the cast no longer with us. Saarinen recalls desiring to shoot the film in 35mm but finding that 16mm allowed for quicker and lighter handheld work, as well as admiring Craven's determination to do things better. Locke and Craven also discuss the reception of the film during which Craven once again voices his distaste of the MPAA.

Although Speer appears on the commentary track, his absence from the Anchor bay featurette is covered with a brand new interview "Family Business" (16:08) in which he covers some of the same territory as the commentary track along with his brushes with fandom (the interview was shot during an appearance at a convention). "The Desert Sessions" (11:00) features composer Peake discussing how he met Craven in a meditation group and was hired to compose the score with no input from Craven or Locke (as well as their horrified reaction at the final product). He also reveals that his session musicians here included future composer Craig Safan (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4) playing a beam and former THE JACK BENNY SHOW child violin prodigy Toni Marcus on Stroh viola.

The alternate ending (11:34) is also included as a separate playback option for those who do not want to watch the film a second time so quickly just to see how it differs. Outtakes (18:57) reveal plenty of blown lines, the difficulties of controlling a campfire in high wind, poor Wallace pretending to bump her head on the roof of a car several times, Whitworth trying to deliver dialogue while his prosthetic nose appliance is slipping off, and Beast yanking lithe Lanier and Houston out of camera by his leash in the middle of their lines. Also included are the film's U.S. Trailer (2:43), a German trailer (2:46) of the same content with German dubbing and the German title superimposed under the English optical, as well as TV Spots (1:54) an image gallery (0:40), and the screenplay as a PDF file accessible via BD-ROM. Not included for review is the reversible sleeve, six postcards, reversible fold-out poster, and 40-page booklet featuring a new writing on the film by critic Brad Stevens and a consideration of the Hills franchise by disc producer Ewan Cant, illustrated with original archive stills and posters all packaged in a slipbox. (Eric Cotenas)