Following the controversial success of 1972's LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, Wes Craven couldn't get arrested in Hollywood or anywhere else, for that matter. He found himself pigeon-holed into a genre, for better or worse, and the one project that came his way was the script BLOOD RELATIONS, which was eventually produced and released in 1977 as THE HILLS HAVE EYES. It remained one of Craven's most obscure films, appearing on Magnum Home Video, but has been out of print for years. When all of Craven's other horror classics were being released in definitive DVD editions, fans were left perplexed as to who owned the film and which studio would release it, if ever? The saints be praised, as Anchor Bay stepped up to the plate and has released the must-own edition of THE HILLS HAVE EYES, with an incredible buffet of supplements and presenting the film in the best presentation it has ever received.
The Carters, the All-American family from Cleveland with a retired cop patriarch and an eager to please matriarch, wander off the highway into the desert in search of a silver mine the parents were left in honor of their silver anniversary. Despite warnings to turn back from a grizzled gas station owner (John Steadman), they continue through the treacherous terrain until they are driven off the road and stranded. But they are not alone...they have been eagerly stalked by a family of degenerate inbred cannibals, led by the brutally scarred Jupiter (James Whitworth), who wait until darkness falls to invade the family's trailer and have a little fun...
Almost 30 years after it was made, THE HILLS HAVE EYES still remains positively horrifying viewing. The concept of being isolated, away from civilization and any kind of help when your life is at stake, is a fear felt by many viewers of all walks of life, so even before the family begins dying, the suspense is well-established from the get-go. Sheer terror is very well-conveyed by an able cast, with Dee Wallace, Susan Lanier, Robert Houston, and Virginia Vincent really sticking out as actors who should have (and sometimes did) go on to bigger and better things. Wallace, of course, became Dee Wallace Stone, wowing audiences with her performances in THE HOWLING, CUJO, and E.T., among other projects. Lanier was originally slated to be 'Chrissy' in "Three's Company" before Suzanne Somers took her place, but I find her more appealing than Somers here. Houston became a director, but his emotional scenes are top-notch as a character torn between being a man and a boy in such a tense situation. Vincent was actually a much younger actress than she appears here, and does a fantastic job as the upbeat matriarch who loses it when the going gets tough. The visually interesting Michael Berryman, who had a healthy career of bit parts and cameos, was given a big boost by being the poster boy for HILLS HAVE EYES and still regularly makes appearances at fan conventions, charming fans with his warm friendly demeanor. Quite a change from the monstrous Pluto! Janus Blythe received good notices as Ruby, the good girl of the mountain family, and for good reason: she displays animal traits and inner humanity incredibly well. She later reunited with HILLS co-star Robert Houston in the 1979 Kristine DeBell vehicle CHEERLEADERS' WILD WEEKEND (under the name Janet Blythe)! The claustrophobic hand-held camerawork by Eric Saarinen is very effective, and the primitive sounds of Don Peake's musical score will raise goosebumps during all the pivotal moments. The one caveat: Wes Craven may be the most successful horror filmmaker darling (in terms of success to failure ratio, compared to Tobe Hooper and George Romero), but he has yet to deliver a satisfying ending. THE HILLS HAVE EYES ends on a very disturbing and dark moment, but still feels like an anti-climax, much like Craven's finale in LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. But the climax aside, everything leading up to it results in a horror classic that has remained unseen for far too long. This ranks as one of Craven's best films, if not his most rugged and chilling.
One of the extra features on Disc 2 of this double-disc set is a Restoration demo, playing the first 4 minutes of the film in split-screen, the left side post-restoration, the right side pre-restoration. For the most part, they look pretty much the same. There are more scratches, speckles, and dirt in the original master, and colors have been cleaned up nicely and grain minimized. It isn't a perfect transfer, given the elements to work with, but THE HILLS HAVE EYES hasn't looked better during its home video history, so this remains the definitive video version of Craven's classic, letterboxed at 1.85:1 with anamoprhic enhancement. There are 4 separate audio options: 5.1 Digital Surround, 6.1 DTS, 2.0 Dolby Surround, and the original mono mix. None of them sound perfect, with dialogue, music, and effects balanced perfectly, but of them all, the DTS seems to be the best. Susan Lanier's hysterical screaming during the trailer invasion is a good test for the audio mixes and their effectiveness: loud and bold during the DTS, but a tad subdued during all the others.
Disc 1 kicks off the extra features with a feature-length audio commentary by Wes Craven and producer Peter Locke. From the get-go, it is obvious both men are excited to speak about this film and are thrilled it is finally being released on DVD for the masses. Enthusiastically sharing stories of the difficult outdoors shoot, the poor overworked crew who had run themselves ragged prior to shooting on Roger Corman's EAT MY DUST, the cast giving their all, and a number of special effects mishaps, Craven and Locke share a lot of laughs and are very jovial and listenable throughout. Craven has always done a great job on audio commentaries, and this is no exception. Required listening! Disc 2 holds the rest of the hefty extras platter. The 55-minute "Looking Back at the Hills Have Eyes" was produced exclusively for this DVD, and features interviews with Craven, Locke, director of photography Eric Saarinen, and actors Dee Wallace, Michael Berryman, Janus Blythe, Robert Houston, and Susan Lanier. All of them have intensely interesting factoids and memories of shooting the film; Craven is articulate and intelligent as ever, discussing the origins of his interest in horror films and how this particular project came his way. He reveals the true story HILLS was based on, the Sawney Bean family who preyed on travelers on the road from London to Edinburgh. Locke gives a producer's perspective, such as tracking down the isolated shooting locations. Also included is modern-day footage of the desert where HILLS was shot, and it's just as isolated and full of doom as it was in 1977. Houston tells how he got the job by crying the best, while Blythe beat the other girls in her casting call at a foot race! There are hilarious stories of Berryman scaring a woman in the audience during a showing of the film, Lanier and Berryman setting the crew at ease during the rape scene, Wallace getting used to a tarantula, and absolutely incredible tales about the rattlesnake, the dog attacking Berryman, and the possibility of the baby being killed off...until the cast and crew threaten to walk off the film!! This was one TOUGH shoot, and everything you ever wanted to know about the making of the film (and that isn't in the commentary) is discussed in-depthly here, with all the participants proud of their involvement.
"The Directors: The Films of Wes Craven" is essentially a puff piece created for cable TV, covering Craven's films from LAST HOUSE through MUSIC OF THE HEART, with interviews with "stars" like Meryl Streep, Neve Campbell, Coutrney Cox-Arquette, Kristy Swanson (much too briefly), and Adrienne Barbeau. Enticing clips from DEADLY BLESSING and DEADLY FRIEND are included (the infamous basketball to the head scene from FRIEND makes me want this on DVD pronto!), and for those who are pissed that Universal once again didn't bother with extras for their upcoming SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW disc, both Bill Pullman and Craven give anecdotes about that film (PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, also coming to DVD, is touched upon for a brief second). It's interesting to see him talk about other films that he wasn't tapped for when they came to DVD (SWAMP THING, for example), but for the most part this isn't anything worth revisiting. Nice to have, though. The infamous "alternate ending" is included in all its jaw-dropping "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" niceness. Let's just say the original ending, which I felt was weak, is brilliance compared to this force-fed TV ending. Also, because this was for TV, AB has included an example of the strange network editing. Mars is killed before Jupiter, and the multiple stabbing is sliced down to a simple jab. A U.S. trailer and a German trailer, which are identical save the narration, sell the film very well. Two U.S. TV spots and two UK T.V. spots are also almost identical, but for completist's sake their inclusion is great. Three separate galleries provide even MORE historical looks into the making of a film: one is made up of color and black-and-white behind-the-scenes photos, with actors and crew trudging through the desert between takes and clowning for the camera, the second features an astounding array of international posters, video covers, and pressbooks (almost all of them star Michael Berryman). Did you know HILLS HAVE EYES played as a double feature with Paul Morrissey's ANDY WARHOL'S FRANKENSTEIN and John Waters' DESPERATE LIVING?! You even get to see a letter discussing audience reaction to the film! The third gallery consists of storyboards outlining such diverse sequences as the discovery of Beauty's corpse, Lynne walking in on the trailer invasion, Beast attacking Pluto's heel, Ruby delivering the baby to Doug, and a number of the more risky stunts, like the knife fight, tackles, and lots of animal stunts. One storyboard, where Doug pulls out and snaps Mars' artery, makes one wonder how far the film could have gone in terms of bloodshed? Compared to Hollywood storyboards, these look amateurish but are still a lot of fun to look at. Amusingly, it opens with the title BLOOD RELATIONS and has a disclaimer stating "The incidents you are about to witness are true. Nothing has been changed. It's all true. Swear to God!" in an assumed homage to Craven's LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. A Wes Craven bio appears for those unfamiliar with his work.
DVD-ROM extras have been pretty much ignored on most cult film DVD's, save some Blue Underground discs, but Anchor Bay has included some nice goodies on the ROM front. First up is the original first draft for THE HILLS HAVE EYES, under the original title BLOOD RELATIONS. There is a tongue-in-cheek crawl claiming Craven was locked away in a mental institution after the release of LAST HOUSE and wrote this screenplay after returning from an intergalactic spaceship ride (?!). The mountain family is introduced up front, instead of the suspenseful build-up to their first appearance(s), the gas station sequence isn't included, and surprisingly the cheesy TV alternate ending was in the works from the get-go! It's an interesting 90-page read, and fans of the film will eat it up. The second DVD-ROM extra is a pair of HILLS HAVE EYES screensavers, for either PC or Mac computers. One is the animated background present on the DVD menus, complete with the exceptional Don Peake score, and the other is a similar background with a spotlight hovering over a HILLS HAVE EYES title. Both are pretty nifty programs you can install on your computer directly from the disc. On a side note, with this disc Anchor Bay has introduced a new DVD introduction logo, which is kinda nifty compared to the mute ripple effect logo we're so used to. A color booklet insert contains informative liner notes by Jon Putnam, who interviewes some of the cast members who were not involved with the DVD.
Every horror fan should have this
disc sitting on their shelf. THE HILLS HAVE EYES is a sterling example of 70s
no-holds-barred horror that would never get made today, presented here in an
edition that won't be topped. Now...who'll step up to the plate to release 1981's
DEADLY BLESSING, Craven's most underrated effort? Judging from this set, Anchor
Bay would be the ideal company to tackle it. One of the best discs of 2003.
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