The Hills Have Eyes
U.S.A. / 1977
Directed by Wes Craven
Starring
Susan Lanier
Dee Wallace
Michael Berryman
Color / 89 Minutes / Not Rated

Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC / 2-disc set)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
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Guest Review by Kevin Novinski
Nearly five years after his highly controversial debut, The Last House on the Left, shot him to stardom among horror/cult film fans, Wes Craven went behind the camera again for his second, and equally taboo, picture, The Hills Have Eyes. With a greater budget than the previous film, and some credible actors in the cast, Craven produced what was to be one of the most grotesque, infamous and stylistic cult classics of all time.
    The film depicts the Carters, an average all-American family driving through Nevada on their way to California. They encounter Fred (John Steadman), a grizzled old attendant, when they stop for gas off the main highway. Fred warns them of the dangers that lie ahead in the desert mountain terrain but they decide to proceed anyway. After driving for many miles on a dirt road they discover they've wandered inside a huge military training site; a fighter jet buzzes low overhead and frightens them, causing an accident. Their camper-towing station wagon has a broken axle and can't be repaired. Father Bob (Russ Grieve) and his son-in-law, Doug (Martin Speer), decide to go and find help, with the younger man heading towards a military installation and the other following the road back to Fred's gasso. This leaves Bob's wife, Ethel (Virginia Vincent), son Bobby (Robert Houston), his daughters Brenda (Susan Lanier) and Lynne (Dee Wallace of The Howling)
along with Doug and Lynne's infant child stuck in the middle of nowhere.
    We then switch to the point of view of a person, seemingly disturbed, peering down from the surrounding hills as the family is left unattended. The stranded travelers are "easy pickins now." Back at the trailer, one of the family dogs becomes upset, as she knows someone threatening is watching, and is accidentally released from the trailer. Beauty, the dog, is then chased after by Bobby into the foothills. He calls out for her until he hears her final yelp and then silence. (It's at this point he realizes that someone else is out there with them.) Bobby stumbles upon the bloody, gutted carcass of the dog. Following this he hears a heavy, unsettling breathing sound and runs back toward the camper.
   
Ethel and Lynne are on the two-way radio now, attempting to contact anyone who can help. They hear nothing but weird, heavy breathing amid the static. It's through Brenda's stupidity that the second dog, Beast, escapes into the night. She follows, calling his name, and eventually encounters a terse Bobby with Beast on a leash. Brenda notices that there's something wrong with her brother but doesn't press the matter.
    Dad has now returned to the gas station at which the family first met Fred. After searching around he comes upon the old man trying to commit suicide by hanging himself. He helps Fred down, telling him about the family's predicament. Fred warns that they are all in great danger. The danger, Fred reveals, comes from his second born child, a wild, psychotic son. The boy murdered his sister when he was only 10 years old. In a fit of rage Fred knocked the "devil kid" unconscious and left him out to the desert to die. But somehow he survived. And during the ensuing 38 years he's had time to grow into a "devil man"
and raise up his own family as a vicious pack of feral, cannibalistic predators. It's at this point that the film really picks up the pace ... so I'll leave it to you to experience the rest.
    The Hills Have Eyes is one of the drive-in era's last great horror flicks, the kind you'd see on a Friday or Saturday night and leave satisfied. In it Wes Craven revisits one of his favorite themes, that of civilized man forced to lower himself to barbarism in order to fight and survive. Some of the set-pieces remain just as grueling and transgressive today, some three decades later. It's unfortunate that Craven's subsequent movies haven't lived up to this standard, because otherwise I'd have more interest in and respect for the man's work. In conclusion, the film succeeds for the indie horror fan and as perhaps Craven's best effort. A horrorphile shouldn't think twice about picking this up. For under thirty bucks it's well worth every penny.

The new Anchor Bay collector's edition is packed with every possible supplement available for the film. First off, addressing the print, I'd like to say that it's excellent when taking the age and style of film into account. Since Hills was lensed in 16mm and then blown up from theatrical distribution, there is notable grain throughout. On the positive side, there's very little print damage. When you think about how it was shot and taken care of, the print is actually the best you'll ever see. In the sound department you get Dolby 5.1 Surround EX and DTS 6.1 soundtracks, which sound positively amazing. We also get a well-deserved audio commentary by director Wes Craven and producer Peter Locke. Together they cover a lot of ground concerning the film's genesis and production.
    But that's not all! Now, on to Disc # 2... A new 55-minute documentary produced by Anchor Bay, Looking Back On The Hills Have Eyes, features interviews with Craven, producer Locke, cinematographer Eric Saarinen, and actors Michael Berryman, Janus Blythe, Robert Houston, Susan Lanier, and Dee Wallace-Stone. It's one of the better documentaries done by Anchor Bay and an interesting one at that. The Directors: The Films of Wes Craven has Craven and a number of the leading actors from his various films discussing him and the impact of his work. A rare and never-before-seen alternate ending to Hills is surprisingly featured here and is nothing else than a remixing of some of the final scenes and the originally styled credits which feature the actors' faces on a red background with their names appearing below. Unfortunately, the alternate ending seems to have been taken from a horrible VHS bootleg sporting pretty bad A/V quality. In the trailers and TV spots section you get an original American theatrical trailer along with a German one; it's the same as the U.S. promo, only in German. There are four TV spots, from Great Britain and the States. (The British ones are interesting.) Photo galleries are broken down into sections for behind-the-scenes, posters/memorabilia and storyboards; a very nice addition.
   The disc also features a director's talent bio which is filled with information about Last House on the Left and the controversy it generated. Lastly, DVD-ROM features are offered in the form of the original draft screenplay for Hills and two screensavers. This DVD set is fantastic an extremely great buy. Is there anything else they could really fit on this? You have, if I'm not mistaken, every available item here. Well done, Anchor Bay, and it's nice to see that cheesy DiviMax series logo gone from the box. Let's just hope it stays that way.
10/05/03
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