The Hills Have Eyes (1977) – Film Review
By @Roger Crow
As a fan of classic horror, it’s always interesting to finally catch up with one of those iconic chillers.
In an age before the likes of Michael Bay started remaking iconic horror films like feature-length pop videos, Wes Craven was pushing the boundaries of the genre, creating a roadmap for countless film makers who followed.
In the era of Star Wars and disco, Craven had already made his mark in 1972 with The Last House on the Left, so by ‘77 he was a more assured film maker. And the success of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre had proved that low budget horror offerings could generate pots of cash.
“All hell breaks loose”
Notable for starring Dee Wallace, five years before a little film called ET: The Extra Terrestrial made her a star, it takes a while for anything to happen as the Carter family break down in the desert.
Yes, real desert. Not some converted studio, which would have been more convenient, and less convincing.
Towing a caravan, dad is spooked by military aircraft, and goes full Richard Hammond… into a ditch.
However, as the multi-generational family decide what to do, they are being watched from afar by nefarious antagonists with evil intentions.
It’s not long before one of the two dogs becomes a sacrificial pawn. And then all hell breaks loose when a family of cannibals attacks the family and kidnaps their baby.
What starts as a generic horror turns into a survival thriller as the clan try to rescue the infant from the claws of the bad guys.
Kudos to Michael Berryman for his unforgettable turn as Pluto, the most memorable flesh-chomping psycho in the movie. And there’s an ingenious third act which redeems some of the more unsavoury moments.
Yes it’s a grungy, rough around the edges slice of horror hokum, and even the brand new 4K restoration means the latest version looks like the film was shot through a gauze filter. But classic seventies horror was at its best when gritty and raw rather than some hi-def revamp with a cast of models.
Wes Craven, who also edited the movie, does a fine job of sustaining the attention, right up to that abrupt ending. However, the new UHD disc does give you alternate finales, as well as a host of extras and a making-of documentary.
Craven looking back on one of his early classics years before making A Nightmare on Elm Street and the Scream saga is a fascinating study of the much missed film maker.
The making of doc, which was probably assembled decades ago, is still a fascinating study of how to craft a film in an era before digital made everything so much easier. Even if you’re not a fan of the film, that’s well worth a look.
Aside from giving the world Freddy Krueger, Craven went on to create some other crackers, like Amish-centric thriller Deadly Blessing, which also featured Berryman and star-in-waiting Sharon Stone, and The People Under the Stairs, which I haven’t seen in 30 years, but deserves another look.
The Hills Have Eyes inevitably spawned a sequel, written and directed by Craven, and a glossy remake and its sequel. It might not be my favourite offering from his back catalogue, but it’s a fascinating slice of full-on escapism for genre fans.
Gritty, nasty, and strangely compelling.
• Brand new 4K restoration of the film, viewable with both original and alternate endings
• 4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray presentation in High Dynamic Range
• Original lossless mono audio
• Optional lossless 2.0 stereo and 7.1 remixes (original ending only)
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• 6 postcards
• Reversible fold-out poster
• Limited edition 40-page booklet featuring writing on the film by critic Brad Stevens and a consideration of the Hills franchise by Arrow producer Ewan Cant, illustrated with original archive stills and posters
• Audio commentary with actors Michael Berryman, Janus Blythe, Susan Lanier and Martin Speer
• Audio commentary by academic Mikel J. Koven
• Audio commentary with Wes Craven and Peter Locke
• Looking Back on The Hills Have Eyes – making-of documentary featuring interviews with Craven, Locke, actors Michael Berryman, Janus Blythe, Robert Houston, Susan Lanier, Dee Wallace and director of photography Eric Saarinen
• Family Business – an interview with actor Martin Speer
• The Desert Sessions – an interview with composer Don Peake
• Alternate ending
• Trailers and TV Spots
• Image gallery
• Original screenplay
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper
The Hills Have Eyes is released on UHD by Arrow, £34.99