The Hills Have Eyes is an iconic film. Whether you’ve ever seen it or not, you’re sure to have either heard of it, or will be familiar with the iconic poster featuring star Michael Berryman. It’s one of the few classic horror films that I’d never actually seen, so when I saw that Arrow Video were releasing a new 4K Ultra HD edition of the movie I snapped up the chance to finally see it.
The film follows the Carter family as they travel through the Nevada desert on the way to Los Angeles for a vacation. Upon stopping for gas at a remote gas station the family ask for directions to an old silver mine that they want to check out. Being advised to stick to the main road and forget about the mine, the family ignore the warning and head out into the desert. When an accident forces them off the road and damages the car they’re forced to try going for help on foot.
However, someone is up in the hills around them, watching them through a pair of binoculars. Thus begins a game of cat and mouse, as the twisted family that lives there starts to hunt the Carters down one by one, forcing the suburban family to face their worst fears and embrace their rage and will to survive.
Having heard so many stories about how extreme The Hills Have Eyes was, with having seen it being held up as one of the best horror movies of the 1970s, and a high point in director Wes Craven’s career, I was a little disappointed when I finally watched it. Perhaps it’s being more used to the horror films that have come since, but it didn’t feel like a huge amount of stuff actually happened. A lot of the action of the movie took place around the broken down camper van the Carter family was travelling in, and most of the stuff that happened elsewhere happened in desert locations that didn’t have any distinctive features or visual flair. As such, once the awe at the vastness of the desert had worn off there was very little visual stimulation in the movie.
This wasn’t helped by a threat that never really felt that threatening. I understand that the hill family was of course threatening, and did some awful things, but there wasn’t much to them beyond odd people living in the hills. They didn’t really have any flair to them. They weren’t as disturbing or as iconic as Leatherface and his family, and other than the distinctiveness of Michael Berryman’s look there’s nothing about the group that I could really describe other than ‘evil desert people’. I said earlier that I hadn’t seen this film before, but I had seen the remake when it first came out, and despite not having seen it in a decade the look and feel of that film is something I can conjure in my mind quite easily, yet I’m struggling to do so with the original just days later.
Whilst the film itself never really went beyond being okay for me, the extras that come with the film are a lot more interesting and entertaining. The disc includes a ‘making of’ documentary that lasts almost an hour, and features key members of the cast and crew, including the late Wes Craven. The story of how the film got made was, for me, more interesting than the film itself, and it was great to see the folks involved in bringing it to life talk about their experiences making the movie.
In the same vein, the trio of audio commentaries offer a similar kind of insight into the film, especially the one by academic Mikel J. Koven, who’s able to offer broader insight about the film beyond simply the making of the movie, and is able to explore the world in which it was made and released, as well as the impact that it had on film and horror. The set also has a couple of interviews, and an alternate end that doesn’t really feature anything different, but simply changes round the order of the final scenes.
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Perhaps this set would appeal more to a fan of the film, someone who has a lot of love for the movie. But even as someone who has never seen it before the set was pretty entertaining, even if the film didn’t set my world on fire. For those with an interest in film history and horror, the extras are definitely worth a watch even if you’re not that interested in revisiting the film itself.
The Hills Have Eyes is out now on Limited Edition 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray from Arrow Video.