When legendary horror master Wes Craven passed away last year, it really shocked the world. Here was a man whose storytelling gifts knew no bounds. He didn’t make your typical horror movies; every film he made had something truly relevant to say about the flaws and the dark, nasty side of society. Whether it was his very controversial and rather crude Last House on the Left (1972); his ultimate horror classic of the 1980s, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), that changed the face of horror for that decade; or his groundbreaking 1996 spoof Scream, which also redefined horror for the ’90s, there was always that element of true reality and honesty that he depicted, even in his less popular works (Swamp Thing, The People Under the Stairs, Shocker). In 1977, The Hills Have Eyes (arguably his masterpiece), is where the theme of twisted humanity hit an all-time high. Yes, these hills truly have eyes.
Obviously, most horror geeks know the story, the Carters, your typical suburban family traveling to California, who encounter a vicious family of cannibals who proceed to rape, assault, and murder them. The very few remaining survivors of the family realize that they’ve lost everything, except their will to live. In the end, they have to become the monsters who attacked them. This is basically the story of the desert’s attack on the suburbs, and the suburban’s revenge on the desert.
What made the film even more frightening is that it was based on a true story of Sawney Bean, a 15th century Scottish cannibal, who with his clan, murdered and ate over 1,000 travelers. When something is based on reality, it can give a film, especially a horror film that one extra boost of nightmarish quality. It didn’t hurt that Craven added his mastery to the mix. And his name is stamped all over the entire film; the intensity, the grueling violence, and the human element all add up to produce a horror classic of unlimited appeal and terrifying groundness.
There are certain moments that still assault the senses: Bobby Carter’s (Robert Houston) discovery of one of his dead dogs; the burning and murder of patriarch Bob Carter (Russ Grieve); the rape and assault of Brenda Carter (Susan Lanier); the attack on the Carter’s trailer in which Mercury (the film’s producer Peter Locke under the pseudonym Arthur King) eats one of Brenda’s birds, and also where both Ethel Carter (Virginia Vincent) and eldest daughter Lynne (the great Dee Wallace), are shot and killed, and where Lynne’s infant daughter is kidnapped; and the climatic showdown where Bobby, Brenda, and Lynne’s husband Doug (Martin Speer) kill the cannibals.
The real shock factor here is discovering that the cannibal clan turn out to be human as well, being victims of radiation and resorting to eating flesh as a means to survive. That element makes you feel such weird sympathy for these incredibly horrible people. Judging on that note, the Carters are actually a little less sympathetic than we realize, as Big Bob is really a racist, and Pluto (a standout Michael Berryman), a member of the clan, is overshadowed by his brother Mercury. This adds to the human element that Craven was particularly famous for.
This release is where Arrow really shines, giving the film an even more greater importance in the history of the horror genre than it already has. With the new 4k restoration, it looks better than its even been, while still retaining its original 16mm graininess. It also comes with a limited edition 40-page booklet with a new essay by critic Brad Stevens and a consideration of the Hills franchise by disc producer Ewan Cant, with original stills and posters. There is a reversible fold-out poster, reversible sleeve with original and new artwork by Paul Shipper, and six cool postcards.
The special features add to the fun of fully appreciating this all-time classic:
- Brand new audio commentary with cast members Michael Berryman (Pluto), Janus Blythe (Ruby), Susan Lainer (Brenda Carter), and Martin Speer (Doug Wood)
- Brand new audio commentary with by academic Mikel J. Koven
- Vintage audio commentary with Wes Craven and Peter Locke
- Looking Back on The Hills Have Eyes – A vintage making-of documentary featuring interviews with Wes Craven, Peter Locke, Michael Berryman, Janus Blythe, Robert Houston, Susan Lainer, Dee Wallace, and cinematographer Eric Saarinen
- Family Business – A brand new interview with Speer
- The Desert Sessions – A brand new interview with composer Don Peake
- Rare outtakes
- Alternate Ending
- Trailers and TV Spots
- Poster and Image Gallery
- BD-ROM content: Original Screenplay
The Hills Have Eyes is a horror classic that continues to be an amazing cult success, especially because of the fact that you were in the presence of a brilliant filmmaker who was willing to subject his audiences to anything and everything. Craven was no ordinary director, and Hills was not your typical ordinary exploitative film. Arrow really treated the film with stellar respect, and it should go on to be a very fitting tribute to Mr. Craven who we still miss and deeply love with all of our hearts. Thank you Wes for the nightmares!