Hills Have Eyes

I would go so far to say that this should be REQUIRED horror film viewing. They sure as hell don’t make flicks like this anymore.


Ah, The Hills Have Eyes. I first heard about the film at a boy scout camp way back in the 80’s. It was supposedly one of the coolest and scariest films our troop leader had seen. It took me about seven years to find the film, but once I did I was treated to a totally unrelenting ride into the darkest corners of the human psyche. I loved it. It instantly became one of my all time favorite horror films.

Then, about three years back, Kitten and I went to our first, and last, flea market and I finally picked up The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 on VHS. I was so stoked. I took it home, popped it in, and was bored out of my mind. The flick consisted of manly flashbacks to the first film (even the dog has a flashback). One of the main characters is in a scene at the beginning of the film, then inexplicably disappears for the rest of the runtime. The film was horrible. I began to doubt how cool the first one had been. If this film was mainly flashbacks to the first film, how was that film any good? Was I just remembering the film through rosy colored nostalgia glasses? Was I that naïve and stupid? Was my taste THAT bad?

Well I’m here to tell you, having re-watched the film ten years later, it’s still pretty badass. It may not be as intense as the first time I saw it, but it is still miles better than anything you have on the screen today.

Wes Craven had been hired to write and direct another horror film following the success of Last House on the Left, with his only guideline being “Make something scary in the desert.” The story he concocted over the weekend is pretty farfetched but becomes fairly believable. It involves a family who have inherited a silver mine for their parent’s 25th anniversary. While on a drive across country they decide to check it out. The family then makes their wrong turn off the highway into an abandoned Air Force Nuclear Testing Range out in Death Valley, only to crash their car when trying to avoid hitting a rabbit in the middle of the road. The family then splits up, the father and his son in law go off in opposite directions in search of help and the rest of the family stays put. Little does the family know they are being watched and hunted by a feral family of cannibalistic killers, living in the surrounding hills. The film also marks Dee Wallace(The Howling, E.T.) and Michael Berryman’s (Cut and Run, Weird Science) first foray into the Horror genre.

While the first time I saw the film I only picked up on the terror aspects, the second time allowed me to analyze all the social commentary, symbolism, and fairy tale references packed into the film. Craven modeled the storyline after his favourite Greek Tragedies. The film main message being that in extreme circumstances even the most civilized people, when pushed hard enough, can become more savage than their attackers. This point is even enforced when one of the families two dogs, Beauty and Beast, is killed by the feral family. Beauty gets killed the moment she wanders away from the crash. Beast lives on strong, and helps the family wreak their vengeance.

As for the terror aspect, the feral family is damn determined. They haven’t had food for weeks and will do anything within their means to apprehend and eat the trespassing family. They have a shocking back story I won’t ruin for you here. They’re incredibly smart, and work together to kill off the main family. And worst of all, they’re horny! Micheal Berryman, born with a shocking 20 + birth defects, was born to play Pluto, and is far more interesting than say, Leatherface, as he doesn’t wear any gay-ass mask.

But I’m already saying too much. It’s best to move on to the extras:

The Hills Have Eyes is Anchor Bay’s latest entry into their new Divimax line of Special Editions. The film has been totally cleaned up and given the full 5.1 Dolby Digital EX and 6.1 DTS ES treatments. You also have an amazingly informative commentary by Wes Craven and producer Peter Locke rounding out the first disc. Sadly, for the horror purist there is no original mono track selectable for the film.

The film looks great and therefore creates an odd paradox for me. DVD viewers want all their films touched up and looking better than they did in their theatrical runs, even if that gritty aspect helped to make the film even more creepy in it’s initial release. If Texas Chainsaw Massacre was all THX-I-fied on it’s original VHS version, would you still have found it as scary? Personally horror films are the only ones I don’t mind watching on VHS for that very reason. For example, part of the fun of Cannibal Holocaust is the way it looks. Legitimate copies were impossible to find. You would get a copy of a copy of a copy from a friend. The blurry, crappy image was like watching someone’s forbidden, sick, twisted home videos, definitely adding to the overall creep factor. If you watch it on import DVD today I guarantee it won’t have the same effect. (Watch for Farva’s review of Cannibal Holocaust, coming soon!)

But this is something that should be debated in ATB’s and in later articles. It’s time for Disc 2.

The second disc includes an excellent hour-long documentary called Looking Back on The Hills Have Eyes. Most of the cast has been reunited and reminisces about their time filming the movie. It’s a very informative doc that I wouldn’t mind watching again, and I very very rarely re-watch special features!

Also included is a second doc called The Directors: The films of Wes Craven. This is a real treat, and a must see for all fans of the horror genre. Wes was the Man, man! The father of Freddy, and the maker of The Hills Have Eyes, People Under the Stairs, Last House on the Left, and Scream *cough*horror-comedy *cough*. Watch this one for a little horror history on one of the best horror filmmakers of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

Also on this disc is an alternate ending to the film, followed by some standard Trailers, TV Spots, Posters and Advertising Art, Set Photos, Storyboards, and a bio on Wes Craven. If you’re lucky enough to have a DVD drive you can also check out the original Screenplay.

So overall you have an amazing 2 disc set, which any self respecting horror fan owes it to themselves to run out and pick up. In fact, I would go so far to say that this should be REQUIRED horror film viewing. They sure as hell don’t make flicks like this anymore.


--Chris Nelson



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