Wes Craven’s terrifying assault on the suburban American family comes to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray from Turbine Media Group. Since 1977, The Hills Have Eyes has scared audiences delivering visceral thrills and chills spawning sequels and remakes. This German import disc delivers an impressive native 4K HDR10 transfer with three excellent audio tracks to pick through with a fine assortment of bonus features. If you’re a fan - don’t leave this one on the side of the road. Very Highly Recommended
Big Bob Carter (Russ Grieve), Ethel (Virginia Vincent), their three adult children, son-in-law, baby granddaughter, and two dogs have piled into the family station wagon and camper for a road trip. On their way to California, the Carters decide to visit the silver mine they were gifted for their anniversary - only the mine is far off the beaten path. Ignoring the last warning to turn around, the idyllic American family soon find themselves stuck in the desert… and at the mercy of a family of deranged cannibals.
If I had to pick a decade for the best Horror Films - it would be the 1970s. You get popular mega-hits like Jaws, Halloween, or The Exorcist alongside gritty low-budget shockers like I Spit On Your Grave, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Dawn of the Dead. There are so many great entries in the genre that still pack a wallop to this day. While I love the 80s for horror, that’s a decade that felt like the commercialization of horror. “How many sequels can we make? Well let's find out!” was the motto. But 70s horror has an uncompromising edge that cuts deep and often leaves you feeling raw and exhausted by the end. Large studio productions, art-house features, grungy low-budget productions - all had something genuinely terrifying to bring to theater screens. Wes Craven was responsible for two memorable entries.
The Hills Have Eyes is one of my all-time favorite horror films stacked alongside the likes of George Romero’s groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead. The deserted location, the relatively unknown cast, the gritty and raw 16mm photography, its dark sense of humor; this is just a damn creepy and unsettling movie. Wes Craven made his mark on horror by assaulting the quintessential American family. In Last House On The Left, he brought the danger and violence of the city into the home. With The Hills Have Eyes, he destroyed the sanctity of the American family vacation introducing a new deranged vision of the patriarchy.
Horror is often a genre pegged as unworthy or “less than” simply because its aim is to trigger a base gut reaction from the audience. But Craven was a smart filmmaker who knew how to layer in subversive subtext into his horror films. Russ Grieve’s Big Bob is a former police officer who still carries his badge and gun; the man of authority. But he’s powerless to stop James Whitworth’s Papa Jupiter and his family of hill people. It’s a not-so-thinly veiled examination of 50s straight conservative culture versus free-wheeling hippy counterculture of the 60s taken to a violent extreme. When these families clash it’s bloody and unforgiving.
From the outset, this isn’t a movie that ever really gives you a moment of comfort. It gives the audience those precious few moments of “normal” introducing the Carters and their destination, but we already know they’re in way over their heads. When the grizzled old gas station owner tells you not to do something - you should probably listen! It’s their own pride and sense of immunity that gets them in trouble. And trouble happens fast. Craven smartly paces the action slowly building to the first attack and then never giving the characters or the audience a moment to relax.
But, like any great horror film of the 70s, the 80s came calling and a sequel was made. While parts of The Hills Have Eyes: Part 2 work, it’s a damn goofy movie that stretches its premise pretty thin in order to get some returning characters back on the screen. Granted, the plot isn't as bad as another batch of dumb counselors returning to the same campground year after year - but it’s pretty rough. And I can’t think of any other movie that lets a dog have a flashback in order to get the audience up to speed with the plot. By the time the 2000s remake machine was underway, we get Alexander Aja’s excellent update. While it covers a lot of the same ground, it goes off into its own gnarly gory directions to keep things interesting. Once again, the less said about the sequel the better. A prequel/reboot/sequel has been in development for a while so it’s only a matter of time before the cannibals of The Hills Have Eyes attack movie theaters again.
Even with a spotty reputation as a franchise, The Hills Have Eyes remains a genuine classic cementing Wes Craven as a true horror filmmaker with an impressive eye for terrifying an audience.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
The Hills Have Eyes attacks 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray thanks to Turbine Media Group with a deluxe two-disc Mediabook package. The 4K UHD disc is region free, but the included 1080p disc with all of the bonus features is Region B locked so to get that content you will need a region-free player if you’re outside of Europe. Each disc gets to occupy a single tray with the essay materials (in German) sandwiched in the middle.
Given the age of The Hills Have Eyes, its budget, and its 16mm origins - I wasn’t expecting much from this release. If it looked a bit better than the 2016 Limited Edition from Arrow I would have been happy - and anything is better than the Image release. But I’m honestly floored by this native 4K 2160p HDR10 transfer. Keep in mind, it was shot on 16mm so it’s still very rough with a thick grain structure and numerous imperfections still apparent in the negative - but damn is it a beauty by comparison to anything that's come before. From the first shot of the gas station, you can see and appreciate a notable improvement in fine details. Facial features, production design, costuming detail all see impressive gains. Without any signs of smoothing or image tampering, this transfer enjoys a rich film-like presentation.
HDR10 also helps work some wonders balancing out black levels, contrast, and adding some lifelike saturation to the colors. While the 2016 Arrow disc was impressive, it always felt too bright often with blown-out whites, blooming, and some spotty black levels. It was also very red with skin tones often skewing very bright pink.
This transfer from Turbine really helps balance out whites keeping them sharp and crisp without blooming. Black levels are strong giving the image an improved sense of depth. There are still some cooked-in issues here and there but the differences in presentation quality are notable. Colors - especially primaries gain a boost. That blue sky, Ethel’s yellow shirt, or the red in Fred’s gingham shirt is a more crimson color instead of skewing pink. Blues have been popped a bit but the image avoids the dreaded teal/orange spectrum. My only slight complaint here is some of the desert shrubberies can pull a stronger green color, but at the same time, there’s more yellow/ tone so the desert looks a stronger dusty brown shade than before.
As I mentioned there are still some cooked-in imperfections in the negative that haven’t been fixed, but that’s not something I’m going to complain about. With an imperfectly perfect image, the film maintains the raw gritty feel we've always enjoyed adding to the overall intensity of the show. Some slight speckling isn’t enough to get too worked up over. For a blind buy on faith simply because I needed to have this movie in 4K for my collection, I’m more than happy. This isn't a transfer I'd stack up against modern releases - but stacked against past editions of The Hills Have Eyes this is the clear winner of the day.
If a vastly improved image presentation wasn’t enough, Turbine threw in three new English audio mixes. Fans can now choose between a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono track, a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo track, and a DTS-HD MA 7.1 track. And amazingly enough, all of them are great. Generally, I lean towards mono for these 70s horror classics, but I have to give a hat tip to the 7.1 track. While the mono mix is much more upfront and in your face, the 7.1 mix spreads things out beautifully lending some creepy atmosphere to the film. It isn’t overly thin-sounding nor does it feel tinkered with. Think of how Blue Underground can punch out excellent Atmos tracks for their releases, this is in that arena. The 2.0 Stereo track is a nice middle ground between the extremes of the 2.0 Mono and 7.1 tracks. If you have the setup, don’t be afraid to give the 7.1 track a whirl! I still put the Mono mix at the top of the pack but the competition is stiff.
Note: Being a German release, the Germain DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is the default track so you need to change it in the audio “Einstellungen” menu.
Most of the bonus features offered up here are all ported over from the 2016 Arrow set. We don’t get all of the audio commentaries and we miss out on a couple of the other retrospectives, but this is still a pretty good assortment. The new Trash Tube interview with Michael Berryman is the one exclusive here and it’s a nice quick chat with the actor but it’s focused on his newer films with some brief time discussing The Hills Have Eyes.
The 1080p (Region B) Blu-ray
The Hills Have Eyes is classic 70s horror through and through. Lean and Mean, Wes Craven’s shocker sets a deadly pace and never lets up right through to the disturbing conclusion. It was a wise choice not to go with that happy alternate ending! This movie is a gut punch and I love that it's uncompromising. It's violent, gory, with a twisted sense of humor.
Turbine Media Group gives this ugly cannibal classic a beautiful upgrade in native 4K with HDR10. Given its origins, I wasn’t expecting such an improvement in overall clarity, color, and black levels and contrast - but this was impressive. This gives me hope for other 16mm classics of the era that should get a 4K release! Add in three excellent audio mixes and you have one hell of a release. Granted if you can read German the Mediabook packaging is much more of a draw. All the same, if you're a fan of The Hills Have Eyes, don’t let this one pass you by. Highly Recommended.