The Hills Have Eyes appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Like Last House On the Left, it was tough to assign a grade to Eyes. The transfer seemed to replicate the source material pretty accurately, but due to its age and low budget, the results were moderately problematic.
Sharpness seemed fairly erratic. The movie never looked badly defined, but it also never portrayed great definition. The image remained reasonably detailed but a bit of the soft side throughout the film. I noticed no issues connected to jagged edges or shimmering, and the movie seemed to lack any edge enhancement. Print flaws stayed pretty minor given the flick’s age. I noticed a few specks, some small nicks and marks, and the occasional thin vertical line, but the film usually remained surprisingly clean. Grain seemed like a bigger distraction, as much of the movie demonstrated those qualities. That didn’t present a print flaw as such, since it appeared likely the grain was in the original photography, but it nonetheless created distractions.
In theory, Eyes should have presented a pretty broad palette, especially via the daytime shots that appeared at the movie’s opening. However, the colors generally looked pretty bland. The tones lacked much dimensionality, and they seemed thin and flat. Black levels also tended toward inkiness and didn’t display much depth. They were stronger than the colors, but they still didn’t demonstrate expected density. Shadows occasionally came across as acceptably defined, but they usually were moderately opaque. A few nighttime shots made it virtually impossible to see the focus of the action. When I considered the age and budget of Eyes, I thought the image seemed acceptable, but objectively, it didn’t look too good.
As is their wont, the folks at Anchor Bay remixed the original monaural soundtrack of The Hills Have Eyes into both Dolby Digital EX 5.1 and DTS ES 6.1 versions. While this worked surprisingly well for flicks like Day of the Dead, the results for Eyes seemed more mediocre. I discerned absolutely no differences between the DTS and Dolby mixes. The pair sounded identical, which didn’t come as a surprise given the limitations of the source material. (Note that the original mono track also appeared on the DVD along with a 2.0 Dolby Surround take.)
The tracks remained fairly monaural overall. Elements occasionally spread to the sides and rear, but the focus stayed in the front center. Some directional dialogue presented the most prominent movement from the middle. Voices occasionally popped up from the front sides and separately from the rear speakers. Otherwise, the track tended toward general ambience. Even elements like an explosion didn’t manifest material from the other channels. A few uses of effects in the sides created some awkward moments. For example, at one point, the action moved to the front left, which meant that it clumsily took the dialogue with it. Despite a few such occasions, the mix usually created an acceptably neatly integrated soundfield. It lacked much ambition, but that was fine.
Audio quality showed its age. Speech generally sounded thin and hollow. The lines remained intelligible and lacked edginess, but they nonetheless seemed a little rough. Effects were slightly distorted at louder moments, they failed to display much range, and they occasionally came across as somewhat shrill. Still, they were acceptably concise given their age. Music demonstrated moderately stronger dynamics but still was fairly restricted and lackluster. Not much about the audio of Eyes impressed me, but it seemed perfectly acceptable for a cheapie flick from 1977.
This two-DVD release of The Hills Have Eyes packs plenty of extras, most of which appear on the second disc. On DVD One, however, we do get an audio commentary from writer/director Wes Craven and producer Peter Locke. The pair sit together for their running, screen-specific track. For the most part, they present a fairly average discussion. They touch on a mix of topics such as the inspiration for the story and alterations from the original script, locations, the challenges caused by the film’s very low budget, demands made by the MPAA to get Hills an “R” rating, and notes about the actors and crew. They give us a reasonable amount of information connected to the flick, but they just watch the movie and crack on some of its cheesier moments much of the time. The commentary sags periodically, as it includes more than a few dead spots. Craven and Locke enjoy a good enough chemistry to make this a fairly enjoyable piece, but it rarely becomes above average.
As we move to DVD Two, we find many more components. In a domain entitled “Featurettes”, we open with a new documentary called Looking Back on The Hills Have Eyes. This 54-minute and 33-second program combines shots from the film, production stills, and interviews with Craven, Locke, director of photography Eric Saarinen, and actors Robert Houston, Dee Wallace, Susan Lanier, Janus Blythe, and Michael Berryman. “Looking Back” starts with a discussion of Craven’s background, how he decided to make a second horror flick, the story’s genesis, location scouts, and casting. It then delves into many elements of the production, with an emphasis on anecdotes from the set. The program concludes with issues related to the film’s rating, its reception and its legacy. Though a little slow paced at times, “Looking Back” tells its tale fairly concisely and efficiently. It goes through all the appropriate aspects of the production and does so cleanly. It’s not the most scintillating documentary I’ve seen, but it does its job fairly well.
Another documentary arrives next via The Directors: The Films of Wes Craven. It lasts 58 minutes and 33 seconds as it covers Craven’s career. We find snippets from many of his flicks, some stills, and interviews with Craven as well as actors David Arquette, Adrienne Barbeau, Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, Robert Englund, Mitch Pileggi, Bill Pullman, Meryl Streep, Kristi Swanson, and Ray Wise. The program starts with Craven’s background and progresses chronologically through his career from Last House on the Left up to 2000’s Scream 3. The actors add some nice insights into working with Craven, but the director’s remarks dominate the show. He gives us generally quick comments about most of his flicks and provides notes about various aspects of them. Craven seems nicely frank as he goes over his past. The format appears somewhat dry, but “Directors” presents a reasonably solid overview of Craven’s career.
The final component of “The Featurettes” presents a four-minute and 24-second Restoration Demonstration. This uses a splitscreen format that displays the opening credits and the first scene of the movie. As with most of these programs, it seems fairly self-congratulatory, but it’s mildly interesting to see the amount of clean-up work done on the film.
Next we find two trailers. We discover a US ad as well as a German clip. It’s a trip to see some of the material dubbed in Deutsch. In addition, we locate four TV Spots: two from the US and two from the UK.
No other deleted scenes appear, but we do find an Alternate Ending. Presented fullframe, it lasts 10 minutes and 18 seconds. It doesn’t seem substantially different from the actual conclusion, but it makes for a decent addition to the DVD nonetheless.
In the Still Galleries we locate three subdomains: “Behind-the-Scenes” (77 images), “Posters and Advertising” (28 frames), and “Storyboards” (35 drawings). The latter are the most interesting, mainly due to their cartoony cheesiness. The Wes Craven Biography falls in line with Anchor Bay’s usual high standards for those listings. It seems long and detailed and is definitely worth a read. The DVD’s booklet includes a long essay from horror film buff Jon Putnam plus reproductions of Eyes posters.
Although it represented a significant improvement from his first film, Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes remains only intermittently positive. It offers some intense and intriguing elements but poor acting and cheap production values hinder its success. The DVD provides picture and audio that are flawed but perfectly fine given the age and budget of the movie. The two-disc package also includes a very nice set of supplements. This is a good presentation of a sporadically interesting film that its fans should enjoy.