The Hills Have Eyes appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. An inexpensive movie from 1977, Hills showed its age and origins.
Sharpness seemed fairly drab. Shot 16mm, the movie showed lackluster definition that tended toward the soft side. This wasn’t unexpected, though, and the image showed acceptable clarity given its photographic roots.
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 reasonably clean.
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 bland. The tones lacked much dimensionality, so 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 great density. Shadows occasionally came across as acceptably defined, but they usually were moderately opaque. When I considered the age and budget of Eyes, I thought the image seemed passable, but objectively, it didn’t look too good.
I thought the LPCM monaural audio quality showed its age as well. Speech fared poorly, as the lines consistently sounded brittle and edgy. Expect a lot of sibilance from the dialogue as well as a generally harsh tone. I could understand the lines but they sounded terrible.
Effects showed some distortion as well - especially in louder moments – and they failed to display much range. Music demonstrated moderately stronger dynamics but still was fairly restricted and lackluster. I graded this one on a curve due to the film’s age/budget, but it still didn’t earn a mark above “C—“.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the DVD from 2003? Audio offered obvious alterations, as the 2003 version came with 5.1 remixes. Those weren’t especially effective, but I thought they were less distorted and rough when compared with the shrill Blu-ray track.
At least visuals showed improvements. Even with its flaws, the Blu-ray came across as better defined and more natural. No one should expect miracles, though, as this entire package was “sow’s ear” territory.
The 2016 Blu-ray mixes old and new extras, and we find three separate audio commentaries. Also found on the 2003 DVD, the first comes 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.
Craven and Locke 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.
For the second track, we hear from actors Martin Speer, Susan Lanier, Janus Blythe and Michael Berryman. Along with moderator Michael Felsher, the performers discuss how they got into acting and what led them to the film, working with Wes Craven, and various experiences during the shoot.
Though not without merit, this commentary seems lackluster at best. The actors toss out occasional nuggets of value but they often seem to lack many interesting notes to tell us. This leads to a mediocre track.
During the third commentary, we get thoughts from film historian Mikel J. Koven. He presents a running, screen-specific chat that looks at tales that influenced Hills as well as interpretation of the film, remakes/sequels, and other Craven works.
Koven devotes the vast majority of his commentary to information about “Sawney Bean”, a Scottish legend that inspired Hills. A little of this goes a long way, and Koven spends way too much time with “Sawney Bean”. Some good information does result, but I would’ve preferred a chat that cast a broader net.
Next comes the 54-minute, 35-second Looking Back on The Hills Have Eyes. It offers notes from Craven, Locke, Blythe, Lanier, Berryman, director of photography Eric Saarinen, and actors Robert Houston and Dee Wallace.
“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.
After this we find an Alternate Ending that lasts 11 minutes, 34 seconds. It doesn’t seem substantially different from the theatrical conclusion, but it makes for a decent addition to the disc nonetheless.
Note that the Blu-ray offers viewers the choice of the movie’s theatrical cut or a version that uses the alternate ending. We can also screen the alternate ending with three different commentary options that come from the participants discussed earlier.
That doesn’t mean their remarks address the alternate ending, though. Oddly, the disc just reuses the comments for the theatrical finale and plays them over the alternate version. This creates many disconnects between the notes and the onscreen action and makes the optional commentary options useless.
We hear more from actor Martin Speer during a 2016 interview. Family Business runs 16 minutes, eight seconds and provides Speer’s thoughts about how he got his job and aspects of performance, memories of the shoot, and the film’s legacy. Some of this repeats from the commentary, but Speer still offers a good overview.
The Desert Sessions goes for 11 minutes and gives us an interview with composer Don Peake. He chats about what brought him to the film, his score and the movie’s afterlife. This becomes a short but solid summary.
After this we get 18 minutes, 57 seconds of Outtakes. These act mainly as a blooper reel, but they’re more rough-hewn than what we usually find. That makes them more interesting than normal.
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 get four TV Spots.
In the Image Gallery we locate 40 stills. These mostly focus on publicity materials, though we also get a few shots from the set. It’s a decent collection.
This “Limited Edition” finishes with some non-disc-based materials. Along with a 40-page booklet, we discover six postcards and a reversible poster. Only the booklet demonstrates value, but the other elements seem acceptable.
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 Blu-ray provides flawed picture and audio along with a large set of supplements. Despite some effective moments, Hills remains erratic.
To rate this film visit the prior review of THE HILLS HAVE EYES