W es Craven's second foray into horror has a well-deserved reputation as a terrifying and disturbing little beastie in which terror is derived not from some supernatural or superhuman force, but from a group of deranged but ultimately very human human beings.
The Hills Have Eyes (Anchor Bay) pits a white-bread, all-American family against a marauding clan of vicious, inbred cannibals in a remote southwest desert wasteland where intellect and cunning form the main line of defense against unspeakable and relentless brutality. Tension and dread are expertly manipulated, and start building even before the Carter family's RV-toting station wagon breaks down in the middle of nowhere. And once it does -- hoo mama -- the freaks, led by "Jupiter," their clan patriarch, waste little time slithering down from the surrounding hills with a depraved hunger for flesh.
Though there are moments of grim humor throughout the film (most involving oddball character actor Michael Berryman's Pluto and his mutant brethren, Mercury and Mars), Craven's realistic and unglamorous depiction of violence is disquieting to say the least (the assault and murder scenes, for instance, are unflinchingly graphic and brutal). Yet the most unsettling thing about the film is the level of savagery to which the victimized family members are forced to sink in their struggle for survival. While in the beginning it's very easy to side with the Carters, by the end of the film, your sympathies are somewhat diluted by their shocking (though admittedly necessary) eye-for-an-eye tactics. As the film's tag line understates it, "The lucky ones died first."
Anchor Bay has once again gone for the gold with their 2003 two-disc DVD release of this 1977 classic. The newly restored 16x9 wide-screen transfer is stunning in color richness and detail. The sound (in 6.1 DTS-ES and 5.1 Dolby Digital EX) isn't too shabby either. Extra features on Disc 2 include cast and crew interviews, the 55-minute Looking Back on the Hills Have Eyes documentary, a Wes Craven film retrospective, a terrific theatrical trailer, a grainy (and silly) alternate ending and more in the way of obscure goodies than most Craven fanatics -- much less the rest of us -- could ever desire.
Publication date: 10/09/03