There’s a horror that strikes a grown man when his father declares they’re going on a family vacation. No matter how old you are, years you’ve been married and children you have, when you sit in the back seat and dad stares at you in the rearview mirror, you’re eight years old. Nothing you suggest will be treated as a smart idea. You might have traveled to the destination a dozen times, but father knows best. You better not think about touching the radio dial. You are not in control of anything until you return safely to your real home and restore your adult life. The Hills Have Eyes is the nightmare of a father behind the wheel who won’t listen to his adult children and drives them into a desert hell.
Bob Carter (Russ Grieve) is taking his family cross country to Los Angeles on a family vacation. Instead of going the shortest route between Ohio and Southern California, Bob makes a detour in Nevada in search of an abandoned silver mine that he inherited. Nobody seems to eager to extend their time in the desert. They stop off at a decrepit gas station that’s near the air force base known for containing Area 51. The old guy at the gas station warns Bob to skip going to see the land. The silver rush is long gone. There’s nothing there. While his mature family wants to get to the fun part of the promised vacation, Bob swears the local is hiding the truth from him. He heads the station wagon with a camper in tow into the desert in pursuit of his riches. The gas station guy wasn’t lying about not wanting to see the sights in the area. What he couldn’t tell the Carters was about the family of cannibals living around there since he was being watched by them. Because Bob won’t listen to anyone and freaks out on the road, the family finds themselves in the middle of a single car wreck with night approaching. The only one around them seems to be Papa Jupiter (James Whitworth) and his family (including the iconic Michael Berryman of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest). This is going to be a Family Feud where one group might have their family reunion in a stewpot.
The Hills Have Eyes does a fine job of explaining why a “sensible” family can get stuck in such a remote location with no help. It’s easy to imagine Bob’s ego taking over the wheel and driving them into a ditch. Since this was an era before cellphone and GPS, the family has so little hope of surviving against the elements. The cannibal family is merely competition against the heat, the lack of food and absence of water. Director Wes Craven and his crew make this film as harsh on so many levels. The on screen violence is as brutal as the attitude of Papa Jupiter and his kin. When the cannibals grab the baby of the Carter clan, it’s hard to guess if the sweet tot will get turned into a tater tot. The intensity keeps amping up as the family members get picked off. No matter what traumatic event happens on the screen, it will not make you panic in pain like when your father declares he’s renting a van so he can drive all of his grown kids and their families to Disneyland.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The film was shot in 16mm so there’s a bit of grain to the image. This works well for making things look almost like a snuff film. The audio is DTS-HD mono mix. The film sounds fine so you’ll be scared when you hear odd noises in the darkness of the night. The movie is subtitled.
DVD with movie and all bonus features.
Looking Back on The Hills Have Eyes (54:35) is an documentary that covers all aspects of the film. Wes Craven talks about how his upright religious parents didn’t let him see movies. He didn’t get to see one in a theater until his senior year in college. It was only after he dropped out of doctorate program and embraced making movies. He got into post-production. A shot at making a scary movie had him write the script for Last House on the Left. Cast and crew talk how they got involved in the low budget travel nightmare. Michael Berryman explains how he got his iconic look.
Family Business (16:08) spends time with actor Martin Speer who was part of the family with the trailer. He’s the one with the amazing mustache.
The Desert Sessions (11:00) exposes the score created by composer Dan Peake. He met Wes Craven through a meditation group. He was so scared by the film that he couldn’t work on it at night.
Alternate Ending (11:34) is a more controversial finishing. You can watch the hole movie and get the ending. But if you just want to see the alternate ending after watching the releas This ending switches the placement of two sequences and gives a more conventional finale. You can also watch the entire film with this ending attached. I highly recommend against this, since the original ending delivers a haunting final note that’s much more effective.
Outtakes (18:57) are a lot of bloopers.
Three Audio Commentaries cover all aspects of the film. The first has director Wes Craven and producer Peter lock. They dig deep into making a low budget horror on an unforgiving location. The second has cast members recount the extreme heat during the day and freezing temperatures at night. The final is cinema historian Mikel J. Koven giving a broader view of the film. He sounds quite comfortable talking about the film.
Trailers include the US and German releases. The German makes it almost seem like an art film gone to Hell There’s four TV spots. The best starts with a warning to turn the channel in five seconds if you can’t handle the horror.
Image Gallery full features poster art and promo pics .
Arrow Video presents The Hills Have Eyes. Directed by: Wes Craven. Screenplay by: Wes Craven. Starring: Michael Berryman, Dee Wallace, Janus Blythe, Robert Houston, Susan Lanier. Running Time: 90 minutes. Rated: R. Released: September 27, 2016.
Tags: Arrow Films, The Hills Have Eyes