Wes Cravenís horror classic The Hills Have Eyes gets a nice looking limited edition release from Arrow Video. The film is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on a dual-layer disc, the 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation is sourced from a new 4K scan taken from the best available elements: color reversal intermediates that were made from the original 16mm A/B negatives. The notes point out these negatives have been lost.
There are unfortunately limitations to the image simply because of the source materials. The biggest impediment to the image is simply that the picture is limited in detail and never looks all that sharp. Close-ups donít present a lot of the finer details one would expect from a 4K restoration (even downscaled to high-definition) and long shots do look fuzzy. Colours, despite a few pops of red, also come off a bit washed, though this is how the film has always looked as far as I recall. Black levels arenít too shabby, but some details are hard to make out in the shadows. I donít blame this on the transfer too much and more on the low budget nature of the production: as mentioned in the supplements lighting was minimal. When thereís adequate light shadow detail is decent. The source looks to be in pretty good shape and the restoration work has removed a good bulk of the blemishes. There are a few things remaining, usually on the edges of the frame like scratches or tram lines, but the restoration work on the whole is very impressive.
Thankfully, though, the problems are limited to the source materials. What helps this presentation is the actual transfer and encode, which looks really good itself. The film is incredibly grainy, intense even, and Arrow leaves it be, but the encode thankfully renders it perfectly. I never felt it looked digital or noisy or compressed, keeping a natural look, and because of this the image looks very much like a projected film and adds a great quality and life to the image.
If Arrow could have gotten their hands on the negatives Iím sure this would have turned out to be pretty spectacular. Yet, despite some of those deficiencies in the source I still think Arrow has done an impressive job: I think it still looks terrific.
(There is also the option to watch the film with an alternate ending. This is presented using seamless branching. The ending has also been restored and is presented in high-definition, working in seamlessly with the rest of the film.) 7/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Arrow has put together a rather sharp looking limited edition with a nice variety of supplements. In a little bit of overkill, though, Arrow includes three audio commentaries. The first is a new one featuring actors Michael Berryman, Janus Blythe, Susan Lanier, and Martin Speer. This was probably my favourite one of the three tracks as it has a real family vibe to it. The four just talk about their memories of the production, from being cast (only one of them seemed to be aware who Craven was, having seen Last House on the Left) to the rough conditions of shooting in the middle of the desert, recalling the toughest moments to shoot. There are also some great conversations about the sequel (the only movie they can recall where a dog has a flash back) and share their thoughts on the remake. There are a few funny asides as well (thereís talk of Supernatural and a dislike for HD televisions) but for the most part it offers a terrific firsthand account of the shoot from the castís perspective.
The second track appears to come from the original Anchor Bay DVD release, featuring director Wes Craven and producer Peter Locke. Like the cast track the two here tell stories about the difficult production, joking constantly about how naÔve they were at the time, particularly in thinking that shooting in the middle of the desert would be a breeze (it was of course scorching hot during the day and unbelievably cold at night). But in this track they also give more details to the technical side of things, which also includes working around the limitations of their budget. Itís a funny track, if not as lively as the cast track. Still, itís worth listening to.
The third one, a new track featuring academic Mikel J. Koven, is the more heady track, skipping over all of the fan stuff and looking at how folklore influences horror movies like The Hills Have Eyes, bringing up other films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, to highlight his point. The primary influence for this film (which Craven mentions in his commentary and the one documentary on this set) is the Sawney Bean legend, Bean being the head of a clan of cannibals that lived in Scotland. Koven goes in-depth into the legend, even reading passages from a book telling the story (with a ridiculously long title, as he points out). He also looks at themes within the film (nuclear tension, isolated rural America, etc.) and how these aspects can be found in other horror films of the time. I liked the idea behind the track and itís not bad, though admittedly it can be a bit dry and feel a little too scripted, which works against it after the more loose cast and crew tracks that came before it.
Also carried over from the previous Anchor Bay Blu-ray is the 55-minute making-of documentary Looking Back on the Hills Have Eyes, which features interviews from members of the cast and crew, including Craven, Locke, Berryman, Blythe, Robert Houston, Susan Lanier, Dee Wallace, and director of photography Saarinen. Itís a very thorough overview of the production from inception to filming to release. Admittedly a lot of this information is covered in the two cast and crew commentaries, but the bonus is, of course, that we get conversations with Houston, Lanier, Wallace, and Saarinen, who were all missing from those tracks. Itís a standard talking heads documentary but an entertaining one.
Actor Martin Speer then gets his own interview segment with Family Business, and he shares his own stories about shooting the film, working with his stuntman, and how the film has aided his career (it hasnít). It runs about 16-minutes and is a nice companion to everything else.
The Desert Session is another new interview, this time with composer Don Peake. His story about how he became involved is somewhat funny (he was in Cravenís meditation group of all things) and he explains how he was able to create the filmís interesting score, which both Locke and Craven strongly disliked (too nasty apparently). Itís a fun addition, running about 11-minutes.
Arrow then includes the alternate ending on its own (you also have the option to watch the film with this alternate ending). The order of events is changed though the film tries to put more of a positive spin to the ending. Arrow also includes about 19-minutes of outtakes, which look to be a mix of mistakes, alternate takes, and preparation work. The footage actually has sound (surprisingly) and is in decent condition (at least better than I would have expected.
The remaining features are made up of a the American and German theatrical trailers and 4 TV spots. There is also an image gallery of posters, lobby cards, and production photos.
This limited edition also includes a few other bonuses. Released in a sturdy slip case, the set comes with the Blu-ray in a clear Blu-ray case (with reversible art featuring the original poster on the other side), a collection of post cards, a fold out poster with Arrowís new artwork on one side and one of the original posters on the other, and then a 40-page booklet. The booklet contains two excellent essays, one on the filmís genre conventions by Brad Stevens, and the other a great take-down/love letter of The Hills Have Eyes 2 by Arrowís senior producer Ewan Cant (I was amused by the mention that Cant once tried to buy a copy of the original film on VHS from a local blockbuster after the film had gone out of print, only to be turned down). Another great Arrow booklet. The filmís screenplay is also included as a PDF file on the disc, accessible using a BD-ROM drive.
Ultimately Arrow has put together the most comprehensive set of supplements for the film I can think of. I appreciate the scholarly slant in the one commentary, but also had a lot of fun learning about the filmís production first hand from the cast and crew. Itís a terrific set of material. 8/10