The Hills Have Eyes (1977) (Blu-ray)
Directed by Wes Craven
Distributed by Image Entertainment
Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes remains a seminal slice of down-and-dirty 70s horror, there’s no debating it. The story of the Carter family’s fight for survival against a clan of mutant cannibals is as unflinching as horror films get; it’s a story where no one is safe and the brutality is unleashed on both sides of the coin. I mean, there’s a moment where the surviving children use their dead mother for bait in an effort to lure the killers to their doom. Ghastly and grim storytelling all-around and time has been very kind to it.
It was remade, quite well, in 2006 – somehow upping the brutality quotient while even managing to top the original in one area: the incredibly suspenseful trailer-siege sequence. A remake I’ve come to appreciate greatly (even with that ham-fisted and pointless “the U.S. is evil” message shoehorned into the climax), Hills ‘06 stands as a worthy companion piece to Craven’s classic. But Wes was an educator before he was a filmmaker and, as such, his Eyes has a bit more going on beneath the surface in how it parallels the dynamics – and savagery - of the two families. It stands not only as a horror film, but as an examination of the animalistic instincts locked away in each and every one of us. The remake attempted this as well, but its message was lost in rendering its villains as slobbering and over-the-top horror movie creations. Still a noble, and largely successful, effort.
Craven’s Hills will always be the superior version, but time has not been as kind to the way it looks. In fact, Hills has never been an attractive film. Early VHS incarnations were overly murky and TV broadcasts were washed-out. Anchor Bay’s DVD from several years back was actually the best the film had ever looked on a home format. For a 2003 DVD, that version of Hills was quite nice, enabling fans to finally see an anamorphic widescreen transfer of the cult classic. They did a solid restoration on whatever source was used, with amazing amounts of print damage being carefully cleaned and removed in the process.
The tricks employed by the Bay to provide a solid SD package don’t necessarily translate well to HD, particularly in this age of big-screen TVs, where every flaw is abundantly clear. It’s a shame that no one at Image Entertainment seemed to realize this, however. The problem with this Blu-ray is the substantial amount of evidence suggesting that this is sourced straight from Anchor Bay’s SD remaster. Basically, an upconverted DVD. It’s obvious because all of the edge enhancement and artifacting visible on the 2003 disc is prevalent here as well.
Image certainly didn’t go back to the source when creating this 1080p transfer. Hell, it’s unclear at this point as to what resource Anchor Bay used when doing their transfer back in ’03. If I had to guess, I would say they used a blown up 35mm print (this flick was shot on Super 16). On bigger television monitors, that print looks like a red hot mess, and Image’s Blu-ray fares no better at all. The ultimate question is why they even bothered with the HD treatment in the first place if no better element was available. If all that remains of The Hills Have Eyes is a 35mm blow-up, then it’s completely unreasonable to expect a quality HD release a la The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but does that mean a company should slap some junk on a Blu-ray disc and bilk fans out of another $15 bucks?
As I wasn’t completely satisfied with my assessment of there being no difference between the eight-year-old transfer and a new Blu-ray release, I did some additional research. The Hills Have Eyes is never going to offer the “pop” that many HD fans might be looking for. It’s just not in the image. On my 60” display, the differences between Anchor Bay/Image’s discs are negligible. However, I had the opportunity to compare these suckers via a 1080p projector and on a 120” screen. Still not very impressive, Image. Yes, there’s the smallest hint of superior PQ here, and that’s only because there isn’t as much compression on the Blu-ray. You’ve really got to be looking for it, too. The truth of the matter is that Image’s The Hills Have Eyes Blu-ray release offers completely substandard quality. Fans who’ve never owned the film could stand to pick this up, as all of the extra material from the Bay’s release have been ported over, but don’t expect a dramatic upswing in PQ. This is an incredibly lazy product. A slimy money grab and nothing more.
When it comes to audio, Image’s disc does kick the quality up a notch. Choose between a DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 track that sounds surprisingly vibrant, and an old school 2.0 PCM mono track. While purists will undoubtedly enjoy the inclusion of the PCM mono, the quality falls a bit flat. By comparison, the surround track enriches the atmosphere of the film without being too bombastic about it. Either way, the audio does have a leg-up on Anchor Bay’s disc.
Image have been amazingly inconsistent with their “Midnight Madness Series” banner of Blu-ray releases. Of the ones released thus far (this and Hellraisers I & II), Hills is the only disc to retain Anchor Bay’s DVD extras. Everything has been ported over here: the audio commentary by Wes Craven and Peter Locke, the epic Looking Back at The Hills Have Eyes documentary, a featurette on the films of Wes Craven, the aforementioned restoration demo, an alternate ending and trailers/galleries. Good stuff all-around, this content gets a recommendation – but, like I said, only if you don’t already have the Anchor Bay DVD set.
I wasn’t happy with The Hills Have Eyes on Blu-ray. Not by a long shot. Mad because this is one of my favorite films. Angry because it’s a genre classic that should be treated the right way. Pissed because Image has come off looking like an unscrupulous group of snake oil salesmen here. I bought this disc because I was dying to get my hands on it. Now I wish I’d put that money towards one of the many, many other amazing releases hitting store shelves this time of year. Save your money, folks. This is a sham – plain and simple. Image, you should be ashamed of yourselves for asking anyone to spend money on this.
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