We’re gonna be french fries, human french fries – The Hills Have Eyes (DVD Review)

Perhaps the most enjoyable, enduring legacy of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes is the pan-textual bro-down between him and Sam Raimi that emerged following Craven’s decision to drop a Jaws poster into his 1977 exploitation piece. The pair spent the best part of a decade trading lighthearted jibes in a display of good-natured backslapping as they attempted to outdo each other in the horror stakes. It may amount to little more than repeatedly pointing and nodding, but it’s an indication of the impact of Craven’s second feature that it would influence a director as inventive as Raimi. It’s certainly a richer legacy than the garbled and tedious sequel (for which Craven was sadly responsible) or the unimaginative, mechanical remake (for which Craven was, also, partly responsible). With Craven now sadly gone, a handsome 4k restoration of his first decent movie is a timely way to remember his work.

The Hills Have Eyes is arguably not a high water mark for exploitative horror; but its punishing and uncompromising  style and cynical outlook make it a must for horror fans and a worthwhile flutter for anyone with an interest in 70s pulp. The full, first cut of the movie has never seen the light of day but this attractive Arrow edition presents the fullest version of the movie available and, barring a miraculous discovery of some lost celluloid, is the best version anyone is likely to get.

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Craven’s sparse, efficient script sees the Carter family journeying cross-country on holiday in their caravan, taking a detour to find a silver mine when they are set upon by a family of cannibals living in the desert. Crashing off the road, the Carter’s are stranded in the middle of nowhere and picked off one-by-one by the cannibals forcing them to debase and degrade themselves, and turn feral to fight for their lives.

Never as gruelling or sonically unyielding as Tobe Hooper’s similarly themed Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes is nevertheless a robust and, at times, hyperbolically enjoyable piece of sleaze. Far more assured and competently constructed than his first feature, The Last House on the Left, Craven appears to be a filmmaker hitting his stride here as he disturbs with a neat meditation on the dark side of patriarchy, tapping into a kind of off-the-grid, anarchist rage.

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A sharp looking transfer is bolstered by a raft of exhaustive special features, although a number of them have previously been available on 2006’s Anchor Bay double DVD release. Chief among them is an enlightening, if slightly self-satisfied making-of retrospective featuring interviews with Craven, Producer Peter Locke and the cast, along with a commentary by Craven and Locke. A new interview with actor Martin Speer and composer Don Peake provide an added value feel to Blu-ray package; although horror aficionados are unlikely to need an excuse to upgrade to Blu-ray.

4/5

Dir: Wes Craven
Scr: Wes Craven
Cast: Martin Speer, Virginia Vincent, Dee Wallace, Michael Berryman, Susan Lanier, Robert Houston
Prd: Pete Locke
Music: Don Peake
Country: USA
Year: 1977
Runtime: 89 mins

The Hills Have Eyes is available on Blu-Ray and DVD now.