Anchor Bay Entertainment UK has released Wes Craven’s classic American horror feature The Hills Have Eyes (1977) as a 2-disc special edition complete with audio commentary, two documentary featurettes, an alternative ending, and other supplementary material packaged in an attractive slipcase featuring original early-’80s video artwork.
The DVD video is sourced from the original 35mm inter-negative used to produce theatrical prints from the 16mm negative and has been digitally restored to remove visual imperfections; a brief split-screen demo is included as a disc extra. The picture is enhanced for widescreen televisions at a 1.78:1 ratio (incorrectly labeled as 1.85:1 on the disc packaging) and features strong blacks and a rich bluish hue that properly locks in the color of the clear California desert sky. There’s noticeable grain throughout the film, but that shouldn’t be viewed as a slight against the commendable restoration job performed here.
A scene-specific audio commentary is provided by writer/director Wes Craven and producer Peter Locke. Their commentary is informative, although it duplicates much of the material on the featurette documentary and is conducted in a very self-deprecating manner. Craven’s viewing was the first time he’d watched Hills (1977) in a long time, and the memories of his inexperience as a director and the shortcuts dictated by the film’s bare-bones budget triggered a lot of good-natured ribbing and mutual laughter. By the end of the film, it was apparent that Craven considers Hills (1977) one of his better films, if not the best; he was also pleased that the film’s horror and fury still packs a wicked wallop 25 years later.
The remaining special features are split to a second disc. They include Looking Back On The Hills Have Eyes (2003), a new documentary prepared specifically for the DVD release. Craven, Locke, cinematographer Eric Saarinen and most of the cast are interviewed about their memories and current feelings about Hills (1977). The documentary is informative and not overly padded by film clips, which are strictly used to illustrate specific observations. A minor complaint is the occasional use of cross-cutting between two people telling the same story, an editing technique that’s jarring and unnecessary. Everyone interviewed has interesting memories to share, and it’s remarkable that everyone generally viewed Hills (1977) as a positive experience given an October/November location shoot in the Mojave Desert under very challenging conditions.
The second featurette is Adam Simon’s The American Nightmare (2000), a documentary about iconic American horror films from the early-’60s and ’70s — including Craven’s The Last House On The Left (1972) — as subversive commentary on political and social unease during the era. Although its analysis becomes a little shaky as it moves from films in the early ’70s to John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), it’s a highly recommended documentary and quite generous as a value-added inclusion in the set.
Also included is an alternate ending created for television that linearizes the crosscutting between the film’s final two confrontations, truncating the violence in both and adding a conciliatory, hopeful coda not present in the original cut. Although nowhere near as effective as the original ending, it’s an interesting variation that effectively illustrates how skillful editing can push a film to a higher level. Trailers and television spots prepared for the U.S., German and UK markets are also included, with the U.S. and German materials being in exceptional condition. The photo, art and storyboard galleries are exceptional as well — not only are they comprehensive, they include some fascinating personal correspondence from Craven to Locke about how far to push the film’s violence, and a hilarious typed letter from a Florida film programmer to New Line praising the film as good enough to bring ‘three muscular types back to see the ending the [sic] were too scared to see the previous night.’
Rounding out the disc is a career-length Wes Craven biography, a 16-page booklet, the original screenplay, and computer screen savers (the latter two accessible via DVD-ROM only).