The Film (3.5/5)
Depending on who I talk to my opinion on director Wes Craven is either controversial or par for course. I just don't view the late Mr. Craven as the master of horror many made him out to be. That is not to say that he didn't make a significant contribution to the genre, that is without a doubt undeniable, but his output was absolutely hit or miss. In the year he made his unqualified mainstream masterpiece Nightmare on Elm Street he also made Hills Have Eyes Pt. 2, a film that by any estimation is terrible. That being said one doesn't get a reputation as a master of horror without at least a few notches of greatness on ones belt, and he had those. My personal favorites of which would be his first 2 films, the Last House on the Left (currently on Blu-ray through MGM ((how did that HAPPEN?))) and The Hills Have Eyes, which has finally this month seen a respectable release through genre stalwarts Arrow Video.
The film follows the Carter family as they decide to take a detour through a barren strip of New Mexico desert to search for a bit of silver on the way to California. Unfortunately, for the family this particularly area is dominated by a family of mutant cannibals lead by Papa Jupiter who kill and devour people who find themselves stranded in the region. As night falls the family find themselves under attack by the clan, and the baby of the family kidnapped for food. It is up to the remaining members of the family to come together to fight back against the cannibals and rescue the child before it's too late.
While I will rate the Hills Have Eyes as a personal favorite among the Wes Craven filmography and one of the director's finest films watching it now for the first time in over a decade brought the film into sharper focus for me. The film has never been an easy watch, but when the primary focus of a film is a band of cannibals whose main intention is to kidnap a baby and turn her into a roast that pretty much goes without saying. However, the film while effective is sort of clunky in it's execution.
The early portions of the film are dreadfully slow. Almost like 70's TV movie of the week slow with the film setting up the film and it's characters. The one incident of shock and horror that happens in the early portion of the film (the death of the dog), ends up coming across more silly then shocking. With that all being said the film picks up it's intensity right after the initial night time attack on the family's trailer. At this point though the film becomes quite a bit more suspenseful and infinitely more watchable.
This is hard for me to write, because the short glimpse I had of the Image Blu-ray showed a disc that barely qualified as HD, and the DVD release of the film was just "OK." So I will state that from the perspective of viewing it from the eyes of prior releases this release from Arrow Video is a REVELATION. That being said it is far from perfect. Arrow releases the film in a 1:78:1 1080p transfer that is scanned from a 35mm source (the film was shot in 16mm). The film has nice colors for the most part, but a lot of the film was shot in the New Mexico desert and features exteriors and are both soft at times and overly bright. There is some damage, and the grain does get overwhelming at certain points. That being said there is nice detail, and some deep blacks, and this is honestly the best I have ever seen the film look and an upgrade from whatever copy you have on hand.
The audio is presented via an LPCM 1.0 mono track in English. The track is quite serviceable with dialogue and score coming through nicely.
Arrow Video have put together a very solid extras package containing some archival extras and some newly created ones. There are 3 commentary tracks, a documentary looking back on the film, on camera interviews, trailers, and more.
One of Wes Craven's greatest and most memorable films has finally made it to Blu-ray in an edition worthy of this HD format. The Blu-ray looks quite solid, and sounds fine. It comes packed with excellent extras. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.