The Hills Have Eyes appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this 4K UHD Disc. An inexpensive movie from 1977, Hills showed its age and origins.
Sharpness seemed fairly drab. Shot 16mm, the movie showed lackluster definition that tended toward the soft side. This wasn’t unexpected, though, and the image showed acceptable clarity given its photographic roots.
I noticed no issues connected to jagged edges or shimmering, and the movie seemed to lack any edge enhancement. Print flaws stayed pretty minor given the flick’s origins. I noticed a few specks, some small nicks and marks, and the occasional thin vertical line, but the film usually remained reasonably clean.
Eyes presented a pretty broad palette, and the tones usually worked pretty well. Due to the blah nature of the source, the hues didn’t excel, but they showed reasonable heft, aided by the disc’s HDR.
Black levels tended toward inkiness and didn’t display much depth. They were stronger than the colors, but they still didn’t demonstrate great density.
Shadows occasionally came across as acceptably defined, but they usually were moderately opaque. When I considered the age and budget of Eyes, I thought the image seemed passable, but objectively, it didn’t look too good.
Remixed from the original monaural – which also appeared on the 4K - the DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio showed its age as well. Speech seemed a bit flat and occasionally edgy, but the lines usually showed acceptable clarity.
Effects showed some distortion as well - especially in louder moments – and they failed to display much range. Music demonstrated moderately stronger dynamics but still was fairly restricted and lackluster.
As for the remixed soundfield, it tended toward general use of the side and surround speakers. This meant that when audio appeared from these channels, it lacked a lot of localization or specificity.
Honestly, this seemed like a fairly pointless remix. The material didn’t expand outside of the center in a particularly satisfying way, so it didn’t become anything more than a mediocre reworking of the source. I graded this one on a curve due to the film’s age/budget, but it still didn’t earn a mark above “C+“.
How did the 4K UHD compare to the Blu-ray from 2016? Audio offered obvious alterations, as the 2016 version only offered monaural sound. The 7.1 mix may not seem especially effective, but I thought it seemed less distorted and rough when compared with the shrill Blu-ray track.
I hoped that the 4K’s DTS-HD MA monaural track would work better than the BD’s LPCM version, and it did – to a degree, at least. The DTS-HD mono track still came with some of the LPCM’s roughness, but it felt more accurate and less distorted – a little, at least, so don’t expect miracles.
In terms of visuals, the 4K’s HDR gave a little added heft to colors and brightness. However, the blah nature of the source meant this became a modest visual upgrade. While the 4K offered a better version of the movie than did the 2016 Blu-ray, fans shouldn’t anticipate a substantial step up in quality.
In terms of extras, we find three separate audio commentaries. Also found on the 2003 DVD, the first comes from writer/director Wes Craven and producer Peter Locke. The pair sit together for their running, screen-specific track. For the most part, they present a fairly average discussion.
Craven and Locke touch on a mix of topics such as the inspiration for the story and alterations from the original script, locations, the challenges caused by the film’s very low budget, demands made by the MPAA to get Hills an “R” rating, and notes about the actors and crew.
They give us a reasonable amount of information connected to the flick, but they just watch the movie and crack on some of its cheesier moments much of the time. The commentary sags periodically, as it includes more than a few dead spots. Craven and Locke enjoy a good enough chemistry to make this a fairly enjoyable piece, but it rarely becomes above average.
For the second track, we hear from actors Martin Speer, Susan Lanier, Janus Blythe and Michael Berryman. Along with moderator Michael Felsher, the performers discuss how they got into acting and what led them to the film, working with Wes Craven, and various experiences during the shoot.
Though not without merit, this commentary seems lackluster at best. The actors toss out occasional nuggets of value but they often seem to lack many interesting notes to tell us. This leads to a mediocre track.
During the third commentary, we get thoughts from film historian Mikel J. Koven. He presents a running, screen-specific chat that looks at tales that influenced Hills as well as interpretation of the film, remakes/sequels, and other Craven works.
Koven devotes the vast majority of his commentary to information about “Sawney Bean”, a Scottish legend that inspired Hills. A little of this goes a long way, and Koven spends way too much time with “Sawney Bean”. Some good information does result, but I would’ve preferred a chat that cast a broader net.
Next comes the 54-minute, 39-second Looking Back on The Hills Have Eyes. It offers notes from Craven, Locke, Blythe, Lanier, Berryman, director of photography Eric Saarinen, and actors Robert Houston and Dee Wallace.
“Looking Back” starts with a discussion of Craven’s background, how he decided to make a second horror flick, the story’s genesis, location scouts, and casting. It then delves into many elements of the production, with an emphasis on anecdotes from the set. The program concludes with issues related to the film’s rating, its reception and its legacy.
Though a little slow paced at times, “Looking Back” tells its tale fairly concisely and efficiently. It goes through all the appropriate aspects of the production and does so cleanly. It’s not the most scintillating documentary I’ve seen, but it does its job fairly well.
After this we find an Alternate Ending that lasts 11 minutes, 37 seconds. It doesn’t seem substantially different from the theatrical conclusion, but it makes for a decent addition to the disc nonetheless.
Note that the Blu-ray offers viewers the choice of the movie’s theatrical cut or a version that uses the alternate ending. We can also screen the alternate ending with three different commentary options that come from the participants discussed earlier.
That doesn’t mean their remarks address the alternate ending, though. Oddly, the disc just reuses the comments for the theatrical finale and plays them over the alternate version. This creates many disconnects between the notes and the onscreen action and makes the optional commentary options useless.
We hear more from actor Martin Speer during a 2016 interview. Family Business runs 16 minutes, six seconds and provides Speer’s thoughts about how he got his job and aspects of performance, memories of the shoot, and the film’s legacy. Some of this repeats from the commentary, but Speer still offers a good overview.
The Desert Sessions goes for 10 minutes, 58 seconds and gives us an interview with composer Don Peake. He chats about what brought him to the film, his score and the movie’s afterlife. This becomes a short but solid summary.
After this we get 18 minutes, 57 seconds of Outtakes. These act mainly as a blooper reel, but they’re more rough-hewn than what we usually find. That makes them more interesting than normal.
Next we find two trailers. We discover a US ad as well as a German clip. It’s a trip to see some of the material dubbed in Deutsch. In addition, we get four TV Spots.
In the Image Gallery we locate 40 stills. These mostly focus on publicity materials, though we also get a few shots from the set. It’s a decent collection.
Available on the Blu-ray only as a “BD-ROM” feature, the 4K provides the movie’s original screenplay. It fills 90 screens and shows a fair number of differences when compared to the final film, so it becomes a fun read.
This “Limited Edition” finishes with some non-disc-based materials. Along with a 40-page booklet, we discover six postcards and a reversible poster. Only the booklet demonstrates value, but the other elements seem acceptable.
Although it represented a significant improvement from his first film, Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes remains only intermittently positive. It offers some intense and intriguing elements but poor acting and cheap production values hinder its success. The 4K UHD provides fairly mediocre picture and audio along with a large set of supplements. Despite some effective moments, Hills remains erratic.
To rate this film visit the prior review of THE HILLS HAVE EYES