I don't know. Maybe I'm missing the point with Wes Craven films, or something. I enjoyed Nightmare on Elm Street, and found Serpent and the Rainbow quite a treat, but The People Under the Stairs? Shocker? My Deadly Friend?? Come now. Certainly one need make more than a half-dozen decent films to be called a "master of horror", no? Craven fans tend to point out the visceral nature of his early work as proof of his genius, but all I see are z-grade production values, bad acting, and simply serviceable exploitation at best. His most notorious film, Last House on the Left, left me cold, and a bit offended by the calculated manner in which he attempted to push my buttons. I've seen films far more shocking, and they shocked me with their subtle nature, not gratuitous, (and, quite frankly, ham-fisted) rape scenes and intestinal fetishism. Still, the guy has lobbed a few gems in our direction, and, thankfully, The Hills Have Eyes is one of them.
The Carter family takes a detour in the desert en route to California. When their vehicle goes off the road, they're trapped in the middle of nowhere, but they're not alone! Another family calls this desert home; a family of mutated cannibals led by their patriarch, Papa Jupiter (Whitworth), who scavenge the land and prey on unsuspecting passers-by. When the Pa Carter and his son-in-law, Doug, head off in different directions seeking aid, the Jupiter clan employ a classic divide and conquer strategy, and then attack the Carter family, kidnapping Doug's succulent baby for a family feast. However, the Carter's have a friend in Papa Jupe's unhappy daughter Ruby, who wants nothing more than to free herself from the (literal) chains of the clan. Oh, and there's also the family dog named Beast, who's sort of the star of his own little canine revenge flick within this one.
The Hills Have Eyes is a fun slice of exploitation cinema, but methinks this one's been given a bit too much credit. The flimsy story is a direct descendent of both The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Deliverance, and really doesn't add anything new to the genre. To hear some folks talk about this one, you'd think Craven had reinvented the wheel, but all it really does is throw new rims on an old tire. Still, it's not a bad film, it's just not as important as many make it out to be. I also have issues with the rather abrupt "Oops! We ran out of film" ending, but the DVD features Craven's alternate coda and it's schmaltzy and downright silly, so he obviously made the right choice from what he had to work with. While I'm not convinced that The Hills Have Eyes is the "classic" horror film aficionados would lead us to believe it is, it's still a rather fast paced bit of fun that manages to drum up a few effective shocks and scares.
The new special edition DVD from Anchor Bay is a two-disc monster, mutated beyond belief with extra goodies, including a digitally remastered widescreen anamorphic transfer, Dolby 5.1 audio mix, feature length commentary track, and a second bonus disc of supplemental materials, including;
LOOKING BACK ON THE HILLS HAVE EYES (55 min.); A very entertaining retrospective featuring interviews with many of the film's stars and it's creators, crammed with behind-the-scenes footage and some interesting tales from the set.
THE DIRECTORS: THE FILMS OF WES CRAVEN (59 min.): This is from the Director's television series that broadcasts on A&E, and features a look back at the films of Craven, as well as interviews with many of his stars, past and present (but mostly Scream-era folk)
The disc also features trailers, TV spots, stills/photos, poster art storyboards and yet another (text only) Craven bio.
While whether or not this film is truly worthy of such a stellar set is simply a matter of opinion. I know folks who swear this is one of the most influential films of all time, while others think it's just a big hunk of overrated stool. Personally, I think it's a fun flick that I'd pick up even if this set wasn't such a nice package, although, the quality of the extras presented here are just the sort of thing to lure in even the most jaded borderline Craven fan.