The Hills Have Eyes: A New Ultimate Edition?

Horror fans, this is a big one: Arrow's new 4k restoration of Wes Craven's classic The Hills Have Eyes, taken from two different 35mm color reversals (the original negatives have been lost).  Of course, it's come up before whether a 16mm film will even really benefit from an HD upgrade (i.e. Blue Underground's initial reluctance to reissue Shock Waves), and certainly fans had better brace themselves for a lot of grain and not so much detail, but I think past examples have shown that there is the possibility of decent improvement; just don't expect it to look like Lawrence of Arabia.  And the fact that Arrow has teamed up with Red Shirt pictures to give us the a really souped up special edition with the alternate ending finally restored makes this release impossible to ignore anyway.

Update 10/9/16 - 6/20/21: Arrow's 4k restoration on 1080p blu-ray blew away all previous editions of The Hills Have Eyes, but in all of those cases, the possibility of a real 4k Ultra HD disc coming to steal its thunder looms heavy on the horizon. Well, four years later and here we go.
All of Wes Craven's best work has an edge that separates it from the more mainstream pop horror of the times, but this is one of his early film's that's almost all edge.  An almost idealistic, all American family are driving through the desert in their camper and run across another family.  This one's dirt poor and isolated to the point that they've practically gone feral, and certainly homicidal.  It doesn't help that the military seems to have been using their land for nuclear testing.  The two sides brutally go to war against each other - even the family dogs - and that's basically the entire plot.  It's just a savage tale of survival at any cost.
Few films, let alone the official sequel and remakes, have managed to live up to the raw ferocity of the original (although, as modern studio horror remakes go, you could do a lot worse than the 2006 Hills Have Eyes).  But it is dated in a way that will turn off some audiences.  Like, immature audiences might be distracted by the 70s fashions; but it can be hard for even serious horror aficionados not to find it a little silly that the killer family are dressed just like those old Roger Corman cavegirl movies, especially poor Laura Ortiz, in her Flintstones necklace and little fur booties.  But the rough, high stakes drama and the moving tragedy these people experience should pull you past that or any other little hang-ups you might get caught up on in a lesser film.  I mean, I won't spoil it, but the mother in the chair scene?  Oof.  You're not gonna find that in your little Goosebumps books.
Anchor Bay's 2003 2-disc special edition enjoyed a long reign as the definitive Hills Have Eyes release. Even when Image put out a blu-ray in 2011, I can't say I felt compelled to budge.  I did manage to borrow a copy of their DVD edition, though, just to flesh out the comparison a little more.  But in 2016, Arrow issued a brand new, limited edition 4k restored blu-ray that handily took the crown from all contenders. But now in 2021, Turbine has issued the film on 4k Ultra HD for the first time, in a fancy BD/UHD mediabook combo pack.
1) 2003 Anchor Bay DVD; 2) 2011 Image DVD; 3) 2016 Arrow BD;
4) 2021 Turbine BD; 5) 2021 Turbine UHD.
Okay, let's start with the framing. Both previous editions were slightly letterboxed to 1.83:1, but Arrow and Turbine have decided to leave the mini-mattes off and let it ride at an identical 1.78:1 (despite both company's packaging claiming 1.85).  More than that, though, we're seeing more picture on the right-hand side and a little less on the left.  In other words, we're seeing more new information that just the shift from 1.83 to 1.78.  Now, on the blu, the mid-range of the picture is brighter allowing you to see detail that's technically on the DVDs as well, but much darker and hidden.  And while no, the 16mm doesn't reveal a whole lot more information in 4k, the grain is much more defined in HD, rather than the smudgy mess of the SD DVDs.

But it begs the question, as a 16mm film, does it leave much for Turbine to uncover.  And in terms of detail, I'd say no.  Even in terms of film grain - while it's true that if you zoom in to 500% or so, you can see where the BD starts to break down to pixelization before the UHD; this is a higher resolution disc, after all - practically speaking, it's nothing the human eye is going to see on the television set.  The real hero of this story is the HDR.  Now, UHDs are generally a bit darker than their counterparts because they're meant to be displayed brighter for the broader range; and as you can see above, that extra darkness is immediately obvious.  But you can see there's even a difference with Turbine's BD, which takes a sort of middle-ground here in the comparisons, to give you a fuller sense of what we're talking about here.  The UHD is much richer and more lifelike, giving depth to skin tones and backgrounds that previously looked flat and unnatural even on Arrow's blu.  I mean, The Hills Have Eyes is always going to have somewhat of a raw, sun-washed look.  And we haven't lost that gritty film-like quality.  But this latest version pulls you in where previous editions still held you a little at arm's length.

For audio, the new blu preserves the original mono track in uncompressed PCM, but that's it.  I can see some fans being disappointed that they ditched the 5.1 remixes that the previous releases had, but I didn't miss 'em.  Still, it's also nice to have choices, and Turbine comes through with the original mono, the stereo and 5.1 mixes, all in DTS-HD (plus 5.1 and mono German dubs.  Arrow's blu was the first release of this film to provide English language subtitles, but Turbine has those, too, as well as German ones.
Interestingly, Image's DVD is barebones, with nothing but the trailer and a bonus trailer for Hellraiser.  But their concurrent blu-ray and the previous Anchor Bay set had a lot, including a great audio commentary by Craven and producer Peter Locke and a thorough hour-long 'making of' doc, featuring Craven, Locke, Michael Berryman, Janus Blythe, Robert Houston, Susan Lainer, Dee Wallace and DoP Eric Saarinen.  On top of that, it did have the alternate ending, trailers, TV spots and photo galleries.  It also included the Wes Craven episode of the rather good documentary series The Directors, and a booklet of artwork and notes by DVDManiac's Jon Putnam.  And by the way, except for the booklet, the Image blu had exactly the same extras as the AB set, and in standard def, too.

Arrow's blu imports almost all of that over, including the commentary, doc, trailers, TV spots, gallery, and the alternate ending (this time in HD).  The notable loss is The Directors, but that's not such a terrible loss because it's available elsewhere, including its own DVD release Winstar, and those DVDs sell on Amazon for pennies.  And everything else made it, plus Arrow enlisted Red Shirt Pictures to come up with a bunch of new stuff.  They've got an all-new, more on the light-hearted side cast commentary with Berryman, Blythe, Houston, Lainer and Martin Speer, and an academic commentary by Mikel J. Koven, which is quite good and informative, as opposed to some of the more self indulgent "I'll treat this like my personal podcast and prattle on about my childhood" commentaries we've had on films last week's Chopping Mall, or even previous Arrow discs like Nightmare City, The Black Cat or Slaughter High.  Then there's new on-camera interviews with Speer and composer Don Peake, and almost 20 minutes of unreleased outtake footage.  And, as you can see on the left, this limited edition also comes with a bunch of extra physical goodies, like a big, double-sided fold-out poster, six postcards of awesome vintage artwork, and a 40-page book, with notes by Brad Stevens and Ewan Kant.  It comes in a nice, thick slip-box, and the blu-ray case has reversible artwork.

And Turbine?  Well, here's where we take a step back after our two steps forward.  Turbine keeps most of the Anchor Bay stuff, like the documentary and Craven commentary, but not The Directors.  It also loses most of the newer Arrow stuff, like the new commentaries and interviews.  It does have outtake footage, though, and the alternate ending, trailer (in both English and German) and TV spots are all here.  The main theatrical trailer is even presented in 3840x2160, plus they added the trailer for The Hills Have Eyes 2.  And it's not all lost ground.  Turbine did come up with an exclusive Michael Berryman interview, where he discusses his experiences with Hills, as well as Cut & Run and The Evil Within.  Plus, this comes in an attractive mediabook (the text is all in German though, natch), with three cover options.
So the ideal way to go is easy to point out: the new Turbine edition for the ultimate PQ (and extra audio options), but hanging onto your Arrow for all those exclusive extras.  In fact, don't throw away your Image blu-ray or Anchor Bay DVDs either, unless you've got a copy of The Directors: Wes Craven somewhere else.  But it gets a little trickier when budget is a concern.  Is the improved PQ quality enough to justify another dip?  Do you care enough about extras that just the Turbine edition (which still has plenty of, and the most important, goodies) won't be enough for you?  You'll have to work that out for yourself.  But however you fall on the matter, I have to say Hills Have Eyes fans are pretty lucky to have these great options.  These are the kind of problems I'd like to have more often.

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