Hills Have Eyes 2 Sam McCurdy Interview


Since you’ve made it through another Valentine’s Day without yelling at (or doing worse things to) all the annoying happy couples, we’ve decided to reward you with a few little treats--direct from the set interviews and highlights with the cast and crew of The Hills Have Eyes 2…and we hope this is enough to keep you from watching “My Bloody Valentine” until bedtime.

So what does it take to get the mutants in Hills 2 to look so freaking ghastly? A ton of people and a lot of patience, but you probably could have guessed that—but there are a few details I was shocked to learn, so I’ll take out my soapbox and get started.

We’re all just made of a collection of spare parts. I’m probably the biggest lover of horror films that I’ve ever met, wearing out my favorites and returning to the shop for a spare…I have 8 different versions of Dawn of the Dead on VHS and DVD, if that doesn’t say something about my taste… but I never fully understood the magnitude of labor involved in getting the whole look of things together—from the early stages of planning to the final product—it takes a lot of work. After all, the fake arms, mutilated bodies, and everything else doesn’t just make itself.

In a huge warehouse at the studio, we saw piles of “spare parts”—from dead baby heads to decayed bones—coming off the assembly line. What a job—to make murder victims all day. Some of them were Styrofoam, some rubber, and some plaster, but everything put together in this big room made me think I stepped out of the desert and into a bizarre morgue where bodies were being chopped up, pieced together, or simply thrown to the side.

One of the more interesting specimen was the torso of a man slumped on a table that looked like he’d been quartered by horses and then cracked open at the breastbone. Cool, huh? We also saw how they mold plastic rifles…and here I thought all this stuff was purchased at some store…I never thought they made all this stuff right there on the set. As the varnish began to become a bit overwhelming, we ran for some fresh air and got a trip through the caves you see in the movie.

Another cool part of the visit to Hills 2 was being shown how they make the costumes by the Emmy award-winning costume designer, Katherine Jane Bryant (because as any filmmaker without a budget (like me) knows, your actors look like shit and ruin the movie unless you put some effort into making them look the part). She goes about it like this: you start pulling photos of clothes, styles, and interesting people from magazines and put them into a collection for each character. Once you have the clothes picked, you get to have fun pouring blood over them and ripping them up to look real. And you get to make the costumes over, and over, and over again because things get dirty when you’re a psycho who is busy butchering your victims. And Finally…

Sam McCurdy, the Cinematographer, “Cameraman”, or Director of Photography—all valid titles, just stick with “DP” to be safe. Here’s a bit of what he had to say about the process of filming Hills 2.

Some of Sam’s other films include Dog Soldiers and The Descent.

Q. Do you think your work on The Descent brought you to work on The Hills 2?

A. The fact that the Descent got an international release, and certainly an American release, I think that made a big difference. We had a lot of underground work to do on this picture, there are a lot of scares in mine tunnels and things like that.

God forbid I get typecast as a bloke that only shoots underground.

This one is a lot more enclosed that the Descent, the sets are a lot bigger, and all have ceiling pieces on… The Descent we had tunnels on the bottom with lids off the top so you can move in and out more easily.

Q. Neil Marshall said that he wanted most of the Descent to look more naturally occurring, with lighting and camera shots. Is that the case with Hills 2?

A. In Hills, we are in disused mines that have since been overtaken by scientists doing their experiments, so a lot of the lighting and cave exploration equipment is left over and lying around from all that…so certain things have helped me out by being written into the script, but it’s certainly nasty work with the tops of the tunnels and caves being put back on for shooting.

Q. There are certain DPs that you can tell their work by looking at a few minutes of the film—and, are you developing a style like this?

A. I don’t know, I’d hate to say yes, that people can tell your work, because it’s like saying you’re doing the same thing over again. But it’s nice when people say nice things about your work. One of the nicest things that we got from the Descent was that people expressed interest in the way it was shot and the fact that it felt claustrophobic…all of the elements that we tried to achieve with the camera by making it dark and making it stark as well…where it is quite bright, but it is not nicely lit because it’s lit in a vicious way. And all of those things are very nice, but the picture I went on directly after that was a very different job.

Coming up for the Hills, I know I there are obvious reasons why I probably got the gig, because a lot of it is underground. IT helps when you know things from experience because you know how to get around the set in order to make things work…like you know where to punch a hole in the set to get the light just right.

And there are a lot of really good-looking people in the Hills, so you want to make sure that the girls look beautiful from the moment they arrive in the morning until the end of the day.

Q. Did you watch anything for tips on how to light properly for underground shots?

A. No, but I did watch a lot of late 70s and early 80s movies, but one of the most bizarre movies was one that Neil Marshall put us on to and that’s the first Rambo movie. There is this whole sequence underground and I had forgotten all about it, and it was one of the first movies that I watched. And Neil asked me to watch it, and find out did they light it or use fire. And really you can’t tell…but you have to use the practical lighting in order to make sure you’re giving the audience what they want as well and make the stars look good.

We did it on the Descent, and occasionally there is some backlighting where we can throw on shadows and make it look good.

But with Hills, we have a larger budget, so we can really move in between the sets and have the chance to light them a bit bolder and bigger. I think the audience will really get that straight away.

There’s a beginning sequence to the film that cheeks the audience along, where they’re not sure which direction it’s going to go, and suddenly you’re underground and you know you’re in one fuck of a horror movie.

Q. You’re a big horror buff?

A. Massive horror fan. It’s something I’ve grown up with, from the first movies I used to watch…they were like the early ‘80s bad movies, and almost none of it got re-released. We craved it growing up, it was phenomenal stuff.

Q. Is there any particular sequence in Hills that you think are going to stick with audiences?

A. There are a couple of really, really big ones. One of them is at the beginning of the movie before we know which direction the film is going to take, and it’s set in a PortaPottie, and we’ll leave it at that. We shot it about 2 weeks ago, and even shooting it half the crew was in absolute hysterics and the other half was turning away in disgust.

Q. How is Martin as a director?

A. Martin is an incredible director, he’s an incredibly technical director who comes from big, big budget music videos. Bizarrely enough, when Marianne and everyone said who the director was going to be, I said cool I know who it’s going to be, and I saw a Korn video and I thought to myself, the guy really knows his stuff. And I know he’s from that big budget music video background, doing videos with the likes of Puff Daddy, and that can either bring with it a big ego or a non-understanding of how things work—especially with horror movies, because there is a lot of waiting around--like with prosthetics and effects. So it’s a different from a lot of other genres, but the guy knows his shit and has been fantastic to work with from beginning to end.

And, he’s a big fan of horror. His other film, The Grim Love Story, went down very, very well--it’s phenomenal. The imagery, it’s beautifully shot and lit, and it’s a true story. But as far as Martin as a drama director, he’s going to go leaps and bounds because I think Hills is going to be one of the sexiest horror films that has been around in a while.

I’m not usually a big fan of horror remakes, because I love the originals, but you can’t compare them to the originals because they’re in a league of their own. But I have to say this is as stunning as Texas Chainsaw Massacre ever was by keeping the film gritty and dirty, but visually appealing.

Q. How will this movie compare to the first Hills remake?

A. They’re very different movies. I think Hills 1 is a stunning remake that kept close to the original, but other that having the name Hills 2, this is a very different movie. It twists you because you think you’re one movie for like the first 20 minutes, and by the end of the movie you in a fucking world of trouble.

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