Whether you know the dude by name or not, there's no question you recognize the unique face of one Michael Berryman. Horror genre or no, very few character actors have possessed such a one of a kind physical appearance and parlayed such into a fruitful four-decade career the way Berryman has. Funnily enough, my personal introduction to the man came as the filthy-biker-terrorist in WEIRD SCIENCE as a wee lad, only to realize years later the very character was a reprised homage to his creepy killer character Pluto in Wes Craven's THE HILLS HAVE EYES. Who knew! Years later yet I realized the dude was even in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, alongside an equally formidable horror actor in Brad Dourif. Impressive indeed.
From the mid-80s on, Berryman has unquestionably championed his beloved persona in the horror genre. DEADLY BLESSING, CUT AND RUN, SATURDAY THE 14TH STRIKES BACK, AFTERSHOCK, SOLAR CRISIS, EVIL SPIRITS, GUYVER, and TEENAGE EXORCIST are just a few titles Mike appeared in up until the mid-90s. Then, in 2005, Rob Zombie gave the dude a plum role in THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, which kind of reinvigorated Berryman's horror career. He's done 20 flicks since then, all genre based, including SMASH CUT, BELOW ZERO, LORDS OF SALEM and his most recent release, KILL OR BE KILLED, which hits DVD/VOD today, March 1st.
And that's just scratching the surface. Crawl below to see us go much deeper in the Dissection of Mr. Michael Berryman!
Given the iconic nature of the role, and the fact he portrayed it twice (three if you count WEIRD SCIENCE), how can you not say Pluto in THE HILLS HAVE EYES is Berryman's most heavenly part? Or hellish! Has to be, right? And the thing that's so damn impressive here is that, when watching it for the first time, you really get the feeling that Craven just found some crazy-creepy-hillbilly-hill-dweller for real...no acting, no performance. It wouldn't be until years later when Berryman got to show a little range that you realized, of course, this guy is just a really good actor with a genuinely unique look. Still, the way Craven entrusted him to play the role of Pluto speaks volumes, and only adds to the terrifying nature of his predatory assaults. I mean, the actions Pluto takes would be horrifying no matter what actor played him, but by giving Berryman the chance to play it, there's an even more memorably unnerving facet to the performance that can really only be attributed to his physical presence.
Granted, HILLS HAVE EYES PART 2 took a giant step backwards in terms of overall quality, but not because of anything MB pulled. In fact, he acquits himself quite well in the sequel, if for no other reason to give a creepy continuity to the two-pronged franchise...to be the face of the entire endeavor. Of course, the story goes that two-thirds of HILLS 2 was actually shot prior to Craven's seminal masterstroke A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET before running out of money. When ELM STREET proved such a massive box-office hit, the studio implored Craven to finish HILLS 2 with only the footage that was already in the can. To pad the film out to a feature length, discarded footage from the original was used for the sequel, which obviously created a serious discontinuity in the overall product. Wes Craven, rest his soul, had long disowned HILLS 2 for these reasons. Despite the success of the OG, I wonder how Berryman feels about HILLS 2.
Whoa baby, there lies some real stinkers in Berryman's 40 year movie career. Only natural with that kind of longevity. Even so, VOYAGE OF THE ROCK ALIENS, ARMED RESPONSE, THE BARBARIANS, WIZARDS OF THE DEMON SWORD, DOUBLE DRAGON, GATOR KING, BEASTMASTER 2...these are just a sample of the more absurd, bottom of the bargain bin fare Berryman's partaken in. Hey, we all have to eat, right? All worthy contenders, no doubt, but if we have to single out one example of the irredeemably abysmal, why not elect the overt farce of a send-up, SATURDAY THE 14TH STRIKES BACK. Sheesh!
As if SATURDAY THE 14TH alone wasn't an embarrassing eyesore of a parody, poor MB was given a thankless role as the Mummy in the even more atrocious sequel...also helmed by schlock-meister himself Howard R. Cohen. Rated PG, running at a skimpy 78 minutes, SATURDAY THE 14TH STRIKES BACK currently rocks a 2.8 IMDB rating. That ought to give you a little context for its putridity. How on earth Ray Walston took a starring role in the film is just as astounding that it got made at all. Berryman, bless his heart, does all he can to portray an age old monster in the most original way possible, but even he cannot escape the ineptitude of the script and low-budget direction. Still, seeing MB play The Mummy is pretty damn entertaining!
Come on now, if there was ever an actor so trademarked by his physical appearance, it has to be Mr. Michael. See, Berryman was born with the rare, incurable, genetic condition known as "Hypohidrotic Ectodermal Dysplasia", which prevents the formation of hair, fingernails, teeth, and sweat glands. As a result, Berryman's skeletal features - bald head, cone-shaped, hairless and brow-less, ogre-like - has become one of his most unique calling cards as a screen presence. Think of that, dude has no sweat glands yet made his most influential mark on the horror community in HILLS HAVE EYES, shooting in the desert for half a year in over 100 degree weather. Talk about committed!
The cool thing about being such an iconic face of such an equally famous franchise (HILLS HAVE EYES) is that the breadth of your other work tends to go unnoticed. But not by us goddamn it! Here's a pair of under detected Berryman horror joints we think you ought to scope out at least once in your lifetime. The first is Ruggero Deodato's CUT AND RUN, the other is mordantly dark -comedic stint in Tales From The Crypt called "The Reluctant Vampire." Let's get into it...
Italian CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST director Ruggero Deodato also has a body of work that tends to get overshadowed by his most infamous title, but in 1985, he made a movie with Berryman called CUT AND RUN that's actually pretty damn badass. The story was based on an unproduced Wes Craven movie called MARIMBA, and centers on a TV journalist and his cameraman who venture out into the Amazon jungle to find the missing son of a corporate bigwig. The story he uncovers though is far more harrowing than first thought! Often thought as the final leg in a CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST trilogy Deodato made, but he vehemently went a different direction with this one after producers merely wanted to make a straight-up sequel. As a result, this one deals with an escalating drug war and the horrors of nativism brought about in the wake of such. Berryman joins Richard Lynch, Karen Black and Eriq La Salle in the film, the totally uncut version of which we implore you to seek and enjoy. For a quasi-horror yarn, the uncut version features unflinchingly gruesome FX work. Find it!
Far less trouble you'll have locating "The Reluctant Vampire," a 1991 episode of Tales From The Crypt starring Berryman as Rupert Van Helsing. More accessible yes, but no less fun! Berryman joins the likes of Malcolm McDowell, George Wendt and Paul Gleason in script that gives MB the opportunity to play up his horror movie image, while also poking great fun at it. The gist is this. Vampiric McDowell moonlights as a security guard at a blood-bank...the perfect place to score fresh fuel. But when the shortage of blood soon leads to budget cuts and threatens to leave McDowell jobless, he does whatever it takes to restore fresh blood to the bank and go about his business as usual. Well, this soon draws the ire of famed vampire hunter Van Helsing, and soon Berryman is pitted against Alex the Droog himself, McDowell, in a campy kitschy romp that plays as a must see for any knowledgeable horror fan. It's that amusing!
A quick IMDB glance shows Berryman has nearly 20 movies in various stages of production, almost all of them in deeply steeped in the horror realm. However, many are simply announced, and many are still stuck in the preproduction phase. You know what that means, there's no guarantee any of those projects actually get made. So, instead, we'll tip you off to a trio of flicks Berryman did that are already in the can...either in total completion or post-production. Keep an eye out for the following to be released in the next year or two, starting with NOTLD: CONTAGION.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: CONTAGION goes like so:
Michael Turner returns unexpectedly from the Iraq war to his small home town, a relieved family... and a legion of the undead. After his younger brother contributes in the accidental release of a creature which feeds off flesh, the young soldier races to rescue him and find the rest of his scattered family... plus an estranged girlfriend and her new lover. Once gathered, it's up to him to protect the survivors during the course of one grisly night. Though they manage to take shelter overnight in a local high school to buy themselves the illusion of safety, their actions inadvertently opens Michael's soul to the horrors of his own past transgressions. Fighting off his own inner demons, Michael leaves the task of finding a solution to the horrific invasion to a local science professor, and hopes his family doesn't pay the price. But he doesn't have a choice - inevitably he knows his only path is a lonely journey down that dark path everyone fears to tread.
Another flick MB has in post is called SHED OF THE DEAD, and shapes up like this:
Trevor is 'between jobs'. He spends his days avoiding his nagging heifer of a wife by hiding out in his allotment shed and painting figurines for his wargames with his agoraphobic friend, Graham, and dreaming of his heroic alter-ego, the battle mage Casimir the Destroyer. When Mr. Parsons, one of the other allotment tenants, petitions to have Trevor removed from his disgrace of a plot (he's not there to grow stuff!) an argument ensues that leaves Trevor with a corpse to hide. Unfortunately, this untimely accident coincides with the zombie apocalypse and Mr. Parsons' return is just the beginnings of Trevor's problems. More pressing is whether or not he should try and save his wife and her beautiful best friend, who both he and Graham have a thing for.
Finally, a movie Berryman already completed called POTENT MEDIA'S SUGAR SKULL GIRLS, features the following:
Three demonic sisters who resemble neo-goth voodoo dolls are accidentally conjured from the other side during a failed attempt to raise a little girl from the dead. With impeccable fashion sense and teen aged angst, the Sugar Skull Girls will stop at nothing to escape the clutches of The Pale Witch, the ruler of The Shadow world.
Pretty damn gnarly, no? Be honest, of the three, which MB flick due in the next year or so are you most down to check out?
It's easy to see why Michael Berryman has remained a cult hero for us horror fans over the years. Dude not only has an inherently unnerving way about him, but he clearly seems to embrace, empower it, and deliver one creepy turn after another. Whether he's working with the A-list likes of Milos Forman or Wes Craven, the mid-tier likes of Ruggero Deodato and Rob Zombie, or the bottom of the barrel likes of Howard Cohen and Fred Olen Ray...Michael Berryman brings the same amount of intensity and unsettling energy to every damn movie he does...and we no less than love the man for it. And let's hope flicks like THE HILLS HAVE EYES, DEADLY BLESSING, CUT AND RUN, SATURDAY THE 14TH STRIKES BACK, AFTERSHOCK, SOLAR CRISIS, EVIL SPIRITS, GUYVER, TEENAGE EXORCIST, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, LORDS OF SALEM and a dozen or so more serve as mere preamble for a second career-act to come. We're watching Michael, keep up the killer work!