I'd seen a few movies shot in and around Philadelphia before, but this was something pretty amazing. Jammed right there in the middle of a place called Ouarzazate is one of the planet's biggest movie studios, and it was there that I'd be shown around the set of Fox Atomic's THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2. (Brief history lesson: The original Hills Have Eyes came out in 1977, and it was followed by a rather lame sequel in 1985.
After that came the surprisingly solid remake in 2006 and now, just a year later, we get a brand-new sequel.) As a guy who truly adores the original HILLS and honestly dug the remake, I felt like a kid in a candy store as I wandered around the set. Hey look, some giant mutant guy is drinking a Coke! Whoa, check out all those fake (yet very real-looking) cave tunnels! Whooaaaa, there's Wes Craven. (Be cool, man, just be cool.) I doubt I'd have been this psyched on the set of a non-horror movie, but after decades of watching the flicks and seeing the "behind-the-scenes" material only on docos and DVDs, it was powerfully fun to see the magic "up close and personal." (Basically, if the movie turns out half as cool as the set was, then HILLS 2 is something I'm bound to enjoy.)
But back to all that geeky stuff. Let's talk mutants. Obviously we weren't allowed to take pictures of the actors and stuntmen in the full make-up, but we were given plenty of chances to sit down with the guys.
If you've already seen THE TRAILER for THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2, then you probably remember the extra-gross-looking mega-mutant that spits his nasty tongue at a squealing victim. Well, you try sitting down with THAT guy in full make-up and not have a good time. As luck would have it, this particular guy was Derek Mears, an actor / stuntman who is quite literally one of the friendliest guys you'll ever meet. (I come across a lot of "fake" friendliness on my rounds, and this guy was the real deal.)
Plus he's a big geek: Horror flicks, wrestling, video games, he loves it all. So when we got to talking about what HILLS 2 was all about, he spoke with much enthusiasm (despite the four hours of make-up application he had to deal with every day: "It's way too much fun. It's playtime. I've done lots of monsters and creatures in the past, but these guys are masters. When I saw the final make-up from KNB, I was like: allll rrrright! That's greaaaat!!!!!"
One of Derek's co-mutants is played by a guy named David Reynolds, and if you met Dave out in public, you might mistake him for a librarian or a teacher, but he was also pretty psyched about getting gored-up and creepy: "The make-up helps you sublimate your personality. I think my character's a little bit like Ruby from the first film. Hansel lives kind of in his own little world ... and he's sort of like an 8-year-old." One of the mutant dudes' main quarries is the stunningly beautiful Daniella Alonso -- although she does play a tough-gal soldier-babe in HILLS 2: "I'd done a horror movie just before this one [editor: it was the upcoming WRONG TURN 2] and it was so much fun. I'm a fan of the genre, but I'm also a chicken. I thought working on horror movies would cure that, but no. I still get scared."
We then moved on to meet a bunch of behind-the-scenes experts. Many thanks to producer Marianne Maddalena, cinematographer Sam McCurdy, editor Kirk Morri, production designer Keith Wilson, costume designer Katie Bryant, art director Alistair Kay, and set decorator Luca Tranchino for giving us a few moments out of a busy work-day to tell a bunch of horror geeks what they've been up to. (The wrap party must have been a ball, because these were some really cool people.)
But the lengthiest and most interesting conversation we had was with HILLS 2 producer / screenwriter Jonathan Craven, who (of course) is the son and collaborator of the legendary Wes Craven. (And if you need me to explain who Wes Craven is, I'm surprised you're even reading this article.) When asked how it felt to be working with his father on such a well-regarded series, John said: "Fun and tough. Extremely both. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. I mean, writing with people can be really hard.
The good news is ... you kinda know who's boss and that makes things easier. There's no question as to who has the final word. That said, we worked together really well. We started out with an outline, kept refining and refining until we had no time left ... and then we jumped in. It was actually very democratic. It didn't have to be, but it was."
Jonathan and I chatted a little bit about the original HILLS HAVE EYES, which he (and I) hold a close affection for. He said he watched the original again while preparing for this sequel, but when one of the reporters asked about the original's sequel ... nobody said a word.
Regarding the new sequel's connection to its predecessor, he said "At one point there was a lot of 'bridging material' but we let some of it go ... it started to impede the new story. It exists in the same territory and it's a few years later..." Questions about specific moments of mayhem were met with bemused grins and tight lips.
Unfortunately we were visiting at one of the shoot's busiest weeks and were therefore unable to sit down with director Martin Weisz, but just a few short hours before we were set for a flight back to London, I and my colleagues were invited to sit down with Mr. Wes Craven. (I even shared some wine with the guy.) As this was just a casual get-together, I opted not to break out my audio recorder, but there I was: talking about horror movies with the guy who created Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, Scream and (of course) Freddy Krueger.
Despite what you're thinking, I behaved like a perfectly normal human being throughout the conversation, despite the wine. And then it was back to the hotel, a flight back to London, a quick goodbye to all my cool horror-geek pals, and a VERY long and painful trip back to Philadelphia. And today we're only a few days removed from the theatrical release of THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2. Since it's a horror flick, I'd have been happy to see the movie anyway, but now that I can look up on the screen and see the sets, the FX, and the people I actually spent some time with, I bet the movie will look a whole lot different. And, jeez, I really hope I like it!