13 Things You Didn't Know About The Hills Have Eyes
Article By: Tony Timpone
The hills are alive with the sound of…SCREAMING! In 1977, five years after he shocked the world with The Last House on the Left, writer/director Wes Craven created another visceral horror landmark with The Hills Have Eyes. The story of an RV-riding family stranded in the desert who are besieged by a clan of mutant cannibals (including iconic scream star Michael Berryman), Hills made a killing at drive-ins and grindhouses and inspired a sequel, remake and a sequel to the remake! Today the Friday 13 celebrates the 40th anniversary of The Hills Have Eyes, digging up memorable anecdotes from the cult movie.
1. "The Hills Have Eyes" is derived from a true story!
Well, sort of. Craven based his screenplay on the factual case of the 15th-century Sawney Bean family of Scotland. The incestuous, cave-dwelling kinfolk preyed on people who wandered into their territory during low tide. They robbed, murdered and cannibalized their victims, even pickling some human remains. The killers met a violent fate at the hands of “civilized” folk who rounded them up and gruesomely executed them without trial.
2. "The Hills Have Eyes" originally took place in the future
Before establishing the modern west desert locale for his story, Craven toyed with the idea of setting The Hills Have Eyes 10 years ahead of present day. Budget constraints quickly nixed that idea.
3. Craven informed "Hills" with political and social context of the times
Some critics saw a Vietnam allegory in The Hills Have Eyes, but Craven was more interested in portraying a story of violent class warfare: the poor of America (the Papa Jupe clan) vs. the wealthy (the besieged Carters). The filmmaker paints both families as different sides of the same coin.
4. A Locke on the budget
Hills' producer, Peter Locke, put up half of the film’s $325,000 budget and the rest came from theatrical subdistributors. After a quartet of Hills movies, Locke’s investment paid off big time.
5. Shooting was not a walk in the park or the desert
Craven and company shot The Hills Have Eyes in five weeks on location in the Mojave Desert, with only one trailer sheltering the cast and crew (of 11) during the heat extremes of the day and the freezing temps at night.
6. Michael Berryman stole the show
Disfigured-at-birth actor Michael Berryman was one of the first to be cast; as mutant Pluto, he emerged as the most-remembered character in the film and the focus of the ad campaign. Berryman says he played the character from the “inside out,” and even slept in the desert weeks before shooting to get into character.
7. Did anyone ever say making low-budget movies was easy?
The cast remembers Hills as a tough gig (no kiddin’!), with as many as 35 to 40 setups a day. They described the shoot as “boot camp.” Dee Wallace, who played her first major screen role as the ill-fated Lynne, says the schedule was so breakneck that she barely remembers anything from the filming.
8. PETA beware?
A real dead German Shepherd was purchased to serve as an adversary for Pluto, and a live frozen rattlesnake came in handy for another key scene (where Ruby holds it as a weapon). Wallace handled an actual tarantula.
9. The MPAA saw Craven coming…
Like The Last House on the Left, Hills lost some nastier bits to avoid an X rating. To gorehounds’ chagrin, no unrated version has ever surfaced.
10. Berryman appeared in character at a screening, but once was enough
When the film opened, Berryman, Locke and Craven secretly attended a public drive-in showing. Egged on, Berryman decided to get in character and sneak up on the audience and scare them in their cars. But angry moviegoers practically attacked him, and the actor ran for his life!
11. Virginia Vincent almost didn’t get the part
Initially, Locke and Craven passed on hiring the 58-year-old Virginia Vincent, as they deemed her too young to play a grandmother. The actress went home, “aged” herself with dowdier clothes, makeup and hairstyle, and won the Mrs. Carter role at a second audition.
12. The production first offered Dee Wallace’s part to Janus Blythe
Before signing her to the portray Pluto’s sister Ruby, the producers wanted actress Janus Blythe for the role of Lynne. Blythe rolled around in dirt to get into character!
13. Berryman nearly returned for a third "Hills" movie
Despite the failure of Craven’s shoddy 1984 sequel The Hills Have Eyes Part II, the producers planned a third film, The Outpost: The Hills Have Eyes III, in the early 1990s. The storyline involved a secret desert government facility, which imprisons Pluto and kin in an effort to study their survival skills. Craven’s son, Jonathan, heavily rewrote the screenplay, which eventually emerged as 1995’s Mind Ripper, directed by Hell on Wheels creator Joe Gayton. The movie abandoned all connections to the Hills mythology.
Read more about this splatter classic in Fangoria magazine #132. Then head for the Hills over on our Facebook page or Twitter using #Friday13.
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