Cinema Wasteland in Strongsville, OH is a semi-annual horror convention celebrating films specializing in horror, exploitation, cult, drive-in and “B” movies on VHS and DVD. Anyone who has attended the convention can safely say it is a convention unlike anything else in the country. The guests are always unique and you’ll never have to expect to wait in a two hour line to pay for a $60.00 autograph. Amongst the normal events like 16mm screenings, the trivia contest with 42nd Street Pete, and Count Gor de Vol’s “Night at the Movies,” this year also showcased the very first reunion of ta majority of the cast from the Wes Craven classic, THE HILLS HAVE EYES. It has been quite a few years since I’ve actually watched the original film, and I have never seen the film with an audience. Reliving THE HILLS HAVE EYES in a crowded room of people who are all die-hard horror nuts and absolutely love this film was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I found myself laughing at parts I never realized were funny, and finding just how effective the sound is in the film. For a horror film with minimal gore, tame language, and genuinely devoid of any “jump scares,” THE HILLS HAVE EYES is just as effective today as it was thirty years ago.
After the film concluded, a reunion panel was held. In attendance was Michael Berryman (Pluto), Janus Blythe (Ruby), Suze Lanier-Bramlett (Brenda), Martin Speer (Doug), Dee Wallace (Lynn), and composer Don Peake. From the moment the cast and composer took stage, it was apparent that this film turned them into a family. Lanier-Bramlett even confessed that she spent her last Thanksgiving and Christmas with Michael Berryman and her New Year’s Eve with Dee Wallace. The cast all reminisced about their casting situations. While most of the cast nailed their jobs through agents, Janus Blythe told an endearing story about showing up to the casting office and being told with a group of girls to run as fast as she could down to a stop sign and to run back. When all the other girls took off, Blythe gave the girls a head start, winked at the casting director, and then bolted after them. She still finished first and cites her ability to run a major factor in the decision to cast her as Ruby.
Don Peake shed some interesting facts about the score of the film. If you listen closely, it’s fascinating to know that most of the percussion sounds heard are actually the sounds of the bone/teeth necklaces worn by Ruby, Pluto, and Mercury being played like instruments. He even went on to discuss how much Wes Craven originally hated the score. Mind you, this film was made before synthesizers, so Peake created all of it using natural devices and existing instruments. It wasn’t until the film and score were tied together that Craven and the rest of the crew began to love the score. The cast shared production secrets about how the snakes and spiders were real, the dramatic temperature shifts from daytime to nighttime, and Virginia Vincent having a nipple almost blown off due to a misplaced squib and being rushed to the hospital after the trailer shooting sequence. Despite the (what they know now are) less than ideal shooting circumstances, they wouldn’t have changed it for the world.
Sometimes, actors look back at their first film as something embarrassing or “beneath” them, but the cast present at this panel all looked back at THE HILLS HAVE EYES fondly. It was heartwarming to see their eyes light up whenever they would share a memory or a story about the film’s creation. Dee Wallace may have worked with A-list directors like Steven Spielberg, but she still got a little misty eyed thinking about filming her first feature film in a trailer that smelled of poop and body odor. Michael Berryman may have skyrocketed into the horror hall of fame, but he never forgets where he got his start. The horror genre has been very, very kind to many actors over the years, and it was beautiful to see actors genuinely give back love to the genre that gave them their start.