Cinematographer Sam McCurdy on Hills 2!
When we got to the set in Morocco we were given a very sleek call sheet and a cast & crew breakdown so we could familiarize ourselves with whose brains we were going to pick during our time there. One of the most exciting names on the list for me was cameraman Sam McCurdy, whose previous cinematographer credits include both Neil Marshall films, Dog Soldiers and The Descent. Considering the latter of those films takes place almost entirely underground, it only makes sense that McCurdy would be brought in for Hills 2, which also sees a good portion of the action occurring subtera. That’s all right with Sam, though, as he confesses this is the genre he loves the most.
"[I’m a ] massive horror fan, yeah, " he told us during our interview. "It’s something I’ve grown up with, from the first movies I used to watch…they were like the early 80’s bad movies and almost none of it got re-released [until now], so you craved it, it was phenomenal stuff. "
The move from loving horror movies to making horror movies was pretty much a no-brainer and McCurdy really couldn’t be happier. Even though he’s working with similar environments as he did with The Descent, he says things on Hills 2 were different for one big reason; "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, " That being said, the caverns under the New Mexico desert our heroes find themselves in are actually a tighter fit than the heroines of The Descent had to deal with "This one is a lot more enclosed that the Descent, the sets are a lot bigger, and all have ceiling pieces on. In The Descent we had tunnels on the bottom with lids off the top so you could move in and out more easily"
But things were a bit easier to work with in the sequel because, unlike The Descent, people had been in these caves before; "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 lids [on top of the set] being put back on."
The question of influence was posed and to say his answer was unexpected is an understatement; "One of the most bizarre movies [used for inspiration] was one that Neil put us on to and that’s the first Rambo movie, First Blood," he revealed. "There’s this whole sequence underground that I had forgotten all about, and it was one of the first movies that I watched. Neil asked me to watch it and to figure out how they lighted. And really you can’t tell! I figured out that 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. There are a lot of really good looking people in the films, 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." Needless to say this kind of homework helped a lot on both films.
Sam and Neil had known one another for a very long time, growing up in the same area of England, but Hills 2 helmer Martin Weisz was a stranger to McCurdy when he began the project. Luckily the director knew what he wanted and was able to make Sam’s job that much easier; "Martin is an incredible director; an incredibly technical director who comes from big budget music videos. Bizarrely enough, when [producer] Marianne and everyone said who the director was going to be, I knew who it was going to be because I had I seen his Korn video so I knew we were in good hands," he told us. "I knew that he was from that big budget music video background, doing videos with the likes of Puff Daddy, which can either bring with it a big ego or a lack of understanding of how things work—especially with horror movies, because there is a lot of waiting around with like 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"
Thought we’ve heard a lot about how both funny and scary it is, McCurdy said one particular scene in The Hills Have Eyes 2 will stick in viewers’ heads; "At the beginning of the movie before we know which direction the film is going to take is one of the nastier ones. 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. " Now that’s what we liked to hear!
Finally, since Sam is in the unusual position of shooting a sequel to a remake whose original also had a sequel, we had to ask his thoughts on the whole remake phenomenon going down these days. " 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. I have to say this is as stunning as Texas Chainsaw Massacre ever was by keeping the film gritty and dirty, but visually appealing."
That was our time with Sam McCurdy, one of the coolest guys we met during our set, not just because he could give us dirt on Neil Marshall (which, sadly, he did not). You can see how he did on The Hills Have Eyes 2 when its released on March 23rd and look for more of his camera skills to be on display in Marshall’s next film, Doomsday, currently rolling down in South Africa!
Keep it here for more Hills 2 coverage very soon!
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