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Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor
for Radio Free Entertainment

March 7, 2006

In the 2006 horror The Hills Have Eyes, a remake of Wes Craven's 1977 cult classic, a family on a cross-country roadtrip is terrorized in the desert by a clan of scavengers that have been hideously mutated by nuclear fallout from secret government experiments. Along for this vacation from hell are a young mother (Vinessa Shaw), her parents (Ted Levine and Kathleen Quinlan), her two siblings (Emilie de Ravin and Dan Byrd), and her husband (Aaron Stanford). The film is directed by Alexandre Aja (High Tension), and Craven serves as a producer.

In this interview, Vinessa Shaw and Dan Byrd talk about working on the project.

The Interview

MEDIA: As a moviegoer, is this a type of film you'd like to see?

VINESSA: I would never see this movie because I'm frightened of horror movies. Ever since I was a kid, my friends who always wanted to see them would mortify me by showing me clips from a movie, and I would have to run in the other room, call my parents, and go home--that kind of thing. And especially Nightmare on Elm Street movies. (Sorry, Wes!) The idea of anything that was not related to reality would scare me more. You know, movies like The Shining I would be able to see more easily. I don't know, I'm odd that way. But things that could just possibly come out of nowhere...Crazy, fabricated monster...No way.

So what made you want to do a horror flick?

VINESSA: [laughs] Well, I guess I could be good in it since I'm so frightened of those kinds of concepts. But this one in particular really attracted me because of the filmmakers. I really thought that they had a great stance on it. Like it's very different, very heartfelt, [and] heartbreaking because of the characters involved. So that's kind of what made the difference. It was more of an actor's piece, if you can believe that, in a horror movie.

Dan, same question: Is this a type of film you'd like to see?

DAN: I'm typically not the biggest horror movie fan either.

But you've been in quite a few of them...

DAN: Yeah, it's funny how that works.

VINESSA: I know, it's very ironic.

DAN: But you know what? I keep trying to just sort of take myself outside the situation and look at it objectively, and think, "If I wasn't involved in this, would this be something that I would be interested in?" And I think there's a lot of really sh*tty horror movies out there, but this is not one of those. And I think they're sort of getting that across from their ad campaign, too. I think it looks good. I think it looks scary and fun. And I've seen it, and I know it's very scary, and it's just very gritty and real, and they really give you time to sort of care about these characters. I think a major flaw in most horror movies is that all this crazy stuff is happening to these people, but you just don't care, because they don't allow any time to set up any sort of character development. And they do that in this movie, and they picked the right actors. And so this is one I would be interested in seeing.

What did you think of High Tension, the previous film from director Alexandre Aja and screenwriter Gregory Levasseur?

VINESSA: They have an amazing knack of making horror and beauty come together in this magical way. It's actually alluring, and it draws you in, and then all of a sudden you're freaked out and frightened, because someone has just been slashed to death. [laughs] But I mean, it's kind of weird that way. It kind of brings you in and then pushes you out.

DAN: Yeah, I think that was definitely the one thing that I noticed more than anything watching High Tension--it looks like an art film, aside from all the terribly gruesome stuff that's going on. And I thought that was really intriguing.

Vinessa, you have the most disturbing scene in the movie with your baby, and Robert Joy's mutant character kind of...ummm..."taking the place of your baby"...

VINESSA: [laughs at the wording of the question] Oh my...

How twisted was that scene?

VINESSA: Yes, it was very twisted. Definitely. That was kind of a point of contention. I wasn't sure whether I wanted to do the movie if that were going to be the showcased part of myself, you know? [laughs] So I kind of was, "How are we going to shoot this?" I had three or four meetings with Alex and Greg before I really decided to do the movie. I thought, "They're not going to want to deal with me, I'm too high maintenance." I was just very specific about, "Is this going to turn into something else, like pornographic?" But we had many, many meetings regarding the nature of that and how it'd be shown. And I made sure it was shown in a certain way, and so did he. And by the end, Alex was like, [matter-of-factly] "And there it is! There's the scene that we had ten million meetings about!" So we were all glad when it was done. But it was hard. And it was hard to negotiate with Robert because he has this cleft palate. It was more than just me getting attacked at that moment. It was like a lot of negotiation, and it was a long, long scene, and a lot of screaming, a lot of crying over and over again. So it was pretty horrifying. And I really liked what Alex had me do in that. He really had me make sure that even though I was screaming and crying, my eyes were like wide open looking at him. Protecting my baby...There was a lot going on. And seeing Emilie in the back being raped, and us connecting, and how am I going to save myself and my sister and my child? It was a huge, huge moment. I think it's like the turning point of the movie, really.

How did you feel about collaborating with Alexandre on that scene and working in your ideas?

VINESSA: I know that was the major part, and I really appreciate him wanting to work with me on it. That was the most agreeable experience I've ever had with a director--really working something out together. It was cool. I really appreciated him, and I know he appreciated me, and it worked out for the best, I thought.

Dan, how did you feel about getting to fire off that gun your character has?

DAN: I was terrified to shoot the gun at first, because I'm definitely not a gun person. I've never fired a gun before. And I wasn't firing real bullets, obviously, but they were different than just blanks, I think. They had the actual kickback. It was the same feeling that you would feel if you were shooting an actual bullet. So yeah, I was definitely a little frightened at first, and especially because something does accelerate out of it. But it only accelerates about five or ten feet, and not at a very alarming rate. But I had to point it and shoot it at people all the time. And there's running, so you have to keep a certain distance between the gun and the person who is being fired at. And I was constantly a nervous wreck about that because I don't know anything about these things, and I don't want [to] shoot somebody's eye out.

This movie was filmed in Morocco. Were you all just dumped there and forced to bond?

VINESSA: The first day we got there, we were like, "Thank God you're here!" Because you're on a different time zone, a totally different continent. You don't even know where you are. So fortunately, we all liked each other and hung out for the first day and a half. [We] had major, major jet lag. And I actually like pulled a muscle off the plane, and so I was freaking out and had to get a massage. And then Aaron got sick. I mean, everybody was just like, "Where are we?" But fortunately, we had such great people we were working with that we bonded immediately. It could've been the worst if we didn't like each other at all.

What did you like most about the filming experience?

DAN: Uh...Craft service? I don't know. There were a lot of challenges in this movie, emotionally and physically. Every morning when we woke up at like 5:30, it was freezing, and then two hours later, it was 120 degrees. I was like, "I can't do this for another two months, I'm not going to survive!"

VINESSA: I thought he was going to die.

DAN: But then at the end of the day, you've just been completely worked, and you get that feeling of accomplishment--that you actually, really tried today. You put everything you had into whatever was going on that day. And pretty much every day did require every ounce of energy any of us had. And so I thought that was a really rewarding feeling.

The tagline is, "The lucky ones die first." Is that really true? Are the first ones to die really the lucky ones?

DAN: Well, I wouldn't say anybody who had to go through [this] is lucky by any means. That's a tough call. It's sort of a funny tagline. I guess it gets people's attention or something. I think at the end of the day, if you're alive, then you're the lucky one. But maybe in this case, it's the other way around.

Any dirt to dish on a possible sequel?

DAN: I think if there's a sequel, chances are, we won't be involved, because I can't see these people just happening to venture upon this neck of the woods again. [jokes] "Oh, wait, how did we get back here?"

Thanks for your time.

VINESSA: Thank you.

DAN: Thanks.

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