Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Hills Run Red (2009)

Ah, the slasher. Going back to my review of Dark Ride (2006), I admitted that the said sub-genre was my Achilles' heel: “I will for damn sure pick up slashers in the hope of getting cheap thrills from a decent slash and hack fest. It is a matter of nostalgia looking for a good slasherthon due to my fond memories of the gory early 80’s golden age.” However, I expressed my displeasure at the current state of this type of horror using Dark Ride as a prime example. Usually terribly written and directed the characterization and pacing is very bad and the kills are extremely lacklustre. So having such a soft spot for the slasher, I cannot help but write about a diamond in the rough that went straight to DVD. ‘The Hills Run Red’ although nothing groundbreaking is a little gem of an exception in this dull as dishwater times of generic tripe.

The movie’s director Dave Parker is also an experienced film documentarian who has covered horror and is an enthusiast of the genre. This makes for quite a personal project here with the plot revolving around a young cinephile film student/horror buff. Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrink) is obsessed with finding a horrific long lost independent slasher horror. It had a very short theatrical run due to it being pulled from the cinemas. All copies were destroyed and only a grainy Grindhouse like trailer exists on the internet. All this was because of its overwhelmingly graphic content with those who actually saw it claiming it to be the scariest movie ever made. It shares the same title of this movie the characters are in as this is a film within a film. Tyler wants to find the ‘The Hills Run Red’ and make a documentary on the production’s history.

Director Parker also made a very low-budget zombie feature for Charles Band’s Full Moon Entertainment back in 2000 ‘The Dead Hate the Living!’ which has since garnered a cult following. Its premise similarly entailed a group of young filmmakers making a horror within a horror movie. Here in this movie Tyler’s obsessive search for this infamous slice of exploitation cinema leads them into the forest were it was filmed and unknowingly lands him and his friends roles in a brutal slashfest that never stopped filming. They find out the reasons why ‘The Hills Run Red’ was so extreme and so short lived in the theatres and why never found were the cast members. It was because of the director’s technique of employing snuff with the infamous slasher’s masked psycho killer Babyface being all too real. “You don’t make film, you live film.” So says the missing director of the lost piece of celluloid Wilson Wyler Concannon played by the ever enjoyable William Sadler in the stand out performance here.

Aside from the always solid Sadler the rest of the cast are just adequate. The acting is not terrible as the actors do with competence what the situations require of them. They are just okay performances. The characterization keeps us invested thanks to one of modern horror’s best writers David J. Schow (‘The Crow’ is still one of the finest comic book adaptations). It is a refreshing change from what we are used to these days. Again going back to Dark Ride: “There is nothing set in stone or coming out of a burning bush that says, “slasher films have to have a cast of complete and utter idiots.” There is no reason whatsoever! The majority of screenwriters for these movies always write cardboard cut-out one-dimensional wafer thin characters and this film is a testament to that.” Here instead of a group of hormonally charged, beer guzzling, reefer-smoking morons we have a set of characters with more depth. Tyler and his girlfriend Serina (Janet Montgomery) have a strained relationship because of Tyler’s neglect of her in his relentless search for ‘The Hills Run Red’. Feeling lonely, she finds solace in Tyler’s best friend Lalo (Alex Wyndham) but they still both love Tyler and go on his quest with him to find this missing movie, as they know it means so much to him.

Sophie Monk plays Alexa the daughter of Concannon who helps them find the film after Tyler seeks her out in a strip club she was working in and helps her detox from her heroin addiction. He does this by tying her to a bed in a motel room and forces her to go cold turkey for three whole days. Really, it takes that short a time to rid the itching for scag? Alexa holds the key to the movie’s twist. A character with a secret is a common element of the slasher. The masked hulking killer Babyface is a somewhat parody of an iconic horror maniac from a stalk ‘n’ slash flick. The design of the antagonist’s appearance shows off some nifty creativity with a doll mask and a skeleton jaw making for a creepily ghastly appearance. Despite the parody nods including a bit dialogue from Lalo (Wyndham) about how if no one left the city there would be no slashers this film plays it more serious with the humour taking more of a backseat. ‘The Hills Run Red’ owes more to the original mean spirited tone of the early '80s.

Unfortunately the version that is available is a heavily cut one. These are excerpts from an interview with Dave Parker and producer Robert Burnet conducted by Dread Central’s Heather Wixson:

There is an uncut version but it probably won’t get released because it does mix sex and violence,” explained Parker. “The original version more than pushed the boundaries. Let’s just say there was a character that was Concannon’s wife, and we had to cut her out of the film because he ultimately kills her while having sex with her. A lot of the cut scenes are on the level of where the European horror films are these days.”

Burnett said, “Schow doesn’t flinch from the dark side of humanity in this script or in anything he does. I mean, there is an incestuous relationship in the film which is hard enough to feature as a storyline. The scenes that were cut were honestly beyond the pale. Our on-set doctor walked off the set in disgust at one point.

One of the scenes Parker initially questioned involved the rape of one of the female leads -

The rape scene was honestly hard to shoot and even harder for Janet (Montgomery), but she was a trooper through the whole process,” explained Parker. “For me, this was a guy in a mask so the rape has an otherworldly aspect to it. Even though it’s nasty and takes the film to a darker level, I still think there’s a fantasy aspect to it so I don’t think it goes too far. If we went farther in showing what happened (the movie ultimately cuts away from the act itself), I still wonder if it would it have been too much for audiences.

Until this uncut version sees the light of day if ever this DVD will have to do. There are some good scares in an isolated setting, decent kills with a generous amount of gore (SFX with a touch of CGI much like ‘Laid to Rest’), boobs and some highly memorable scenes. These include an opening credits sequence with a boy cutting off his own facial skin featuring a female voice whispering the lullaby ‘Hush Little Baby’ and a knockout scene where Babyface actually speaks. ‘The Hills Run Red’ is far from earth shattering and is nothing great but it is smart and has an undeniable charm and what that is is that it is very entertaining. This is a slasher definitely worth a look for some cheap thrills.

*** out of ****

Dave J. Wilson

©2012 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission. 

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