Warner Bros. // 2008 // 81 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // October 2nd, 2009
If you hear his rattle, it's already too late.
I've never been too big on the horror trend that fell out of Wes Craven's (unfortunately) ultra-successful Scream franchise. Any horror fan can pick out the silly conventions that make up the genre, especially slasher films, but having those conventions thrown in my face while I'm trying to enjoy myself undermines the film, not to mention it's just kind of insulting. I have a hard time getting behind films that comment on themselves and wink at the audience, but I have to hand it to director Dave Parker. The Hills Run Red, while it does fall into that category of film, acquits itself both as a horror film and as a tribute to horror films of the 1980s, an area Parker clearly loves.
In 1982, director Wilson Wyler Concannon (William Sadler, The Mist) set out to make the most brutally violent slasher film ever produced. The result, called The Hills Run Red, was released very briefly into theaters, but was quickly banned for its disturbing content. All copies were seized, nobody would ever admit to appearing in the film, and the director disappeared into thin air. Over a quarter century, the film has become legend. Today, a young director named Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrinck, Lost Boys: The Tribe), enthralled by the stories, decides to make a documentary about hunting down the film. Enlisting his girlfriend on sound and his best friend to run the camera, they set out. It quickly seems, however, that the film is actually hunting them. As they get closer to the film, they must decide what they're willing to go through to actually see it.
A horror movie about making a horror movie may not be the most novel concept. I've seen quite a few independent genre films that use it in different ways, but most are concerned with the legend that inspired the film or a rogue crew member back for revenge. The Hills Run Red is horror about what it takes to make a horror movie and that, in itself, is an intriguing premise. We have two films, both called The Hills Run Red, though one is real and one is fiction. Parker, the director of the real film, spoofs independent film direction while making an independent film himself. He creates a tribute to 1980s slasher films while commenting on the easy ways out with "shaky cam" and "torture porn" horror. Parker fits a lot of high concept stuff into his little film; it's a wonder it succeeds as well as it does, all without seeming too smart for its own good.
The story starts off very small, but grows and becomes more complicated until the (sort-of) twist ending. At first, all Tyler has is a shoddy trailer for the '80s film which, all in all, looks like some pretty good slasher fare in the vein of the big box titles ever-present in rundown video stores. Would I go this far out of my way to see it? Probably not, but some people like horror more than I do, I suppose. His obsession is pretty stupid, though, and his friends realize it too. His girlfriend thinks he's a selfish jerk; he only pays attention to her when he needs somebody to hold a boom, but she goes along anyway. His buddy is mostly interested in scoring his girlfriend, so he goes along quietly and waits for chances to hit on her. Things start to get going when Tyler finds out somehow that Concannon's daughter Alexa (Sophie Monk, Sex and Death 101), who appeared in the film, is a stripper at a local club, so he heads down for some "research." When he gets to talk to her, though, she's pretty strung out. So, in what makes for a strange interlude for a horror film, he intervenes and helps her kick the habit. To repay him, she agrees to take him out to her father's old farm where a copy of the film might still exist.
Here is where The Hills Run Red takes its turn and starts cooking, finally resembling a horror film. To get to the farm, they have to go through the woods, camp out, and generally do all the things that horror characters shouldn't do. Like in the films it follows, the characters comment on this fact but, unlike those films, this one actually provides answers for why. One of the characters tries to subvert the cliches, but it doesn't work out very well for him. The film does well in its comments about horror because it doesn't let those comments get in the way of telling an effective story, at which this succeeds to a degree. It suffers from its unlikeable characters that never allow you to root for them and some very dull stretches in the story, but it does some things very well. The main characters may be irritating, but there are only four of them. It keeps the film small, which is good, but where would an '80s horror tribute be without a body count? Parker's solution is excellent. There's plenty of bloody, violent death, but most of it comes from scenes from the fictional film. That was a body count flick on steroids, so we get a cavalcade of victims, just not those pertaining to the plot. The character of Babyface is a pretty good masked killer and would have fit perfectly in its supposed time frame. The performances are mixed, but Sophie Monk and William Sadler do particularly good work. Both look to have had a blast playing their roles and they do so with campy relish.
The DVD for The Hills Run Red from Warner's Premier label is solid all around, especially for a low budget indie horror film. The anamorphic image is a wide 2.35:1. Parker knows how to use the space and it looks great here, very clear and crisp. The producers got an influx of money when they got picked up by Warner Brothers sometime during the making of the film, and it shows in the production values; the budget seems much higher than it actually was, a high compliment for horror, and it's given a high-quality showcase. There are a few minor ghosting issues, but nothing too noticeable. The surround sound mix is fine, but nothing too special, all the screaming is more than audible. We have two extras supporting the film. First is a featurette, "It's Not Real until You Shoot It: The Making of The Hills Run Red." This is your typical indie horror love fest that shows everybody having a good ol' time making the picture. I'm sure they did, but I've seen a million of them and they all look the same. The other is an audio commentary from Parker, who discusses his motivations, what he likes about '80s horror, and general stories from the shoot. This was the rare case where the commentary helped me to like the film more, rather than thinking the director was a pretentious blowhard.
The Hills Run Red is an above average little horror movie that is a love affair with horror for its director. He got to make his movie, but also got to travel back in time to make a film from what he feels is the golden age for the genre. It's a good idea that is pulled off reasonably well. For horror fans, this is definitely worth a rental.
Cut, print, kill; it's a wrap.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
Running Time: 81 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R