Written by: John Carchietta, John Dombrow, and David J. Schow
Directed by: Dave Parker
Starring: Wiliam Sadler, Sophie Monk, Tad Hilgenbrink, and Janet Montgomery
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"In 1982, controversial film director Wilson Wyler Concannon released his only film, The Hills Run Red. Because of its graphic depiction of sadism and murder, the film was quickly pulled from theaters."
One of the more unique aspects of horror fandom is the revelation of obscure titles thought to be long-lost in the annuls of cinema. Earlier this decade, the horror world was thrilled by the discovery of The Last House on Dead End Street and its subsequent DVD release. This is not to mention the hundreds of other titles that have been rescued from obscurity in recent years. Thus, when a horror film takes this phenomenon as its subject matter and combines it with a backwoods slasher movie, it's noteworthy, particularly when it comes with an evocative title like The Hills Run Red. Not to be confused by the 1966 spaghetti western of the same name, these hills are full of backwoods carnage that harks back to the simple and thinly plotted slashers of yesteryear.
In 1982, director Wilson Wyler Concannon unleashed a gore-soaked slasher film titled The Hills Run Red. Featuring a brutal backwoods killer named Babyface, the film was deemed so graphic and offensive that the film was quickly pulled from release and all its prints destroyed. 20 years later, Tyler, a young horror enthusiast, is committed to discovering the long lost film. Armed with only the film's trailer, a few promo stills, and the location of Concannon's daughter, Alexa, Tyler sets out with his girlfriend and best friend in an attempt to film a documentary about the experience. Alexa eventually joins the crew and agrees to take them to the woods and the late director's house where The Hills Run Red was filmed; however, once Tyler and crew arrive, they discover that the legend of Babyface might be more than a legend after all and that the hills do indeed continue to run red!
A mix of The Blair Witch Project and Cigarette Burns by way of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Run Red is a no frills slasher flick that revels in the genre and its conventions. The first half hour of the film plays out as a bit of a love letter to the genre. Tyler is essentially one of us--the hardcore horror geek that will stop at nothing to see this long lost film. At one point, the faux trailer for The Hills Run Red is shown, and it's just as effective of a throwback as any of the Grindhouse trailers by truly capturing the feel of an early 80s backwoods slasher. There's also some self-aware, tongue-in-cheek dialogue in the vein of Scream when Tyler's friend mocks all the conventions of horror films: dumb kids who go out into the wilderness, where their cell phones and cars inevitably break down when they're terrorized by some backwoods yokels. The set up here is interesting, and it's clear that the crew behind this one had their hearts in the right place.
That said, once the shit begins to hit the fan, it pretty much does degenerate into your standard slasher: the kids do go to the woods and are eventually terrorized by some backwoods yokels. Though the film doesn't give into every single cliche it mocks, it at no point plays out as a satire like Scream does; instead, it's more committed to delivering exactly what you expect from a slasher: gratuitous blood and gore. There are some plot twists and turns here and there, but they're ultimately rather predictable, and the film ends on a rather trite note. Still, it's hard to deny that the film isn't entertaining on its way there, as people are mercilessly hacked up by Babyface, who is a decent slasher villain, if not unremarkable. He's got an interesting backstory (his father cut off his face when he was young, and he attempted to sew it back on by himself), and he's got a memorable look (he covers his disfigured face with a porcelain doll face). Nothing ground-breaking, but the character certainly gets the job done.
There's been a fair share of slasher films to be released since the 80s ended, and many of these modern efforts have been victims of their own misguided attempts to capture that 80s charm. Such films end up amping up the more obnoxious elements and feel like they're bordering on parody at times. While this can still be fun and such films have their place, I prefer a more reserved, straight-laced style every now and then, and The Hills Run Red mostly delivers this. Instead of trying to be overly stylish or gritty, the film looks very natural and even atmospheric at times. Furthermore, the film does attempt to build some sort of suspense and tension; while it does ultimately degenerate into a loud, splatter-fest at the conclusion, it at least builds to that point rather than being cranked up to 11 from the outset. Plus, at 81 minutes, it's quickly paced, especially once the blood starts flowing.
Everything else is also pretty much standard slasher fare: the cast gives decent performances with the little bit they have to work with. Tad Hilgenbrink is a decent lead, and Sophie Monk shows some good range in the role of Alexa. There's a little bit of drama thrown in as it pertains to some love affair among the four characters, but it's ultimately irrelevant and gets lost in all the carnage. Then again, one shouldn't expect much more than to be entertained by all the mayhem in a slasher movie. I'm not saying that they can't be more than this, but with most, you're just happy to get a solid effort from all involved, and such is the case here. I certainly give the film credit for establishing an intriguing premise and mythology with the film within the film, and the segments where we get to see the bits and pieces of it are the most interesting segments. These few moments bring a nice retro feel to the more modern proceedings, and it's a fun homage to the bygone slasher age.
Really, the biggest knock against The Hills Run Red is that it doesn't offer anything new; then again, slashers have always been caught up in the conundrum of being criticized when they simply rehash and then bashed when they try something new. This effort plays it safe, and it succeeds in delivering what audiences should expect from it (nudity and gore). Warner Premiere has brought the film straight to DVD, and, like the film itself, it's a solid effort. The 2.35:1 transfer is flawless and handles the film's various looks well, and the 5.1 soundtrack creates an immersive soundstage. There's only two special features: a commentary with director Dave Parker, writer David J. Schow, and producer Robert Meyer Burnett, plus a behind-the-scenes making-of documentary. If you're starved for some good backwoods slasher action, you could certainly do a lot worse than The Hills Run Red. Don't expect many repeat trips to these hills, however. Rent it!
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