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The Hills Run Red (2009)

Warner Home Video
DVD Released: 9/29/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/19/2009

In 1978, John Carpenter's Halloween brought the slasher genre to the forefront of horror. The movie showed the effect that a masked killer could have on the suburbs. Then, two years later, Friday the 13th changed the landscape. Not of horror films (as many mistakenly believe), the actual landscape. Suddenly, many movies, especially slasher films, were taking place in the woods. Playing as a mixture of Friday the 13th and The Hills Have Eyes, it seemed like every movie showed a group of people who just had to go into the woods for some reason and suddenly found themselves being stalked by a killer. Because filming in the forest is relatively inexpensive, we would get some excuse for why that was the destination, and the killings would begin. Films of this ilk have popped up every now and then over the years, and a new entry The Hills Run Red has now arisen. Does it bring anything new to the sub-genre?

The Hills Run Red introduces us to Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrinck), a film buff who has become obsessed with a "lost film" entitled The Hills Run Red. The film was released very briefly in 1982 and then yanked from theaters because it was so shocking and controversial. Following this, Director Wilson Wyler Concannon (played by William Sadler in archive footage) disappeared and the film was said to be destroyed. Tyler has decided to make a documentary on The Hills Run Red, with the help of his girlfriend, Serina (Janet Montgomery), and his buddy, Lalo (Alex Wyndham). Armed with a trailer for the film and notes from those who actually saw the film, Tyler embarks on his mission. He's able to locate Concannon's daughter, Alexa (Sophie Monk), and he hopes to interview her. After detoxing Alexa (?!), she agrees to help Tyler. She leads Tyler, Serina, and Lalo into the woods to show them the locations where the film was shot and to take them to her late father's cabin, which may hold a copy of the film. However, once the group enters the forest, they find themselves being stalked by a killer, who resembles the killer from the film.

Going into The Hills Run Red, I honestly didn't know what to expect, as the film just suddenly appeared on the DVD release list. All that I knew was that the cover art was kind of creepy, and that I'd seen Director Dave Parker's previous feature film, 2000's The Dead Hate the Living. That movie was an interesting take on the zombie genre which had high-energy and mixed in some sci-fi elements, but ultimately, it was simply too much of a "fanboy" project. Nine years later, Parker has certainly matured with The Hills Run Red.

The film opens with a young man cutting off his own face. (I can only imagine that many viewers will bail at this point.) Immediately after this off-putting scene, we are introduced to the concept of the "lost film" and Tyler's search for it. This brings to mind Ramsey Campbell's 1989 novel Ancient Images (where there is a search for a lost Karloff/Lugosi film), and the popular idea of movies which are so shocking that they are censored. (The ad-line "Banned in 31 Countries!" from Make them Die Slowly comes to mind.) To be quite honest, I was pleasantly surprised by this plot-line and I can only imagine that there are some viewers who may be thrown by this film-within-a-film story. After the initial set-up, The Hills Run Red becomes sort of a detective pieces, as Tyler finds Alexa and attempts to get information from her. Despite the fact that this section makes a mockery of opiate detox, it's interesting as well.

But, around the 20-minute mark (when a movie should really start grabbing the audience), the originality goes away. This is where the group goes into the woods to research the movie. From this point on, the film becomes a checklist of cliches; scary "locals" at gas station who harass our heroes - check; scary noises in the woods heard while group is sitting by campfire -- check; a character emerges into a clearing, sees a house, and assumes that they've found sanctuary -- check. The final reels holds a couple of surprises, but they simply aren't enough to erase the familiarity of the last two acts. The film devolves into a fairly standard horror movie which straddles the world of a slasher film and something like Saw.

While The Hills Run Red is overall a fairly mediocre film, it is a big step forward for Dave Parker. On the audio commentary, he reveals that the initial script was filled with references to and lines from other horror movies. He (and writer David Schow) wisely decided to get rid of this, and the movie only refers to movies which don't exist in our world. Also, I like the fact that Tyler is a horror-movie buff and he's portrayed as a fairly "normal" and level-headed guy. (No tattoos, Slayer t-shirts, leather, or "Fulci Lives!" bumper stickers here.) While The Living Hate the Dead felt like a one-off by a fan who wanted to pay homage to his heroes, The Hills Run Red feels more like the work of a director who is on his way to better things.

The Hills Run Red gets lost on DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at Dolby Digital 5.1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. Some scenes are a tad dark, but the colors look very good, most notably the reds and the greens of the forest. The image has a nice crispness to it, and for a DVD, it's fairly detailed. Artifacting is kept to a minimum. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are nicely done, most notably when the group is in the woods. The surround sound is a bit too subdued at times, but there are definitely a few scenes, again, in the woods, where the rear speaker effects work quite well. The "shock" scenes deliver some solid subwoofer action.

The Hills Run Red DVD contains only two extras. First, we have an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Director Dave Parker, Writer David J. Schow and Producer Robert Meyer Burnett. This trio speaks at length throughout the film and delivers scene-specific comments for the most part. They speak frankly about making the film in Bulgaria and the challenges of working on a low budget. They discuss the story, the actors, and how they approached the world of a fictitious movie. Second, there's "It's Not Real Until You Shoot It: Making The Hills Run Red" (28 minutes) is a detailed making-of featurette. The piece is made up predominantly of behind-the-scenes footage. It jumps around a bit, but it mainly focuses on showing us how some major scenes were shot. We get comments from the cast and crew, who discuss the story, the characters, the production, and what it was like to shoot in Bulgaria. For many of the scenes, attention is paid to how the special effects make up was done.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long