EXCL: Interview With The Hills Run Red’s Parker, Burnett

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New photos from the upcoming slasher film

Hollywood is a gluttonous beast, known for chewing up talent, processing it through her labyrinthine digestive track and depositing said talent, devoid of confidence, on her tarnished boulevards. Some filmmakers, however, can take their licks and bite back. Brush off the bullshit and set out to do what they were meant to do: Make movies. Strangely enough, this theme of determination is paralleled in the creation and the story of The Hills Run Red.

Dark Castle and Warner Premiere’s direct-to-DVD release (coming on September 29) tells of Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrink), a horror fan who sets out to find a complete cut of the titular film which is overshadowed with a notorious history. He chronicles his journey via video – with girlfriend Serina (Janet Montgomery), friend Lalo (Alex Wyndham) and Alexa (Sophie Monk), daughter of Hills‘ director Wilson Wyler Concannon (played by William Sadler) – and revisits the production’s locations. What he discovers is the Concannon’s vision is not yet complete and they’re the newest stars of the film.

Mirroring the sense of creative willpower in Hills‘ narrative, one will find director Dave Parker behind-the-scenes. His journey on the project found him sticking with it for around two years after toiling in the Hollywood trenches directing The Dead Hate the Living in 2000, editing a variety of genre DVD featurettes and co-directing the 2002 documentary Masters of Horror (a title that would later be lifted for the Showtime series three years later). Come 2007, Parker was ready to get back in the saddle. With producer Robert Burnett and Fever Dream Films, he pulled a crew together in Hollywood and shot a Hills Run Red teaser trailer at the Vine Theater in Hollywood.

What he captured on celluloid was a blue-eyed beauty bound to a theater chair surrounded by corpses mutilated in sundry ways. As something terrible plays on the screen before her, an aggressive, tall killer charges into the theater to claim one more victim. The shoot itself was advantageous for Parker in the sense that it attracted a few onlookers, including producer Gil Adler and director Bryan Singer.

“I was having lunch with Bryan one day and he asked how the teaser turned out,” recalls Burnett. “He ended up making a phone call for us to Diane Nelson who’s head of Warner Premiere because they were looking for material to do with Dark Castle. Just because Bryan makes a phone call, it doesn’t mean anything is going to happen. But, we went in to Warner armed with the teaser trailer Dave conceived.”

Up to this point, Dark Castle and Warner Premiere was bolstering their direct-to-DVD output with the original production Return to House on Haunted Hill. Separately, Warner Premier would also develop Lost Boys: The Tribe but it was looking for more partnership opportunities with Dark Castle and The Hills Run Red appeared to be an ideal fit.

“I didn’t think we’d have a shot in hell that we were going to get Warner Bros. interested. I thought the material was too nasty and rough for a studio,” admits Parker.

In spite of this sentiment, though, Warner did give the project a green light in April of 2008 following an intense holding pattern during which Parker feared the project would fall apart. By May, he was on track to roll cameras and was working with writer David J. Schow (Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III) on the script (penned by John Dombrow).

“Schow’s got a distinctive voice, especially for dialogue and character,” says Parker. “That’s the thing we focused on more, also, the scenario and certain scenes that were similar to the archetypes of slasher movies. What are the characters doing within those scenes that we could add flavor to? The script at first was very standard and confusing.” Other problem areas that needed to be mended was the script’s wink-wink, film references-loaded nature. The characters of Tyler and Lalo originally resembled Randy from Scream. “I learned from the previous experience and I wasn’t going to do that again. You get this opportunity to make a slasher movie, a masked killer movie, which I love, you want to make it different. A lot of that came from the passion early on and wanting to make the killer stand out distinctively.”

To help realize this killer, lovingly nicknamed Babyface, Parker called in conceptual artist Mike Broom (The Cabin in the Woods) and sculptor Jim Kagel (The Thing) to explore different avenues with the mask. “We went through six or seven intensive ideas,” explains Parker, “like, is the mask also a weapon? Can he take something off of the mask? What was funny is we wound up going back to Broom’s original design. All we did was focus on the mask, not the costume. Until we got to Bulgaria we were not sure what he was going to wear until we found on eBay this red hunting jacket and red is a motif. Also, I wanted a cool action figure.”

Adds Burnett: “The origin of our killer is he made himself what he is, he wants his father’s approval. The character of Babyface is someone who consciously decided he was going to become this monster for his father’s film.”

“He loved the movie Wilson was making so much, he wanted to be the killer,” continues Parker. “The other guy who play the killer is gone and Wilson can’t direct and kill at the same time all of the time, so this kid, at an early age, devotes his life to becoming this guy. The reason he looks the way he looks is because he did it to himself. That’s how messed up and dedicated this family is. I’m making the argument for the corruption of youth.”

Switching things up from the norm, Babyface proves to be a bit faster than his cinematic maniac colleagues. Parker relates him to a berserker. A freight train. And he wields a modicum of smarts, too. That certainly gives him an advantage.

“He likes to toy and play with his victims a bit,” Parker smiles. “As far as physicality, he’s got a motif. Because of the name, he’s got a necklace of baby rattles and blocks, so we use that throughout the movie. In the sound mix we use it. [Executive producer] Erik Olsen likened it to the barrels in Jaws, you get that sense he’s there. We’re using sound a lot. There was a discussion of whether we give him a little boy’s laugh or something but they nixed that idea.”

On set, Babyface’s head would be wrapped in a towel at first so the actors didn’t know what they were up against. It wasn’t until shooting that they actually got to see the killer’s porcelain, cracked visage that way their genuine reactions would be caught on film.

With the killer locked down, there was the challenge of casting, especially finding someone who can hit the right notes of madness that Wilson Wyler Concannon exudes. Many names were bandied about, including Werner Herzog, yet there was one name that kept coming up.

“One of the things I thought was great from the time we did the teaser to the time we started casting the movie is that we always talked about wanting to get William Saddler to play Wilson,” says Burnett. “He was Dave’s first choice and we went out after him and we got him. He has a history with Silver Pictures, he was obviously in Die Hard 2 and then he was in the pilot episode of Tales from the Crypt, it was a cool homecoming to have him come back to a Dark Castle project.”

“It was cool, too, because he’s just a solid character actor who does genre stuff, but you never consider him to be a genre guy although he’s done quite a few things,” adds Parker. “I just wanted it to be different. The one factor on why we didn’t go for a Jeff Combs or a Kane Hodder or Robert Englund because the nice thing is we had guaranteed distribution. We didn’t have to worry about that, so we didn’t need a big horror name to sell the movie. We could have other names to help sell it more but we weren’t like, ‘Oh, you have to get a big name.’ It worked out that Sadler got involved and he got to chew some scenery.”

Al Adamson and Jim Van Bebber proved to be the biggest inspirations in informing the Wilson character. Parker describes his attitude as a “do-it-yourself, it’s all for the good of the film. And he has this evanangelical philosophy about film in which true immortality is only really achieved through film because it captures your image.”

Narcissism aside, Wilson also has an affinity for spilling blood on camera and that’s where Parker says he had the most fun. Near the end of principal photography, crew members were called in for a killing spree that would become a part of a larger montage. “We just grabbed them, tossed them in wardrobe then slashed their throat or killed them in whatever ways would end up with a lot of blood,” Parker laughs.

“It was a lot of fun for the crew because it was like, ‘Who’s going to die today?'” says Burnett. “For a horror movie, half of our schedule was at night. Shooting in Bulgaria in the summer, the sun goes down at 10pm and comes up by five the next morning, so to Dave’s credit, we didn’t have a lot of time to shoot. We were able to get those kills and coverage we needed on those hot Bulgarian nights. Raicho Vasilev, who played Babyface, you would ask him to do this scene where he’s cutting someone in half and there’s intestines, he just stuck his face into it and comes up with them in his hands and screaming in character. It was like, this is the kind of movie we should be making, and indeed it was.”

Parker remembers, “There were times crew members would watch what we’re shooting and just shake their head. They couldn’t believe some of the stuff we’re doing. Unfortunately, some of it didn’t make the final cut because I think we went a bit too far. The masturbation scene got a little tough.”

Said masturbation scene sounds like nothing compared to the rape sequence Janet Montgomery had to endure with her Babyface co-star. “It happens in this part of the barn called the instrument of death room,” Burnett describes. “She can work herself up in a real lather screaming and being scared. When Babyface walked into the room for the first time, I think it really unnerved her, she had no idea what he was going to look like. It looks impressive and she was freaked out.” The actress wound up screaming so much, she passed out.

Sadler, a haunting killer, an overexcited actress, guts galore and large studio distribution? That’s an equation that adds up to one hell of a feature film return for Dave Parker. And for aspiring horror filmmakers intimidated by the Hollywood machine, it’s an inspiration story.

The Hills Run Red is enjoying a festival circuit run and will appear at London’s FrightFest this month. For a photo gallery and trailer, click here!




Source: Ryan Rotten, Managing Editor