The Hills Run Red

ON

Now available on DVD

Cast:

Sophie Monk as Alexa

William Sadler as Wilson Wyler Concannon

Tad Hilgenbrink as Tyler

Janet Montgomery as Serina

Raicho Vasilev as Babyface

Directed by Dave Parker

Review:

As the present genre scene continues to be dominated by remakes and reboots of slasher franchises that were past their glory days twenty years ago, The Hills Run Red is a major kick in the ass to all serious connoisseurs of slasher cinema. With a screenplay by pioneering splatterpunk novelist (and Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III screenwriter) David Schow, based on a screenplay by John Dombrow (which in turn was based on a story by John Carchietta), The Hills Run Red is a movie that brings a full-on sick sensibility back to the genre rather than just trying to be a more polished version of movies you’ve already seen a hundred times over. At the same time, it isn’t an example of filmmakers leaving their brains behind, hoping that brutality alone will carry their movie through. Director Dave Parker (The Dead Hate The Living) is clearly every bit as savvy about the slasher genre as Schow is and their combined efforts ensure that for dedicated slasher buffs that there’s gold in these Hills.

To say too much about Hills‘ storyline would be wrong, but it involves the hunt for a notorious, never-seen early ‘80s slasher opus called The Hills Run Red. This long-lost orgy of violence has a reputation that film fanatic Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrinck, of Lost Boys: The Tribe) can’t resist. He’s out to make a documentary about Hills and he drags his best friend Lalo (Alex Wyndham) and girlfriend Serina (Janet Montgomery) into his passion project. The first Hills contact that Tyler zeroes in on is Alexa (Sophia Monk), the daughter of Hills‘ missing director, Wilson Wyler Concannon (William Sadler). Concannon’s little girl is now a junkie who works at a strip joint and talking to Tyler about her father’s legacy is far less important to Alexa than scoring her next fix.

Getting junkie strippers with daddy issues to help rather than be a hindrance takes perseverance but Tyler is not just some chipper film geek; no, he’s a little tweaked himself. Unhealthy obsessions rarely end well, especially in horror movies, and Tyler’s unswerving drive to delve into The Hills Run Red has trouble written all over it. And when he decides to hold Alexa captive until she cleans the junk out of her system so she’ll be a more cooperative guide to the film’s original locations, Hills proves early on that it’s not just another slasher film. This is not just about getting a group of clean-cut, all-American kids out to an isolated location to screw and do drugs while having them stalked by a hulking freak (although this does have that hulking freak thing going on), it’s got some darker psychology to it. Even though getting Alexa clean isn’t exactly a bad thing, Tyler’s methods are still criminal (sorry, you can’t tie someone to a bed against their will just because you need to find out about a movie – although if D.C. Cab was ever lost, extreme, illegal measures might be warranted) and it shows how blinded he is to everything but his obsession. Unfortunately for him, he’s going to find out what being obsessed with The Hills Run Red is really all about.

While some of Hills‘ twists are not so difficult for seasoned movie buffs to anticipate, they way they play out is sharply executed. And even if some of the film’s major plot turns aren’t a surprise, Schow and Parker find other ways to keep long-time slasher fans on their toes. Sometimes a character’s resourcefulness will be unexpected, sometimes a new twisted layer will be added to a character’s motivations – and the film is never about just creating a body count. The carnage that Parker does inflict on his characters is suitably nasty, though – even if the mostly excellent FX work from Ron Karkoska and Mark Villalobos occasionally utilizes some unfortunately obvious CGI (even a flawed practical effect is always easier on the eye than unconvincing CGI).

One element of Hills that’s likely to be met with unanimous enthusiasm, however, is its central killer, the demented juggernaut known as Babyface – by far the best boogeyman to enter the horror scene in ages. Babyface is such a creepy sight to behold that even in the making-of documentary included on the DVD, when we see actor Raicho Vasilev in his street clothes simply trying on the Babyface mask behind the scenes, it’s still unsettling. Heavy-hitters like Jason and Michael Myers haven’t been this disconcerting in years, if ever. I gasped and yelped (yes, yelped) at Babyface’s sudden entrances and his stalking prowess more than I did at anything in the new Halloween or Friday the 13th movies. When crafting a memorable masked killer, finding the right look is everything and Babyface’s frightful appearance is one that was made for nightmares.

Some viewers might find that Hills‘ storyline stretches credulity too far but I enjoyed its depraved excesses and felt that Schow and Parker had placed their film’s action within a stylized universe where some exaggeration is expected. This isn’t striving for the realism of a film like Last House on the Left; it’s still violent and rough but it’s more grotesque – almost in a comic book way – than it is gritty. And some might also find it disappointing that Schow and Parker aren’t interested in telling a straightforward Kids Go Into The Woods, Kids Get Killed story but I was pleased that this wasn’t just a retro exercise in slasher nostalgia. It would’ve been easy for Schow and Parker to simply sic Babyface on the usual hodgepodge of teen and twentysomething stereotypes but they’ve got a far weirder film to offer. While it’s too bad there wasn’t a place for Hills in theaters this Halloween, at least fans can discover it on DVD. Otherwise it might become a lost film, a piece of celluloid myth. And as The Hills Run Red shows, that’s something people can get hurt going after.