After sitting through The Hills Run Red for the first time, I wasn’t sure if I’d just witnessed yet another example of shamelessly derivative torture porn, or a clever and surreptitious parody of said genre. I watched the film again, and, to be honest, I’m still not sure. On the one hand, the film displays all of the hallmarks of your run-of-the-mill torture flick, with ample amounts of barbed wire, gruesome implements of torment, and elements of snuff and voyeurism. On the other hand, The Hills Run Red is also something of a throwback slasher, with a Leatherface inspired “heavy” in a doll mask, ample amounts of nudity courtesy of the lovely Sophie Monk, and an assortment of clever kills and over-the-top violence that's as chuckle-inducing as it is stomach churning. It’s a schizophrenic mess, really, but it’s one that I quite enjoyed nonetheless.
Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrink) is an fanatical horror fan/film student who is a walking encyclopedia of shock cinema trivia. His current obsession is a little seen horror film from the 1980’s called The Hills Run Red. The mysterious film, directed by the equally enigmatic Wilson Wyler Concannon (William Sadler), had a brief theatrical run before it was pulled from theaters, and, as legend has it, all prints were destroyed. All that remains are a handful of publicity stills Through tireless research, Tyler manages to find a few leads that could help him track down the elusive film, and enlists his girlfriend, Serena (Janet Montgomery) and Lalo (Alex Wyndham), to help him to document his quest.
Tyler’s main lead is Concannon’s daughter, Alexa (Sophie Monk), who appeared in the film as a child, and is now a strung out dancer just outside the city limits. Tyler tracks her down, and pleads his case, but Alexa isn’t moved. She’s met dozens of people like him, each desperate to find her father’s film, and she wants no part of it. She tells Tyler that her father’s been dead for ten years, and, as far as she’s concerned, the film died with him. Not one to take no for an answer, Tyler holds her prisoner in her motel room until she sobers up. After a few days in her motel, Alexa warms up to Tyler, and agrees to take him to her childhood home where she’s certain her late father kept the reels of his film.
Tyler, Serena, Alexa, and Lalo make the trip to the Concannon home, stopping at locations where the film was shot along the way, and interviewing locals about The Hills Run Red. As they get closer to their destination, however, Alexa starts remembering bits and pieces about the production of the film, and even begins to “see” the film’s antagonist, “Babyface”, in the woods around them. When the group leave their vehicle behind and begin the long hike to the isolated house, it soon becomes clear that they are not alone, and that the film Tyler has been so desperate to see is actually still in production, with he and his friends taking on the starring roles.
Dave Parker’s The Hills Run Red doesn’t break any new ground, but I think that’s precisely the point: Parker seems to be recycling bits culled over the decades of horror cinema and pasting them all together into some sort of comedic cautionary tale. Tyler is the consummate gorehound, who can never get enough of the red stuff. He’s the guy that complains about the dismemberments looking phony, and the blood not being the right color. He and his friend, Lalo, are always looking for the bigger, badder, bolder, and bloodier, and, with The Hills Run Red, they think they’ve found it. The jokes on them, however, when it turns out that it’s all very real. It’s as if Parker is turning the camera on all of us, and saying “if you want blood, you got it”, luring us in with sex and style and all of the things horror fans hold dear, and, when it comes time for Tyler (as well as the viewer) to finally catch a glimpse of the film within the film, Parker sweeps the rug out from under us with a dénouement that is at once infuriating and entirely appropriate.
While I appreciated the subtext and execution, I can’t overlook some of the film’s glaring weaknesses, most of which revolve around a pair of less-than-convincing performances from Hilgenbrink and Wyndham. Hilgenbrink, in particular, lacks the charisma and passion one would expect from an obsessive “visionary” film buff like Tyler. I didn’t expect Sophie Monk to do much more than look really hot, but she surprised me, here, and shows she’s not just eye candy. The same can be said for the lovely Janet Montgomery, although much of her screen time is spent cowering in fear and/or screaming. The ever-reliable William Sadler shows up briefly for a dose of his patented crazy, but it’s not much more than a glorified cameo.
Warner Brothers releases The Hills Run Red on DVD with a very pleasing 2.35:1 transfer that offers robust colors, solid blacks, and a pristine image overall. The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track is equally impressive, with an all-encompassing surround mix that proved quite immersive. Extras include a commentary by director, Parker, producer, Robert Meyer Burnett, and writer, David J. Schow, as well as a better than average behind-the-scenes featurette entitled "It's Not Real Until You Shoot It.”
The Hills Run Red will no doubt appeal to fans of brutal horror flicks even though it’s fairly obvious that Parker and Schow are having a bit of fun at the expense of said audience’s blood lust, (and poking fun at the torture porn sub-genre in general). While the performances are a bit spotty, the production values are otherwise well above what one is used to seeing in a direct-to-DVD film, making The Hills Run Red a pleasant (or unpleasant, depending on how you’re wired) surprise, and a film well worth checking out.