A few months back, I reviewed a direct to DVD horror release called The Last Resort. Stuck for words about the film’s confusing plot and shaky logic, I started pontificating about the differences between this generation’s direct-to-DVD horror releases and their spiritual heirs, the low-budget sci-fi films of the fifties. I commented that something sincere had been lost between now and then, and now, with The Hills Run Red, I have had that idea exemplified in a way far more eloquent than I stated then. It’s not that the movie is especially good, because it isn’t, but in its aspirations towards wit and its slavish devotion to the slasher films of yesteryear, it reveals more about the gradual shift in horror’s values than an essay or review probably ever could.
According to the opening title graphics, The Hills Run Red came out in the early 1980s, and was almost immediately pulled from theaters due to its graphic and disturbing nature (to my knowledge, this has never, ever happened for such a reason in real life). Only a trailer and a few frames of the film exist, further perpetuating its myth among culture buffs and film nerds. One of said film nerds, Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrink), a typically verbose film school loser, sets out on a mission with girlfriend Serina (Janet Montgomery) and friend Gabe (Mike Straub), to uncover the mystery of the film and its director Wilson Wyler Concannon (William Sadler). The first stop on his trip is Concannon’s daughter, Alexa (Sophie Monk), who has been in hiding for years, and, in true direct-to-DVD form, works as a stripper. After some convincing by Tyler, she agrees to take them to the original site where the movie was filmed, but as it turns out, they might find out more about the film than they had originally planned…What am I saying? Of course, they do. There wouldn’t any movie if they didn’t.
The clear high point of the film takes place early on, when the original trailer for The Hills Run Red is shown. In style and tone, it readily evokes Thanksgiving, the fake trailer that Eli Roth created for the film Grindhouse. It’s gross, it’s funny, and it perfectly captures everything that was ridiculous and endearing about early 80s slasher films, in spite of their general misogyny and ineptitude. Everything beyond that, however, is very much a direct-to-DVD horror release, and I think you know exactly what I mean by that. The production values are substandard, the performances are apathetic, and the writing feels like it could have used some Hollywood hack to finesse it into some kind of shape. But at every turning point, there is a reminder that this film is indeed a tribute to films that are, for varying reasons, remembered very fondly by a great many people today (how else do you explain the fact that Platinum Dunes is still in business today?). The primary reason for this, one can only surmise, is the degree of sincerity inherent to most of those productions, or at least the ones that are still being circulated today. Even if few of them were actually any good (and those that were have been amply rewarded with two decades’ worth of merchandising sales), most of them possessed a sort of Ed Wood-esque sense of shooting for the moon; that every emotion was important, every jump scene was truly terrifying, and that each broad stereotype saw deeply into the human condition. Maybe what’s gone, after years and years of Sundances and independent hullabaloo, is the notion that a film could truly change the world. It’s entirely possible that one couldn’t, but it’s doubtless that it made every low budget scream from Robot Monster to Friday the 13th endearing, even as they were pathetically hilarious.
I recognize, as I look over this that I did little to critique the film itself, and honestly, I really didn’t need to. I’ve seen a number of horror releases for this website, and it’s safe to say that they all bleed into one another after you’ve seen all of two of them. The characters become indistinguishable, the set-ups become pointless, and the kills become routine. While it may have a little more going on upstairs than the average slasher film, it’s still defiantly lacking in character, which absolutely no amount ‘nudge nudge wink wink’ will replace.
DVD Bonus Features
The disc also features a commentary with director Dave Parker, writer David J. Schow, and producer Robert Myer Burnett, as well as the documentary It’s Not Real Until You Shoot It: Making The Hills Run Red.
"The Hills Run Red" is on sale October 29, 2009 and is rated R. Horror. Directed by Dave Parker. Written by John Carchietta and John Dombrow. Starring Sophie Monk, William Sadler, Tad Hilgenbrink, Mike Straub, Janet Montgomery.