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DVD Review: THE HILLS RUN RED



Studio: Warner Home Video
Year: 2009
Cast: Sophie Monk, William Sadler, Tad Hilgenbrink, Janet Montgomery, Alex Wyndham
Director: Dave Parker
Release Date: September 29, 2009
Rating: R for strong bloody horror violence and torture, grisly images, sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use.
Run Time: 01h:20m:48s
Genre(s): horror

THE HILLS RUN RED

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Maybe I'm just jaded, but I didn't find this overhyped horror flick to be as "shocking" or "unsettling" as suggested. That said, there's enough to appreciate to warrant a viewing.

Movie Grade: B

DVD Grade: B+

Thereís a fantastic movie in The Hills Run Red, unfortunately we only get it in chunks. You see, in 1982, William Wyler Concannon made a low-budget slasher flick (also titled The Hills Run Red) that was so startling in its brutality and gore that it was pulled from theaters almost immediately. Over the years itís become THE elusive Holy Grail for slasher fanatics despite the fact that both the film and its director remain lost in celluloid obscurity.

Little pieces of Concannonís movie-within-a-movie are strewn about The Hills Run Red and itís easily the best thing about the film. From the washed-out, cheapo trailer (all that exists of the fictitious slasher), to dummy posters, lobby cards and, most impressively, a faux, Italian poster, thereís an authenticity here that sells the premise of an old, forgotten horror flick effortlessly. Itís all very cool stuff, easily selling the appeal for a hardcore horror fan (which is important since itís the catalyst for everything that happens here). In fact, the filmmakers did such a brilliant job of creating a ëliving, breathingí lost film, that Iíd much rather see William Wyler Concannonís mislaid movie instead of the sloppy effort we ended up getting with the real deal.

Anyway, if youíre any sort of horror fan, youíll have no problem understanding why Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrink) has become consumed with Concannonís movie. Somehow, he receives a tip that the missing filmmakerís daughter is stripping at a nearby club, so he treks out there to have a chat with her. Alexa Concannon (Sophie Monk) has fallen on hard times, it seems, snorting coke and doing heroin at her every convenience. Reluctantly, she agrees to take Tyler (along with his best friend and girlfriend) back to the spot where The Hills Run Red was shot (after an utterly baffling detoxing sequence, that is) ñ only things do not go according to plan.

You see, the resident slasher on the loose is Babyface, a severely disfigured mountain man with a baby mask affixed to his head via barbed wire. He stalks our unwelcome trespassers as they continue their trek to the directorís house but this is a tiny part of the film. Babyface doesnít show up until well over the halfway point and his killing spree is largely relegated to one extended stalking sequence. Itís one of many missed opportunities plaguing this one, since director Dave Parker doesnít bother with tension of suspense. Instead, our killer shows up, murders a large chunk of people all at once before the film rushes headfirst into its final act (and a series to twists that youíll see coming from the very beginning).

I donít think Iím spoiling anything by revealing that the survivors do get to meet Mr. Concannon (the great William Sadler in a role thatís much too small). The only problem is, like everything else, it feels incredibly rushed. Clocking in at 76 minutes without credits, Iím not sure why The Hills Run Red is in such a rush to tell its story. According to the filmmakers, Warner Bros. did excise about ten minutes of story beats from the film, which could very well explain the somewhat disjointed nature of the piece. The story does deal with some amazingly disturbing themes: incest, child rape, brutal murder ñ this oneís got it all, folks! Itís largely muted, though, going largely unexplored. Nothing beyond a few murder sequences are all that graphic (and those are largely destroyed by distracting CGI). The film never goes as far as it wants to and the end result is an unsatisfying mixture of good and bad elements that largely work against each other. Thereís too much good on display to dismiss it, but almost everything couldíve been handled better.

The script (by genre staple David J. Schow and John Dombrow) earns high marks for creating genuinely believable characters, warts and all. For example, Tylerís girlfriend (Janet Montgomery) treks along with her boyfriend despite having slept with his best friend the night before. I spent a good portion of the film wondering why sheíd bother to go along on the trip until I realized she was more than likely interested in being with the best friend at this point. High marks for some fairly complex character stuff here. This is a slasher movie, after all and most filmmakers donít bother to make us give two shits about fodder.

Unfortunately, elements of the story needed further fleshing to completely hit their mark. For example, the dynamic between the Concannon father and daughter is one of the most important aspects to THRRís final act and yet, itís barely touched on. I canít divulge any more details without spoiling the story, but letís call it underwhelming and leave it at that. But even amidst this weakness, there are things to enjoy. The filmmakers have fashioned one of the plot twists as a funny juxtaposition between the slasher flicks of the 80s and the modern, significantly less fun, wave of ëtorture porní movies. Even when THRR falls a bit short of the finish, the effort on display as admirable.

So if The Hills Run Red is never as clever or smart as it thinks it is, at least itís got something to say about the current state of the horror genre. Best of all? It does so without the none-too-subtle ënudge nudge, wink winkí of the Scream films. Itís a nasty little effort, complete with copious amounts of female nudity (nice to see actresses bare it all in this age of non-exploitative, exploitation flicks) and violence. It boasts a nifty, if underused, killer and a fun turn by William Sadler to keep you trudging through the spots where the bulb doesnít burn so bright.

VIDEO:
Warner opted to sent THRR direct-to-DVD (and yet, releasing is cool, Warner?), retaining the filmís 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Itís a lower budgeted affair so the transfer is ripe with film grain but boasts some nice color saturation and contrast. I was really hoping for a Blu-ray release (complete with uncut footage and higher resolution, but maybe thatís for a later date) but the image quality is pretty satisfying here. The detail isnít quite as impressive as youíd hope for, but thatís more than likely because my eyes have been spoiled by high definition. There mightíve been some slight instances of edge enhancement here and there, but nothing constant or distracting. For now, this is our only opportunity to dig on The Hills Run Red on home video, and itís a satisfying transfer for standard definition.

AUDIO:
The 5.1 Dolby Digital track is pretty effective. Itís a loud movie, complete with gun shots, sound effects and musical stings. Surround speakers are constantly at work, blasting out ancillary sound effects with considerable heft. Dialogue is nicely rendered through the main speaker, maintaining a consistent, pitch-perfect balance. Itís a nice audio presentation that replicates what it wouldíve been like to see this in theaters.

EXTRAS:
The collection of supplemental material isnít expansive, consisting of a commentary track and a making of, but both features are worth checking out for fans of the film. The commentary by director Dave Parker, writer David J. Schow and producer Robert Meyer Burnett consists of a hefty amount of ego-stroking (as indicated by Schow on the commentary), but itís an earnest discussion. These guys are a little too impressed with their film, but they made it so itís understandable. They also dispense enough information to keep fans of the film interested. We learn a little bit about the deleted material (which I really want to see, dammit!) and some of the original ideas that didnít find their way into the film. I liked this commentary and would recommend listening to it if you like the film.

The ëmaking-ofí offers an expansive look at the production, running 30 minutes and features interviews with most of the cast and crew (including Sadler!). Nothing amazing, but a nice diversion.

CONCLUSION:
The Hills Run Red arrives on DVD with a LOT of hype. Sadly, it doesnít necessarily live up to all of it, but Warner Bros. has delivered a solid presentation for you to experience it. Come for the movie and, if you like it, stay for the extras. And Warner, we want the uncut version on Blu-ray, please!

Posted by: Matt Serafini - October 7, 2009, 9:32 am - DVD Review
Keywords: slasher, lost horror, exploitation, sophie monk, william sadler, babyface




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