The Hills Run Red

Watch out Jason and Michael. There's a brand new slasher on the block...

I’ve always had a lot of time for slasher films. I know they aren’t particularly big or clever, but when they’re done right you end up with something truly magical like John Carpenter’s Halloween. And even when they aren’t done that well, you can still end up with something entertaining like the Friday the 13th series (there’s just something about the Voorhees clan that tickles my fancy) or even a My Bloody Valentine (either the original or the goofy 3D remake). So my interest was quickly piqued by the press release for Dark Castle Entertainment’s The Hills Run Red, a brand new slasher with a script by ‘splatter-punk’ author David J. Schow that was being touted as ‘a smart twist on extreme horror, with more blood, torture and suspense than ever before’.

'Down with this sort of thing!'
Bold claims to be sure. So what does the film actually deliver? It seems that back in 1982 a sickeningly gory little horror film called The Hills Run Red was released, but proved so disgusting that it was almost immediately pulled from cinemas and all copies of the movie were destroyed. Around the same time the cast and director seemingly disappeared from the face of the world, and the movie has only lived on in the form of word-of-mouth and a scratchy old trailer that has resurfaced on the internet.

Cut to the present day and we’re introduced to film student Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrink), a young horror fan obsessed with tracking down the movie and anybody involved in it. After discovering that the director’s daughter Alexa (Sophie Monk) now works as a stripper, Tyler convinces her to help with his search and, with the aid of girlfriend Cerina (Janet Montgomery) and best mate Lalo (Alex Wyndham), they set out to try and track down the last surviving copy of the movie. But when their road trip is interrupted by ‘Baby Face’, the killer from the original film, things start to get very, very ugly.

Surprising developments
Okay, so in terms of brass-tacks storytelling, The Hills Run Red doesn’t appear to offer anything particularly original. It’s the same old story of a group of teens in an isolated rural location being hunted by a deranged murderer. But, without wanting to give away some major twists, the story develops in some surprising ways that helps keep the on-screen action feeling a little more fresh. That said, you sometimes get the feeling that the film isn’t quite as smart as it seems to think it is.

While there are plenty of asides towards the end that will keep cineastes grinning, it also seems to be rather confused about any point it is making about screen violence and its effect on audiences. Especially when the film is so keen to splash blood and gore all over the screen.

A bigger problem, but still not a major one, is that of the performance from lead actor Tad Hilgenbrink. He rarely seems to embody the cinematic passion we hear so much about and ultimately gives a rather flat performance. Thankfully, the tremendous Sophia Monk is never far away, lending the movie a wonderful dash of spice that is lacking elsewhere.

Low budget visuals
Denied a cinema release, The Hills Run Red has taken the straight-to-DVD route, but still holds up rather well. Even if it won’t ever win any awards for beauty, the anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer does a pretty good job with the film’s low-budget visuals, with stable colours and solid blacks throughout. There’s a fair amount of noise in the image, but that appears to be the fault of the source material, rather than any technical glitches with the disc itself. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is actually a little better, with some reasonable directional effects and steering during the latter scenes. However, given that a fair amount of the first middle act consists of people talking directly to camera (Tyler is documenting the journey as they go), you shouldn’t really expect too much from it.

Natural breasts
There are only a couple of extra features included on the disc, but both of them are well worth checking out. It’s Not Real Until You Shoot It: Making The Hills Run Red is a surprisingly informative 28min featurette looking at the making of the movie and featuring plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew. Better still is the feature-length audio commentary by director Dave Parker, writer David J. Schow and producer Robert Meyer Burnett. The trio provide a detailed account of the film’s production history, peppered with interesting anecdotes (such as details about a major sequence featuring Janet Montgomery that was cut from the film, but which could one day surface in an extended cut) and amusing asides (as when Schow praises the filmmakers for choosing two leading ladies with natural breasts while watching their nude scenes).

While it doesn’t re-define the slasher genre, The Hills Run Red is still an entertaining slice piece of gore-strewn horror with a bit more brains than you might expect. And despite its budget price, Warner Home Video’s DVD release does it proud.

Warner Home Video, R2 DVD, £13 approx, On sale now