The Hills Run Red

The Hills Run Red

We horror fans are a pretty dedicated lot. More than nearly any other group of film buffs, gorehounds will spend years tracking down that elusive rare cut of a much loved classic that features twelve extra frames of an eyeball being exploded by a bicycle pump. I've known folk travel huge distances by train, plane and yak-powered tuk-tuk to check out an obscure festival that's showing some long forgotten grindhouse gem just on the off chance that it's an uncut print. Obsessive? Maybe. A bad thing? That depends where it takes you...

Personally, I'm not entirely sure I'd wander into an isolated forest, surrounded by horny rednecks, for a multi-day hike because there might be a chance of discovering a supposedly lost slasher film somewhere in the middle. Call me a wuss, but I prefer to sit in a comfy cinema surrounded by other film fans when I watch a film, not on a rotten log surrounded by raccoons, hungry bears and the imminent threat of anal violation. But that's the difference between me and the character's in Dave Parker's fascinating new film The Hills Run Red. They are hardcore, actively seeking to rediscover a part of horror history no matter where it takes them. By comparison, I am a crybaby noob actively seeking a lovely chair and a large coke - as long as I don't have to drive more than a few miles. Bah.

Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrink) leads the hunt. He's become fixated on The Hills Run Red - a mysterious and enormously bloody 80's slasher film so rare that few even believe it still exists. So focused is he on proving that all copies of the movie were not destroyed, Tyler fails to notice his neglected girlfriend has taken matters into her own thighs by hopping into bed with his best mate.

Tyler tracks down Alexa (Sophie Monk), the daughter of the reclusive director, in the hope that she can help his quest. She turns out to be a hooker with a heart of coke working at a backwoods strip club who feels she can only have a personal conversation whilst giving a lap dance. Poor Tyler.

Alexa agrees to help the gang by leading them through the woods where the movie was made to her father's film vault. But all is not well. As they start moving through familiar locations, Alexa starts having disturbing flashbacks of horrific events related to the movie. Even worse, something appears to be following the group as they head towards their celluloid holy grail. Alarm bells should start ringing when Tyler spots what appears to be Babyface - the villain from the slasher film - in the background of some video he shot, but his focus on finding the lost movie is so great he ignores it. With predictable results.

Or are they? The Hills Run Red reveals pretty early on that it's fully aware of the conventions of horror and isn't afraid to use them to its own ends. Characters have lengthy (and sometimes heavy handed) discussions about the fact that their exploits mirror events in a horror movie, and ensure they head off into the woods with everything they need to protect themselves from knife wielding maniacs. But you can't prepare for everything and the unexpected soon catches up with our heroes, forcing them to confront a disturbing truth.

It's very hard to talk about The Hills Run Red in any great detail without being spoilerific, and I'm wary of giving too much away. Suffice it to say that the movie is very self aware and contains some fairly post-modern twists, particularly in the latter stages. Characters almost find themselves trapped in a battle between old-school slasher movies and modern torture-porn as the film progresses, attacked on all sides with no clear saviour. It sounds like a potential recipe for disaster, and in less assured directorial hands it could be, but Dave Parker keeps his focus and refuses to let the polemic get in the way of the pacing.

Parker has clearly used the time since The Dead Hate the Living wisely, and his increased confidence and skill are on display here. Although he has a serious point to make about the state of modern horror, he's fully aware that it's important that the movie remains entertaining. Part of his argument here is, despite being nasty and filled with ghoulish deaths, slasher movies had a sense of fun all too often absent in so-called torture-porn. For all the post-modern self-referencing, The Hills Run Red is, in part, a call to return to a type of film now seen as old-fashioned. Parker isn't saying all of these mean-spirited modern movies are rubbish - far from it. He's more concerned with these films "raising the bar but lowering the tone" as one character puts it. Gore for gore's sake - cynical, miserablist movies that lack any real human connection or empathy with the characters.

I don't mean to give the impression that Parker is opposed to hard gore in movies. His love of Splatterpunk is indicated not only by the involvement of David Schow on the project, but also by the extremely brutal deaths in the films. So extreme were some of the scenes that Parker was asked to tone down some of the latter sequences before the film could be released. Even in a truncated form, the film is far from tame and some of the implications towards the end are horribly warped. But they're not the sole reason for the movie's existence. Parker is showing us that you can be just as nasty as you want to be but still turn out a movie that has a sense of fun running through it.

It's that spark of fun and enthusiastic energy that make Hills Run Red worth watching. Here we have a film that's used its imagination to focus on more than just revolting ways to kill people, and it's all the better for it. Parker's cinematography is frequently impressive and the attention to detail lifts the project above its contemporaries. A trailer for the video nasty Tyler seeks is shot and aged so it really looks like it was made in the 80s. Posters for fictional films cover the walls of locations, many of such high quality that I'd buy them myself. The big bad killer, Babyface, is beautifully designed, his creepy doll-face mask becoming more battered and shabby throughout the film until he's forced to tie it on with barbed wire.

There are some niggles - dialogue occasionally clunks out of characters mouths rather than flowing, and a few plot points don't really make sense when you think about them in detail. But these are things that Parker will improve upon with time. The potential he showed with The Dead Hate The Living has begun to flourish and I'm sure Dave will present us with a long series of increasingly impressive bloodstained cinematic feasts.

The Hills Run Red deliberately launches different horror genres at each other, then takes the wreckage and assembles it into something subversive and intelligent. It's a film that cherry picks the best features of old and new, splicing them into something original with an evil wink.

Review by Paul Bird

Released by Warner Home Video
Region 2 PAL
Rated 18