MAY 6, 2009
It’s rare I see two great movies in a row at all, let alone for Horror Movie A Day, but Dave Parker’s The Hills Run Red is, like Dread, a much-needed shot in the arm for its respective sub-genre (in this case, the slasher). Effectively combining an old school slasher’s pace with modern sensibilities (i.e. hardcore gore and some brief “torture”), it’s the type of slasher that should be playing in a big movie theater, and I’m glad I got the theatrical experience.
And it’s even about a slasher movie! Seems there is a lost slasher film called "The Hills Run Red", and our hero, Amusement’s Tad Hilgenbrink (faring far better here, obviously), wants to make a documentary about it. He tracks down the director’s daughter, and she offers up where it was filmed. Things, of course, don’t go as planned. Folks die, blood is spilled... all in the manner we slasher films demand often and rarely receive nowadays.
What I dug about the movie was the structure. It’s not wall to wall kills; in fact the body count is surprisingly low even when the mayhem begins. Like Halloween or Hatchet, we get to know our characters for a while before they start getting offed, and that’s the way I like it. In a sequel, they can get away with having a bit less in that department, because we already know the killer, the general way it plays out, etc. But for part one, I want a formal introduction to the world and its inhabitants, and David Schow’s script gives us just that.
I also love how they truly sell the idea of "The Hills Run Red" (the movie in the movie version) being a real film. We get a wonderfully cheesy trailer, old posters, lobby cards, even a foreign title! And through Horror Movie A Day, the idea of a movie that no one seemingly knows about is pretty plausible to me, given how many movies I see that have no other reviews online, or anything but the most basic information on its IMDb page. Since the film provides the backbone of THIS film, it is crucial that they sell it as fully and completely as possible, and Parker and co. have easily succeeded.
Another I require for my slashers is a memorable killer. The best way to judge is “Would I want an action figure of this guy?”, and for this film the answer is YES. Babyface is a visually arresting killer, with his cracked baby mask and bright red coat, and I loved that he was of average height. Nothing wrong with a giant, physically imposing slasher, but keeping him down to normal size gives him an extra bit of realism. At first I was worried about the mask, as there have been other slashers with “doll” faces of late, but those other, lesser killers never even crossed my mind as soon as Babyface made his first appearance. He’s of the deformed backwoods variety, but he’s also intelligent, which is a terrifying concept to me: this new breed of inbred mutant killer can THINK!
Now, as the movie isn’t out yet (it’s playing festivals throughout the summer - see it if you can at one! - before hitting DVD in time for Halloween), I won’t spoil anything, but I will say this - there are two little moments with Babyface that are so fucking brilliant (and in one case, downright chilling) that I can’t believe they haven’t been done before. Even if you’re the world’s most jaded horror fan, I DEFY you to not give your approval for these two moments.
And that ties into the movie’s best strength: the surprising third act. There’s a plot twist that you might see coming, but I think it’s intentionally a bit obvious. It throws you off track a bit, so you’re like “oh yeah, I saw that coming”, which allows you to be truly surprised by the real twists that follow. The last 25-30 minutes of the film has more than its share of unexpected moments, in terms of what Babyface does, who survives, etc., resulting in the most satisfying finale I can recall in recent memory. The slasher film is, to even its biggest defenders, one based primarily on following a fairly strict formula, so it’s to Schow and Parker’s credit that they have found a wonderful balance that allows them to surprise the audience without going so far off track that it’s no longer a slasher film; embracing it while giving it their own unique spin.
I also love how it has moments to applaud on both sides of the coin. You cheer for a character’s clever way of escaping from Babyface, and then you cheer again when their plan falls apart. I actually like these characters (especially the hero - a plot point about his dedication to doing what he loves costing him dearly struck a particular nerve with me), but Babyface is such a great slasher that I couldn’t help but want him to get his way.
It measures up on the technical level as well. While it may have modern sensibilities in terms of the gore, the editing and direction don’t follow suit (i.e. no Avid farts or quick-cut editing that leaves you disoriented). Parker seems born to handle this type of material (and he used the 2.35 ratio!) and I loved how the “movie in the movie” scenes had their own unique style, as it was supposed to be the work of a different director - a nice little detail that I hope isn’t missed when the film starts to play for audiences. It’s also a fairly colorful movie, even during the night scenes. Babyface’s red jacket always sticks out, of course, but the surrounding atmosphere isn’t just the same browns and dark yellows of some other recent horror films.
Any caveats? Well, there’s a groan inducing “If this was a horror movie” scene, but it pays off well enough to warrant a pass. Still, I think we need to retire this type of dialogue forever. Even in this unique setting (i.e. the movie is ABOUT a slasher movie, something even Scream can’t claim), it’s just too overused at this point. Luckily, it’s the only such type of humor (well, another character makes a joke about “torture films”, but that’s not the same thing. And it’s fucking hilarious to boot). And Tad learns of the daughter’s whereabouts from his friend, which seems just convenient enough to get the plot going - how did HE know where she was, when Tad’s the one devoting his life to researching every aspect about this movie? I would have liked something a little less shoehorn-y for such a crucial plot development.
But really, my only problem is that since the film is a half a year from release, it’s gonna be a long goddamn wait until Babyface gets to slay again in Hills Run Red 2. The setup for the film allows plenty of room for both prequels and sequels (or, though this might be a better DVD feature - the actual "The Hills Run Red" movie, either of which would be fine by me. Warner now has two great horror movies on their hands (the other being Trick R’ Treat), and while it pains me that neither of them are getting wide releases, it feels good to know that Saw MCMXVII won’t be our only option come Halloween time.
There have been a lot of original slasher movies lately, all with their own merits, but also all with their own weak spots. The Hills Run Red breaks that mold - it gets everything right. Kudos to Parker and everyone else involved for providing irrefutable proof that it’s possible to make a rock solid ORIGINAL slasher film some 30+ years after the genre was born.
What say you?