The Hills Run Red (2009)

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?


  1. Ill be first in line, I had to stop myself at times to make sure I didnt spoil anything. Looking forward to it after the review!

  2. ....So does this mean you liked the film??
    Just kidding, sounds promising, I'll be sure to check it out, hoping the studios don't go "Trick R Treat" on this one too..

  3. Well I say hot damn! Definitely need to be on the lookout for this.

  4. Yay! I'm so excited for this one now! :D

  5. I rented this at B-buster today based solely on this review. I have to say I was disappointed. The acting was terrible and the plot seemed confused. If The Hills Run Red was a finished motion picture that was pulled from theatres, what was with the dialogue near the end (spoilers) "I just found out why your father never finished the film...he's still filming it!" Also what the fuck was with Sophie Monk hiring hit men on a whim at the gas station? Where did she get shotguns loaded with blanks? How did she know those guys would be down with robbing/killing the film crew? If they were just acting and knew the shotgun was loaded with blanks, why did they try to use it on Babyface?(/spoilers)

    And I didn't buy The Hills Run Red as a movie. It was going for the 70's feel (which would make sense) but it was made in '89 (according to dialogue it was made 20 years ago) That’s the year of Jason Takes Manhattan, Halloween 5 and lest we forget SHOCKER! Maybe it’s just me but I have a problem believing the Me decade produced the most disturbingly violent horror film ever made.

    I guess the thing I’m most disappointed in is the failure to deliver on the premise. It seems a few horror movies have half assed this interesting premise a couple of times now (Midnight Movie for one) but no one can deliver. For all it’s bullshit posturing and lame dialogue about how you “live film” and all that bullshit the movie doesn’t say anything genuine about horror movies, why we watch or make horror movies, or why some of us (ahem) dedicate so many waking hours to them.

    However, I was pleasantly surprised by Sophie Monk's tatties, so it balanced out.

  6. Hills Run Red is a piece of shit! I rented this turd cause of your review. The acting is terrible, lighting is shit, story is dumb. This movie is everything that is wrong with horror. It seems that horror is now ruled by these fan geeks and I don't get it. The fake movie inside the movie was just stupid and looked like just awful. Dude, you really need to take a step back and watch the movies again. Even if he is a friend of yours. It's still a pile of shit and you should tell him. So he doesn't make the same mistake again.

  7. 'twas fairly good, BUT...

    At some point in the plot, the film-within-a-film went from being a "withdrawn and lost" movie to an "unfinished" movie - which is it?; the latter is the only version which makes sense for the last 20 mins of the story, but all the other stuff (trailer, posters, lobby cards, interview with a guy who saw the movie at a drive through) means it HAS to have been a finished film.

    A couple of quick insert shots from a second unit team could have easily fixed this by mentioning an unfinished sequel (por that the original was somehow accidentally released unfinished - hence the withdrawal) could have fixed this easily and it's a real shame it was left in this state.

    The movie-within-a-movie looked great though - the kind of thing you pick up at the supermarket, with "PREVIOUSLY BANNED!!!" written on it in bigger letters than it's actual title.

  8. this movie was fairly terrible. a low budge dud that tries really hard.

  9. I actually really wanted this to be good because of the whole plot idea behind it, but I had to turn it off because of the really bad acting job by pretty much everyone involved. Maybe I'll try again at some point.

  10. I liked the film, but definitely not for the faint of heart due to the graphic gore content. I disagree with some comments that the scenes were poorly lighted or shot. On the contrary, the director made really good use of outdoor scenery and gloomy indoor sets to improve the overall experience. If you are quibblling about script inconsistencies or believability, try to make the case for any slasher film. Leave your sense of credibility at the door and enjoy a fairly decent film about horror films.

  11. The film made it pretty clear that the film was originally finished and pulled from theatres but as the plot progressed, the reason it was pulled was becuase the director felt he hadnt finished it and was continuing to make it up till now.

    Not the greatest film ever made but definitely a nice surprise in a sea of same-as carbon copy horror movies. Some really nice touches "You can keep on singing if you want"...

  12. I think people are being a bit too harsh on this one. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as you seem to, BC, but I definitely liked it. The acting was a little cheesy, but still better than a lot of movies of this ilk. Although, I admit it took a bit for me to take someone who once played Stifler in an American Pie Band Camp movie seriously.

    I thought it successfully blended slasher, torture, and a little bit of survival horror all together nicely. And it definitely delivered on being disturbing and gorey. I liked how the first scene came right at you, but then it backed off for a while to get to know the characters and waited awhile to come back to the gore and disturbing imagery. And the very ending was creepy and awesome, in my opinion.

    I'm curious to know which two moments you're talking about specifically in regards to Babyface, BC. Now that the movie's widely available, care to share more about that?

  13. This is the third movie I have seen in the last year with the exact same lame-ass ending.

  14. Here are the two moments (I'm guessing):

    1. Babyface subverts the premise of guns being effective anti-slasher weapons by shooting the character who made the claim, with his own gun.
    2. Babyface subverts the mangled slasher childlike archetype by responding to the girl's attempt at motherly chicanery with, "you can keep singing... if it makes you feel better."

    I LOVED both of those moments. I also loved how many twists and turns there were and how surprising the ending was. Yeah, the acting wasn't all that great, and the characters weren't very likable (though I did warm to them as the movie progressed) but the writing and direction more than made up for it.

    The only misstep with the mystique of the film within the film was casting William Saddler as the director. That destroyed any possibility that the film was actually real (duh, of course it wasn't, but it's nice to wonder for microseconds here and there.) On the other hand, any excuse to cast William Sadler is a good one.

    I was also happy that this wasn't a "found footage" film. I suspect that original drafts or ideas of the film had it as that. I could be wrong, but I'm glad they resisted the urge.

  15. Hey there man, I just finished watching the movie. I'm not really into horror but it had it's moments.. and then it had really really cliche parts. I know the characters aren't all that likable but I would have wanted the main character and his girl to SPOILER: survive? meh maybe I'm too optimistic and don't give a shit about a TWISTED ending but there's that ending that is annoying to me

    I thought the ending was pretty bullshit, although it opens new doors, I'll probably just read a summary of a possible sequel (because a prequel sounds boring to me honestly). All in all, it was alright, but I wouldn't suggest it to anyone, or sit through it again.

  16. Bad movie. Very. Bad

  17. I can't believe you thought this movie was good!! I watched it because of your review. And oh my goodness was it terrible. Even the worst Hollywood slasher films have better directing, script, dialogue, and acting than this. It took too long to build up to the encounter. If the intro takes 40 mins of the total film it better makes every second counts toward intensifying the atmosphere. Yes the monster looked terrifying but his action made no logical sense. For the whole time he acted mentally handicapped then suddenly he talked like a normal person to the girl during the capture scene. Then he was tricked into killing his father? Towards the end those so called plot twists simply became downright silly. Just... awful. Wow the worst, most ridiculous horror I've ever seen.


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