In spite of the poor cover art that makes The Hills Run Red appear to be a banal direct-to-video production (well…), this Dark Castle film may be the company’s most coherent and dramatically stable production, and it delivers the goods in grotesque gore and direction that isn’t all flash and music montages.
Director Dave Parker, whose background is mostly as an editor of featurettes, occasional scriptwriter (Uwe Boll’s House of the Dead), and director (The Dead Hate the Living!) does a credible job in creating a tonal shift from a self-conscious horror satire to a Grand Guignol celebration of mad, inbred families. The scriptwriters (and maybe one of the five necessary producers) must have had fun creating a plot where ludicrously naïve film geeks stalk Alexa (frequently naked Sophie Monk), the daughter of cult filmmaker Concannon (William Sadler) for their own cash-in DVD documentary, only to become the subjects of an epic torture porn-snuff film.
The problem with Hills is that, while it’s another attempt to celebrate the grungy, sadism of seventies slashers by actually showing the nastiness that classics like Texas Chainsaw Massacre only fleetingly revealed – a girl is torn to shreds, a child scissors off most of his baby face - the increasing stupidity of the kids make it hard to feel sympathy for anyone except daughter Alexa, until she’s forces an easily guessed reveal that turns the film into a rambling final act.
Most of the violence is played for fun, and that does separate Hills from generic torture porn crud, but there’s also areas where the film shows the occasional weird seam that makes one believe some material was shorn for both pacing, as well as tempering a bit of ugliness. A good example is where Serina (Wrong Turn 3’s Janet Montgomery), the girlfriend of wannabe director Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrink), is about to be raped by Concannon’s mutant son (a la The Hills Have Eyes 2), an act that isn’t completed in the final cut, but was actually accomplished and apparently left on the cutting room floor, as evidenced in behind the scenes footage in the DVD’s making-of featurette.
There’s also the denouement where each film geek is brutalized: one has his guts sliced open; another is left to die (presumably) after watching Concannon’s ‘lost’ horror masterpiece; and a third is shown to be a newly christened member of Concannon’s wingnut family, albeit as intercut footage in the end credit sequence (a really dumb place for the actual ending, given most audiences never bother to stay for the end credit roll).
The best material lies in the first third where young Tyler tracks down the daughter of cult director Concannon. It’s where the mythology of a long-missing director is nicely built up and has the audience also wonder whether Concannon may have been killed by a criminal element? Did he become a victim of his own cult success? And why have all copies of his film disappeared, except for a ratty trailer?
There’s also Alexa Concannon, whose familial loss and poor sense of self-worth has taken her down a sleazy road as a heroine addicted striptease artist. She treks with the film geeks to key mountain locations where the mysterious cult film was shot, and stops now and then to answer horribly facile questions that would never support even a throwaway DVD featurette.
Those scenes are only held together by the able performance by Monk (Sex and Death 101) as a wounded soul who feels obligated to participate in the group’s pitiful documentary as a thanks to Tyler for detoxifying her from heroine and freeing her from the peeler bar, and perhaps as a means to face personal demons in the hopes of moving forward.
The Big Reveal in the final third unfortunately transforms the film’s most compelling character into a screechy nutter, prone to fits of fury and sadism, and the last scenes becomes a tediously constructed struggle among bonkers family members until one person is left standing with the big knife.
Gore fans will probably appreciate the nasty violence, but pulling off any level of Grand Guignol is incredibly tough, and there’s nothing more dull that watching mad hatters and mutants squabble on end, which only makes the audience as well as the characters suffer further.
To read an interview with composer Frederik Wiedmann, click HERE.
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan