HorrorFest 2009: 'The Hills Run Red'
Direct-to-video slasher films can't be good... can they?
Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.
When my first "Masters Of Horror" episode aired, reviews were generally pretty good, but there was a vocal percentage of the audience that immediately accused my partner and I of being "rip-off artists." The particular sources I saw cited most often were Roman Polanski's "The Ninth Gate" and the Theodore Roszak novel Flicker. Thing is, I hadn't read Flicker. I'll cop to having read and admired Throat Sprockets, a great Tim Lucas novel, but even that is something I just admire in terms of taking film seriously as a source of horror, and not as any direct inspiration. I've read Flicker since, and I think it's about two-thousand times more dense and amazing than anything we were trying to do with "Cigarette Burns," but I don't really think they're connected in any way. And the "Ninth Gate" comparison works on a very surface level, but not really on any sort of beat-for-beat comparison. I don't think our story for the show was something groundbreaking... it's a procedural, with supernatural and horrific stops along the way, each one advancing the mystery in some way. Verrrrry basic structure. We grafted on my experiences with the people in the print collecting community and the darkest underbelly of horror fandom, and we tried to figure out a way to tell a globe-trotting mystery on a $2 million budget and ten days to shoot. You know? We didn't create the supernatural mystery looking for an artifact any more than Polanski did, and both of us working in the same basic form doesn't mean one led to the other.
So I'm sensitive to the issue of being accused of borrowing from someone else's work. That's why I didn't respond to any of the early e-mails or messages sent to me saying that there was a film coming out that sounded "just like" our script for "Cigarette Burns." I know how easily stuff like that gets blown out of proportion. And seeing the film, I can say with confidence that what they were trying to do is nothing like what "Cigarette Burns" tried to do. Dave Parker's "The Hills Run Red" is indeed the story of a long-missing film, but aside from that, there's nothing that is similar to my film, and anyone trying to make that case is selling short a genuine attempt to subvert the slasher genre in interesting ways.
I'm not sure I totally understand the writing credits on the film. The script for what we actually see onscreen seems to have been written by David J. Schow, based on the screenplay by John Duombrow and the story by John Carchietta. Whatever the case, the film now tells the story of Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrink), a kid who is obsessed with a long-lost slasher film called "The Hills Run Red." He is determined to make a documentary in which he traces the film back to its maker so that he can finally see it. His only connection at the start of the film is a lead on the filmmaker's daughter, Alexa, who was a little girl when the film was made. Now she's a strung-out stripper played by Sophie Monk, who seems not only willing but postitively impatient to strip at every opportunity in the film. Tyler recruits his girlfriend Serina (Janet Montgomery) and his best friend Lalo (Alex Wyndham) to help him with the documentary, and the first step is to track down Alexa, clean her up so she can remember her past, and then lead her back to the film's locations and, hopefully, to the film itself.
Without going into story details beyond that, let's just say that there are several levels of game playing out at the same time in the movie, and overall, it's an admirable attempt at not only creating a new iconic slasher character, but also commenting on the ones that endure no matter how badly remade or how often sequelized. Dave Parker made a film several years ago with Mike Mendez called (and now it all comes full circle) "Masters Of Horror," which was a documentary about many of the same filmmakers who ended up involved in the Starz/Anchor Bay/Showtime series that I wrote two episodes for, and that documentary was a smart look at the genre and some of its best-known practitioners. You can tell as you watch this that he knows his stuff, and he plays some clever riffs off familiar set-ups.
The film plays rough, so when it keeps jerking you back and forth between what is real or unreal, it works to keep you off-balance, and in the home stretch, when Tyler finally lays eyes on the thing he's been searching for, I like the answers that Parker and his writers offer about the nature of it. It's a good ending to a solid movie, one that is better than much of what Dark Castle has offered up theatrically. It's a shame to dump something that works directly to Warner Premiere, the DVD label, but they've done a nice job of promoting it and getting it out there. And the film benefits in its third act from the arrival of William Sadler as Concannon, the mysterious maker of the original film. His connection to Babyface and then the post-credits coda add up to one of the seediest, dirtiest wrap-ups to a slasher film since "Sleepaway Camp."
Bonus points for an opening title sequence so nasty it made me almost reconsider pressing play.
HorrorFest 2009 runs every day of October 2009.
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