Exclusive: Dave Parker & Robert Burnett Talk The Hills Run Red
Tuesday, September 29th, is a big day for director Dave Parker and producer Robert Burnett. Their gritty horror flick The Hills Run Red (review here) will finally be hitting DVD shelves after a three-year long journey to get to this point.
Along the way a lot of things changed, including most of the script and the studio behind the project. One thing didn’t - the fact that it seems like both Parker and Burnett were destined to make this film.
Burnett said, “Making The Hills Run Red was a weird self-reflexive thing for us as we’ve been documentarians together for a while now. We are Tyler and Lalo (two of the lead characters in The Hills Run Red). We’d be the first guys in the forest - I could totally see us doing exactly what they did.”
Parker and Burnett have been working a long time side-by-side in the production of DVD special features, including cutting trailers and scenes and working on featurettes. In 2006 both were approached by Fever Dreams (alongside a group of other talented individuals) for two different horror projects - Wicked Lake and The Hills Run Red.
Both Burnett and Parker immediately took to the slasher concept of The Hills Run Red.
“I just came right into the project and started writing down notes on how I would change the story,” said Parker. “We had Mike Broom do some conceptual designs for us so we could create a preliminary look for the killer Babyface. The look of the killer was important to me. I wanted to create a look that would stand alongside all the other iconic faces in horror.”
Despite loving the idea of Babyface and tackling the serial killer horror subgenre, both Burnett and Parker knew that they needed to make some changes to The Hills Run Red.
Burnett said, “Neither one of us liked the original script we were presented - it just seemed too much like Scream. It was too reflective. Fever Dreams was open to us changing the script so we talked about bringing in David J. Schow to rework the script.”
“The basic elements of the original script are that you have one person obsessed with a missing film and the killer of Babyface. That’s it,” explained Parker. “Originally, our four leads were all student filmmakers shooting a sequel to the lost movie. There was no daughter character for the director. We changed everything up top to bottom.”
“It was important to me that we didn’t do the same thing again that people have seen a hundred times in a slasher movie. Schow is the most talented writer in the genre, and I was thrilled with where he went with everything. We just gave him some of our ideas and he really ran with it,” Parker added.
The Hills Run Red still keeps to the ideals of the slasher flicks of the 80s but takes a lot of those conventions and turns them on their heads. It was important to both Burnett and Parker, as genre fans, to not retread over a horror subgenre that has been well traversed over the last thirty-plus years.
“When you have a slasher movie with a bunch of kids going off into the woods, it’s nice that they have a reason this time around,” explained Parker. “It’s not just them running off to go screw, get drunk and do drugs. I think it makes it a little more entertaining for audiences, and it’s different than the average slasher movie. I wanted to play against what the audience would generally expect but didn’t want to disappoint them by giving them way more than they expected either. I like that fans can’t really anticipate where the movie is going.”
Establishing character development was another important aspect of The Hills Run Red for both Parker and Burnett. The idea of creating characters that the audience could engage with and want to follow was important to them, especially since a lot of slasher films these days offer up very one-dimensional characters that you generally don’t really care about their journey or their fate by the end of the film.
Parker said, “We tried to give the story a good build-up like in 80s movies so that audiences can see the characters come along and have their hero moments, too. We approached this movie by working on the psychology of all the characters so that you’d understand what their motivations were.”
“For example, Babyface grew up watching horror films just like Concannon made. Rather than identifying with characters like Indiana Jones, he relates to someone like Jason Voorhees. So you see him at the beginning of The Hills Run Red consciously making the choice to become this kind of character,” added Parker.
Even though Parker was on board and working alongside Schow on the script, Fever Dreams was still a little nervous about Parker’s abilities as a director. So Parker and Burnett filmed and cut together a teaser trailer (see below) to give the studio an idea of just why Parker’s vision for The Hills Run Red was the perfect fit.
“In the script you have a family that is always watching movie footage and they need an audience, but you know they’re not going out and showing it to normal audiences, right?,” explained Parker. “In other slasher movies Jason has a shrine to his mother, Michael creates a display of his sister, and so why not have our killer make his own private theater? Fever Dreams liked that concept a lot. What you see in the teaser is a little different than what’s in the movie though.”
Burnett and Parker shot the teaser trailer in March, 2007, during a day-long shoot. While shooting, a very special guest came down to check out the filming - director Bryan Singer.
“Bryan came down and was impressed by what Dave was doing. He saw it and asked why were we doing this movie with Fever Dreams for $350,000 only because with that budget, we’d never really be able to reach our vision. He said we should take it to Warner Bros. Right then Bryan made a phone call to Diane Nelson, and she agreed to meet with us,” said Burnett.
From there Dark Castle got on board, and both Burnett and Parker were a bit relieved to be working with a budget that, while still small in terms of major motion pictures, was a sizable amount in comparison to the original budget. The duo, along with Schow, were going to have the opportunity to present their gritty slasher vision the way they wanted to. Or at least that’s what they initially thought.
“There is an uncut version. but it probably won’t get released because it does mix sex and violence,” explained Parker. “The original version more than pushed the boundaries. Let’s just say there was a character that was Concannon’s wife, and we had to cut her out of the film because he ultimately kills her while having sex with her. A lot of the cut scenes are on the level of where the European horror films are these days.”
Burnett said, “Schow doesn’t flinch from the dark side of humanity in this script or in anything he does. I mean, there is an incestuous relationship in the film which is hard enough to feature as a storyline. The scenes that were cut were honestly beyond the pale. Our on-set doctor walked off the set in disgust at one point.”
So why shoot these horrific scenes if they weren’t going to be used? Director Parker offers up an explanation as to why the studio asked for changes in the end.
“Initially we were pushed to make The Hills Run Red as nasty as we could,” explained Parker. “I was a little hesitant at first, but once you start shooting, you just dive in and you do it. When you don’t pull any punches, as a director you get protective. The studio was protecting the product as a whole where, as a director, I was protecting aspects of it.”
“Ultimately the studio might be right with these cuts so we had to make the storytelling work without the missing pieces. We were supposed to have an unrated cut, but there was a policy change at the studio so, for now, we just have the version that’s being released on DVD,” Parker added.
Delving into the darker side of horror but still maintaining an entertaining aspect to it was very important to both Burnett and Parker. Making a movie that not only offers up the violence that fans expect but takes things deeper was part of a fine line that Parker walked as a director.
One of the scenes Parker initially questioned involved the rape of one of the female leads.
“The rape scene was honestly hard to shoot and even harder for Janet (Montgomery), but she was a trooper through the whole process,” explained Parker. “For me, this was a guy in a mask so the rape has an otherworldly aspect to it. Even though it’s nasty and takes the film to a darker level, I still think there’s a fantasy aspect to it so I don’t think it goes too far. If we went farther in showing what happened (the movie ultimately cuts away from the act itself), I still wonder if it would it have been too much for audiences.”
Parker added, “I don’t want to make ugly movies. I want there to still be a bit of a roller coaster ride to my film so I don’t want the audience to walk away feeling awful. I think if we would have gone there, we would have lost part of the audience.”
“Rape is one of the worst things that can happen to anyone. There were a few scenes from this film that came in, and as a producer I felt like they had nothing to do with Tyler’s quest to find the lost film so I didn’t feel like they belong in the final film. Sometimes you can only see these things when you are editing the film,” Burnett said.
One badge of honor that The Hills Run Red DVD received was the Content Advisory sticker. Both Burnett and Parker were surprised and elated that the studio opted to include the sticker on the cover.
“The label says ‘not suitable for minors.’ How great is that? I wrote everyone at the studio and told them they made my Halloween,” said Burnett.
“If I saw that sticker as a kid in a store, I would have to see that movie. I love that the studio is so cautious about the response to the film that they had to put the sticker on the movie. And we’re both just like ‘thanks, you just sold more movies,’” added Parker.
Thanks to Dave and Robert for taking the time to speak with us. Be sure to return the favor by ordering the film below.
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