‘The Hills Run Red’ is a Brutal and Underrated Slasher [Watch]

The Hills Run Red

Welcome to The Overlooked Motel, a place where under-seen and unappreciated films are given their moment in the spotlight. I hope you enjoy your stay here and find the accommodations to be suitable. Now, please take a seat and make yourself comfortable. I have some misbehaving guests to ‘correct.’  

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This week’s selection is a criminally underrated backwoods slasher. Dave Parker’s 2009 flick, The Hills Run Red is a rip-roaring good time. The picture combines Texas Chain Saw Massacre energy with post-Scream meta-horror commentary. And I am a big fan of the way that juxtaposition plays out in Parker’s capable hands.  

The film follows movie nerd Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrink) fixated on a lost horror picture called The Hills Run Red. The film was promptly pulled from theaters after shocking audiences with its gruesome depictions of onscreen carnage and disturbing subject matter. Determined to see if the film lives up to the hype, Tyler tracks down Alexa (Sophie Monk), the daughter of the movie’s deceased director. Alexa takes Tyler and his film crew (who are documenting his quest) on a location tour that soon turns sinister. As they unearth the remote locations where the picture was lensed, they come face-to-face with the movie’s central antagonist: A hulking man in a baby doll mask. The killer’s existence outside the silver screen seems to suggest the film isn’t a work of fiction at all. And that means Tyler and his pals are in grave danger. 

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One of my favorite aspects of this picture is that it revolves around a lost film. Setting out to unearth a picture lost to time would be the ultimate rush. As such, Tyler’s journey proves to be quite gripping. His enthusiasm for the film is palpable. Watching him and his crew hunt for pieces of the puzzle with Alexa in tow is enjoyable in the same way it’s compelling to watch our onscreen counterparts hunt for buried treasure. It feels like we’re along for the adventure. 

And quite the adventure it is. The film takes a sharp turn in the third act that I didn’t see coming on my inaugural viewingScreenwriters David J. Schow and John Dombrow spin a compelling tale that goes off the rails in a completely bonkers conclusion. We bear witness to scenery chewing, arterial spray, and startling revelations of shocking paternity. Quite the denouement indeed. 

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Aside from a jaw-dropping third act, the film also delivers incredible visuals. Parker imbues the picture with the look and feel of Texas Chain Saw Massacre without being derivative. He does a compelling job of recreating a similar grittiness but still bringing his own unique aesthetic to the picture. 

Also in the vein of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Parker manages to make the film seem even more brutal than it is. Don’t get me wrong, The Hills Run Red is brutal. But it’s not a nonstop display of loose entrails for the sake of shock value. The level of violence is enough to get the message across. But the camera never lingers on the aftermath. And, some of the carnage actually transpires out of frame. But the way the film is assembled had me thinking I saw more than I actually did. Upon repeat visits, I’ve been surprised to see it’s far more restrained than I remembered. 

I think it was smart of Parker not to veer into full-fledged torture porn territory. A lot of directors in the ‘00s were trying to emulate Saw and Hostel but he avoided that pitfall and his film has aged more gracefully as a result of that restraint. A lot of the output of the 2000s is immediately recognizable as such. Everyone was trying to go harder and outdo one another. But Parker is self-assured enough not to jump on that bandwagon.  

In addition to The Texas Chain Saw Massacrethe film also takes a level of inspiration from Scream, leaning into common horror tropes while simultaneously lampooning them with meta-commentary. The characters make jokes about how the killer in the film within the film is a tired cliché and suggest people in horror movies should just stay at home. Like in Screamthey don’t heed their own warnings. But therein lies the fun. 

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Inspirations aside, some of the director’s best work is on display about an hour into the film. I’m talking about a scene that finds one of the characters emerging from a literal bucket of blood. The sequence is beautifully realized and really creative. We’ve seen people hide underwater in slasher films numerous times. But this is the only instance I can recall where a character submerges themselves in a big-ass bucket of blood to avoid detection. It’s eerie, it’s a little repulsive, and I love it.   

Nearly 15 years on from its release, I think I know why the film remains under-seen. The Hills Run Red was denied a theatrical exhibition and put out direct-to-DVD via the Warner Premiere label. As such, the flick is still finding its audience. While the picture has its fans, this 2009 effort is deserving of greater acclaim and a larger fanbase. 

On the whole, The Hills Run Red is a twisty ride with ample grindhouse energy and plenty of carnage on display. If you’ve yet to see the film, you can find it on physical media via Scream Factory and as a digital rental. 

That’s all for this installment of The Overlooked Motel. If you want to chat more about under-seen and underrated films, feel free to hit me up with your thoughts on TwitterThreads, or Instagram @FunWithHorror.



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