Tagged 2009

The Hills Run Red with the Sounds of Slasher Horror

The Hills Run Red. 2009. Directed by Dave Parker. Screenplay by John Dombrow & David J. Schow.
Starring Sophie Monk, Tad Hilgenbrink, William Sadler, Janet Montgomery, Alex Wyndham, Ewan Bailey, & Danko Jordanov. Fever Dreams/Warner Premiere/Dark Castle Entertainment.
Rated R. 81 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★1/2
POSTER I’m a lover of the slasher sub-genre. When I was young, renting a slasher flick was like the ultimate rebellion in terms of what I could rent at the video store. I’d seek out any little film if it had an interesting mask, a creepy villain, anything that felt ready made to chill. Sometimes that led me to terrible efforts that didn’t simply show their budget, but also contained nothing in the way of good acting or decent writing. Other times I stumbled across hidden gold, movies to this day I still watch on occasion. Back in the day this wound up introducing me to classics like The Burning and the wonderfully unique Candyman.
In 2010, I got the chance to see The Hills Run Red. There are times the acting isn’t completely amazing, though never is it pitiful like some slashers at the bottom of the barrel. But what this sub-genre picture does right is it brings an interesting and unique story, also offering up a nasty slasher villain with an eerie mask.
So for all its fault, this film tries hard. Boasting a premise centred around a fabled slasher movie made by reclusive auteur horror director named Wilson Wyler Concannon, The Hills Run Red takes on the DNA of a backwoods thriller that takes city folk into the deep, dark woods. What lies beneath is a twisted and vicious slasher that has such bloody sights to show us.
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The mask is creepy enough on its own. Sadly this one won’t turn into a franchise, though it would make for one hell of a series in my mind. But that mask, the baby face, it has the potential to be iconic. Babyface himself is a terrifying figure. The way we slowly find out more about him throughout the screenplay is excellent. And the writing also serves him well. Instead of seeing some of the more gruesome moments, such as him assaulting Serina (Janet Montgomery) which clearly happens as evidenced by the post-credits scene, the writers opt to let the lead-up speak for itself. The blood and gore is there for Babyface, however, as opposed to some other movies with similar events this one decides not to go too hard for the jugular on unnecessary sexual violence. And that makes the villain scarier to me. Sure, he still does awful things. Not seeing some of them increases the fear, as what we don’t see then becomes heavier than what we do. There’s one moment where Babyface becomes infinitely more unnerving: when he captures Serina she tries pleading with him as if he’s this absolute maniac, then he speaks to her in plain words, so matter-of-fact and – dare I say it – sane. His brief line or two here sends chills down my spine.
We got solid doses of blood here. Even the movie within a movie shot where the blood literally runs down the hills actually used a massive amount of fake blood, which in turn looks awesome. The cult slasher they track down is fun, as we get to see actual clips ourselves. Between the kills there and those in the actual movie itself, there is plenty to indulge.
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A few particularly solid slasher kills. One is the two trees scene from the lost movie by Concannon where Babyface essentially tears a woman apart with barbed wire. This one is outrageous, but so much horrific fun. Its implausibility be damned; I love a weird, wild murder like that amongst some of the others. This is a trope of the sub-genre, and director Dave Parker uses it well, among others. Then there’s some of the more realistic stuff like later when Lalo (Alex Wyndham) is being tortured and killed. Finally, we return to the excellently ridiculous stuff such as when Babyface has his mask ripped off, then is forced to wrap it back on with barbed wire. Gnarly stuff, which I dig. The entire final 15 minutes has got some proper horror work, from the kills and the blood to the face underneath Babyface’s mask. All of it is the epitome of macabre and wonderfully grim.
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The performances are decent. However, it’s William Sadler and Sophie Monk that are worth watching. Sadler is always enjoyable – I’ll always remember him most as the stuttering, hard ass convict in The Shawshank Redemption. Here, he gets very dark. Concannon is a mystery, an enigma, and he seems pretentious like an arthouse horror director full of himself to the point of nausea. Later on we discover there are highly hideous layers to the skin he wears for the outside world, and Sadler brings out the mania of the character so well in the last half hour (or less) once we see him more. Then there’s Monk, someone I’ve personally never watched in anything. She doesn’t do anything overly amazing, but she does in fact fool me. Part of that’s the writing. Yet she is able to subtly play a part that could easily telegraph its development miles ahead. Rather, Monk gives us a view of this complex woman, and then when her character is fully fleshed out near the end it’s genuinely surprising. Nothing awards calibre, though this film doesn’t need anything like that. Monk plays it coy and sexy early on as the junkie stripper, then becomes much more sinister as the time goes on.
Also, I cannot do a review without mentioning the man playing our unnerving slasher villain, Danko Jordanov. He is silent the entire time except for grunts mostly, then the one or two lines which absolutely crush my soul, so to keep a certain presence onscreen with only a costume and a mask and his physical intimidation is an impressive feat. Yes, the mask is a scary piece in itself. Aside from that just how Babyface moves inspires fear. To me, this killer is iconic. I don’t care if this movie is way under watched and unloved. Babyface belongs up there with a lot of the big baddies in the slasher sub-genre.
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No, The Hills Run Red is nowhere near a great slasher picture. Although I’ve got to say, it’s a sort of favourite of mine ever since first seeing it. It suffers from some less than stellar acting from a few of those involved. Monk and Sadler save the film on that front just by giving it their all with an enticing energy. What this movie lacks in certain areas it makes up for greatly in its fun. There are wild kills, raw and honest ones. The central aspects, its killer and the lost film, are interesting. On the whole, the elements which need to work are well executed. Every time I throw on the DVD now I still have a ton of horror fun, no matter if a few bits and pieces don’t match up with its best parts.
And no, this isn’t going on to become a series, spawning an entire franchise.
But let me tell you this, none of that means Babyface isn’t a great slasher killer. He is a villain commanding attention, fear, respect. Okay, maybe not the last one.
Just don’t expect to live if you hear his rattle. Respect that.

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Ti West’s The House of the Devil: A Slow Burn Satanic Panic Period Piece

The House of the Devil. 2009. Directed & Written by Ti West.
Starring Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig, AJ Bowen, Dee Wallace, Heather Robb, Darryl Nau, Brenda Cooney, Danielle Noe, Mary B. McCann, John Speredakos, Lena Dunham, and Graham Reznick. MPI Media Group/Constructovision/RingtheJing Entertainment/Glass Eye Pix. Rated R. 95 minutes.
Horror

★★★★★
house_of_the_devil_ver2Ti West is one of the modern horror directors I think you could say is an auteur in his own right. All of his films have a similar feel, maybe all aside from The Sacrament, as in they’re all done on film (again aside from the aforementioned last of his films to come out), they have the full, rich look of movies from the 1970s and 1980s. Not only that, West is great at drawing out the tension of a film to create atmosphere and to setup excellent uses of suspense.
The House of the Devil is no exception. I’d actually seen this before any of his other work before, and loved it so much I went back to see anything else he’d done I could get my hands on. The Roost is a highly underrated indie horror gem, even Trigger Man – an early attempt at shooting digitally – has its merits. Since then he’s done The Sacrament, of which I’m a big fan, and another fun little spooky flick called The Innkeepers. Loves titles starting with The!
With this movie, West throws back to the ’70s/’80s Golden Age of Horror, not deliberately making a period piece but still harkening directly back to that time by use of similar techniques, camerawork, music, and aesthetic filmmakers were in the habit of using. Essentially, The House of the Devil ends up as West’s scary love letter to movies he grew up, the vibe of filmmaking happening at the time which influenced him, as well as he gives us a slow burn horror rooted in the false Satanic Panic especially prevalent during the 1980s. If you don’t like a slower paced film, this won’t be for you at all. If you don’t mind letting a horror build, letting it grow on you, then give it a shot; you will not regret it.
the_house_of_the_devil_18Trying to get out on her own, away from terrible roommate living, college student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) ends up taking a mysterious job babysitting for Mr/Mrs. Ulman (Tom Noonan & Mary Woronov). Mysterious due to the fact the Ulmans don’t have a child. The job is, in reality, for Mrs. Ulman’s mother who lives with them. After some negotiating, Samantha gets a massive payday all for a single night. Her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) tags along to make sure everything is fine, and though not entirely satisfied she leaves Samantha at the house, almost literally in the middle of nowhere with the Ulmans.
And once they leave, Samantha slowly begins to feel as if something isn’t quite right in the big old house. Not to mention a young man named Victor (AJ Bowen) blasts Megan’s face off just a little ways down the road.
Nobody ever told Samantha babysitting would could be so hard.
houseofthedevil_still2_cmykThere are lots of things to admire about The House of the Devil. While big films often try to go for period looks – such as how Martin Scorsese for instance did the different portions of his Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator according to how films looked at various instances throughout the 20th century – it is’t often an independent movie, horror at that, will try and emulate the particular look of certain decades. West not only shot this on film, but 16mm film, which gives it a great look that was very popular in the 1980s. Other ways West achieves his retro feel is through the zooms, nowadays a technique you’ll mostly see done through use of a dolly shot. Even right at the beginning with the freeze frame on Samantha, music playing, movie title in big block letters; totally ’80s style, through and through. Down to the fact this was the only movie since A History of Violence in 2005 which got released on VHS in one of the clamshell style cases, this is a unique and fun indie horror. So there’s a quaint charm about West’s film I feel gets lost on a lot of people who don’t care about any of that. Should you care? Well, that’s totally subjective. Me, I think there’s a certain artistry involved with all the care that goes into making a movie into more than just a movie, but instead making it become an experience. The House of the Devil, for me, has always been a solid horror while also very much being a horrifying experience all around because of its style.
tumblr_le86wpjc6p1qcc83zo1_1280When Samantha puts her ear close to the door, asking if “everything’s all right in there”, the slow and brief reveal West gives us of the Satanic-like markings, the bloodied corpses on the floor is shocking. It’s not shocking like the scene is going to make you gasp, or lose your breath and hide away. This shot and the scene is shocking in that you’re not expecting such blatant nastiness right behind the door. Even how slow West shows us what’s in the room is incredible, as I was expecting something more along the lines of the ‘mother’ in the dark, looking sinister in the corner, or anything close to that. Instead, it’s a pretty ballsy visual, such that West announces at this moment things are definitely going to start getting savage. At some point, anyways. Afterwards there are more moments of horror later like this, and also some key shots of very dreamy imagery in certain scenes. Generally, West strikes a nice balance between these two methods.
2394_5 158868544_9aea38When Samantha discovers the full extent of what’s happening in the house (think: drinking blood from a horned skull), the plot takes us into the depths of horror. Mixing subtle creepiness with plenty solid doses of nasty violence, the finale of the film plays out with pumping adrenaline in a sequence washed with blood. In particular, a few shots remind me of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, almost homage-like cuts to a hooded demonic character much like how Friedkin made several subliminal cuts to the Pazuzu demon in his film.
Most of all, I found the atmosphere of the film combined with the characters pretty damn eerie. Such as the Ulman family themselves. First there’s Tom Noonan whose creepiness knows no bounds, never once calling back to his stint as The Tooth Fairy a.k.a Francis Dolarhyde in Michael Mann’s Manhunter, which is an unfair criticism of his acting I often see when he plays in horror movies; here, his character is all its own and he plays it quietly with great nuance. Then Mary Woronov does a spectacularly unsettling job with the character of Mrs. Ulman, even in the brief time she’s actually onscreen. Of course, Jocelin Donahue as Samantha is a perfect fit – she’s an ongoing yet at times quiet sort of person, but there’s a strength Donahue gives the character which is really great and adds something to the story. Throw in AJ Bowen and Greta Gerwig as interesting, smaller characters, and I’ve got to say West’s screenplay is a tight one with plenty of intrigue and none of the heavy, sagging exposition of other horror movies trying to spell every last thing out through dialogue.
hero_EB20091111REVIEWS911119997ARThis is a great film, 5 stars in my book. Ti West could’ve done a typical slasher with this, however, he opts to draw on his biggest influences from the ’70s/’80s and some of the real life yet fake claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse from decades ago, crafting a unique indie horror experience. Great and classic sensibilities show in the way West handles his directorial duties, as well as his writing. I can’t say anything else except for: watch it. Maybe you won’t dig it. But those who are into a slow burn, atmospheric type of horror, it’s full of that and it’s only a little over an hour.
Let me know what you think of the movie in the comments below, as long as you can be civil and have a proper talk!

Rampage: Uwe Boll Channels His Rage

Rampage. 2009. Directed & Written by Uwe Boll.
Starring Brendan Fletcher, Shaun Sipos, Michael Paré, Matt Frewer, Lynda Boyd, Robert Clarke, Malcolm Stewart, Steffen Mennekes, and Katharine Isabelle. Event Film Distribution.
Rated 18A. 85 minutes.
Action/Crime/Thriller

★★★★
rampage-53f072435d6d0So I’ve been dying to review a couple of the Uwe Boll films that I find are actually decent. As I mentioned in my review of the intense and wild Stoic, I don’t think Boll deserves all the hate he gets online and otherwise. I know that many people see him as an arrogant, egocentric fool, but I don’t see him that way. Sure, he takes the haters by the horns, especially lately with his mad rant online after his funding campaign for a new Rampage instalment failed. I just don’t see why people have pushed him to that point. I agree not many of his movies are good. However, I think filmmakers, and artists in general, ought to be given a chance to get better. Is it easy to make movies? No, it’s not, though fans seem to think it is by the way they treat directors and actors who make subpar movies.
With Rampage, I believe Boll has crafted a damn good action thriller that’s a lot more interesting than so many other movies in that category as of late. There’s a good deal of crazy action, yet what interests me most about the film is the premise Boll has come up with for the main character and what he eventually begins to do as the film goes on.

Rampage is the story of Bill Williamson (Brendan Fletcher). Ole Billy, by all accounts, is what I would call a real slacker. He’s living at home with his parents (played by the fantastic pairing of Lynda Boyd and Matt Frewer), whom he gives a hard time, as if they’re meant to usher him from a boy to a man. Bill works at a garage where he’s not treated how he would like to be treated. Outside of home and work, he beats around with his equally slack buddy Evan Drince (Shaun Sipos who did an excellent job in Boll’s other fairly solid 2009 movie Stoic). The two of them eat chicken and play paintball together.
Lurking underneath all the normality, Bill is a troubled man. Inside him brews a combination of childishness and being unprepared for life, crossed with the injustices of society both actual and perceived. This develops into a boiling rage. Bill pieces himself together a full bodysuit of armour made of Kevlar, as well as the guns and ammo and toys to boot, then heads out onto the streets: the rampage is on and no one is safe. Least of all the structures of society, which Bill – misguided or not – takes aim towards, blasting hard as he can.
4013549032360_B2There are definitely a few faults in the movie’s own logic. Perhaps this has more to do with the fact the script for Rampage was officially only about 10 or so pages long and less with any lapse in reason. Maybe the fact so much improvisation went into the filming made some of the plot get muddled. Either way, there’s not enough plotholes or anything in this movie for me to be turned off. Boll does a pretty good job with the material he brainstormed going in.
What I do enjoy quite a bit is the character of Bill. Not in the sense I agree with the verbal manifesto Bill Williamson pours on us through the camera’s eye throughout Rampage. I think, in my opinion, Bill is ultimately representative of dangerous right-wing logic. Others will say he represents something different, but I think the juxtaposition between Bill Williamson and Evan Drince at so many points speaks volumes. You can tell how Bill is so completely driven by the media, by right-wing flawed logic, and so on, as the television clips & radio stations flick by in the background, like they’re lodged in his brain.
You can tell so perfectly what Bill is setting up as he switches the bag of fake money in for the one with the real stuff, then burns the fake money declaring it is the worst problem of the world. You see how he’s not any kind of left-wing extreme activist. He’s the sort of person who we might see in any school or military complex or theatre, as is so often seen in America today – a sad, lonely, pessimistic soul who only wants to drag the world down to their level. My opinion is that Uwe Boll is making more of a statement about the people who commit these vicious rampages, armed to the teeth, than anything else. While maybe some of the opinions spouted off by Evan are more relatable, Bill Williamson represents the antisocial man in society, the one who just wants to watch the world burn, if I might steal a better written line than I’ll ever write. Even though Bill is an awful person for his crimes, the character is still interesting and I think Bol does well with making statements about this sort of madness. Honestly, he needs to move further away from video game adaptations more and more. If he can do more stuff like Stoic and Rampage, I’d gladly support him even more than I already do.

Bill: “You think people are equal. They’re not.
RampageNot sure what the budget on this film is, but I’ve got to admit some of the action is great work. As Bill stalks the streets of his city, first disabling the police station with a van loaded up on bombs in its trunk, he starts to mow down anyone and everyone in his path. There are points where I was more than impressed with the raw action Boll was giving us. One scene Bill gets hit with a couple shots from the police, but his Kevlar bounces the shots off him and then he responds with his own gunfire, ripping the cops apart. Vicious, savage action. Got to love some of that!
While disturbing, it’s actually a little funny – of course in a pitch-black sort of way – to see Bill confront a barista in the coffeehouse where he’d earlier been snubbed and insulted by the same man. It’s tense and terrible in the end, however, a brilliant little scene to watch.
There’s a bunch of dark comedy mixed in. Though, most of the film is highly serious. Pretty grim, yet exciting all the same.
11c1c38f080cWhat I like most of all, though, is Brendan Fletcher. The first time I can remember seeing him was way back now, about 15 years ago. I was watching Showcase and a film called Rollercoaster came on; he blew me away with his performance. After that, I made sure to catch any film or television show I could find him in. He has this incredible capacity for emotion, as well as a knack for dark roles. Here he displays several bits and pieces of those qualities. The mocking way he treats people, walking around town and blasting the citizens to bloody chunks, it’s truly macabre to see. Coupled with the action, its intensity, I think Fletcher’s work as the lead actor helps Boll make a solid thriller out of the material. Not sure how much of the character of Bill Williamson came from Fletcher, and what came from Boll. Regardless, I get the feeling the work well together and I’d like to see something outside of the Rampage movies where they work together. I know Fletcher has been in other Boll stuff, but I’d like a new film; maybe similar tone to this stuff, just a different story altogether. They appear to have similar sensibilities at times.
x4bR0WRI can’t not give this 4 out of 5 stars because I really do enjoy the film. Sure, there are moments I bet having a script, as I mentioned before with Stoic, might have been a benefit in the end. Although, I believe having an actor as solid as Brendan Fletcher playing the central role is something which ultimately helps the fact much of the “script” comes from improvisation. I’d like to hear the commentary on this film some day, perhaps more would be explained on that side of things.
The best part of it all is what I perceive to be Boll’s take on those who view right-wing extremist policies as the appropriate way to go, and what all these Kevlar, assault rifle toting gun lovers seem to be thinking in their heads. Bill Williamson is in no way a character fighting for the rights of every citizen, he’s fighting both society and the citizens in it. He just wants to tear it all down.
Either way, if you’re looking for something a little different and you’re secretly rooting for Uwe Boll, with every one of his films, to finally come out with something decent, you ought to check out Rampage. You might be pleasantly surprised with the end results.