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Hills Run Red - aka Un fiume di dollari, The
At the end of the American Civil War, two friends return home with a whole lot of stolen cash. Unfortunately for them, some Yankee soldiers catch them with the loot. Ken Seagull (played by Nando Gazzolo of Django Shoots First) escapes, but Jerry Brewster (Thomas Hunter of X-312 Flight To Hell) is not so lucky and ends up in the slammer at Fort Wilson doing hard time (and, for some strange reason, spending a lot of time standing up in a man sized bird cage!).
Brewster is released from prison five years later, only to find out that his old buddy Seagull is now a sinister landowner who has prospered off of the money that they stole together while he rotted in jail. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Brewster's beloved his wife died in poverty. To make matters worse, the son that Brewster left behind believes him to be dead, and Brewster blames Seagull for all of this. You can see where this is going, right?
Understandably upset by all of this, an angry Brewster sets out to get his revenge, but Seagull has a pretty decent gang of hired guns that he's going to have to get through first. It doesn't help matters for Brewster that these hired guns are led by the despicable Garcia Mendez (played with no small amount of glee by Henry Silva, who should need no introduction to cult movie fans!).
Of course, as the movie gets going, things ultimately head towards the inevitable showdown as Brewster tries to not only get revenge, but somehow manage to get his life back together again as well. There's also a little bit of romance in here between Brewster and a gorgeous woman named Mary Ann (Nicoletta Machiavelli, who appeared alongside Alain Delon as his character's wife in Tony Arzenta, a.k.a. Big Guns a.k.a. No Way Out), but this is a western, and it's the revenge angle that matters the most here.
With Henry Silva in a prominent role and a score by Ennio Morricone, you would think that The Hills Run Red would have all the makings of a classic Spaghetti Western. Sadly, it comes off as only slightly above average. It's by no means a bad film though, not at all, and there are a few things that make it worth seeking out despite the fact that the story is far from original and actually, at time, downright predictable. Silva chews right through whatever scenery is in his way and gives a stand out performance here, even if he's not the most convincing Mexican we've ever seen on screen. Hunter is also decent in the lead as Brewster, delivering a moderately sympathetic turn. The scenery and locations used in the film are quite interesting and effective, lending a nice look and feel to the film that otherwise wouldn't have been present.
Morricone's score doesn't stand out as one of his best and seems almost phoned in, but considering how many classics the man has contributed, this is forgivable. It's not terrible, it's just not outstanding, much like the film itself. You know as soon as it starts up exactly who composed it, as it sounds like a bit of a ‘greatest hits' reel in some ways, but even phoned in Morricone is better than ninety percent of other film scores out there so it's tough to complain too much here. Interestingly enough, Morricone is credited using the English alias of Leo Nichols.
Director Carlo Lizzani, going under the genuinely weird English pseudonym of Lee W. Beaver, an odd choice to be sure, paces the movie pretty well. At ninety-minutes, it's the right length, not too short, not too long. The cinematography is top notch and there are some tense fights and shootouts in here to keep the action quotient high. It's a shame that the script from Piero Regnoli, credited here as Dean Craig, wasn't a bit more original but this is pretty entertaining stuff.
The Hills Run Red arrives on Region A Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studios in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 2.35.1 on a 50GB disc with the feature taking up 28.2GBs of space. The transfer isn't reference quality but it's more than decent. It's clear that this wasn't given a full-blown restoration as there's mild print damage here and there and small white specks are noticeable, but it's all very minor stuff. Colors look good and contrast is fine, while black levels are solid if a step back from reference quality. Compression artifacts are never an issue and there are no problems with any noise reduction or edge enhancement, though some very light crush is there in some darker scenes. Overall though, this looks very good.
Audio chores are handled by a 16-bit English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono option with optional English Subtitles. Dialogue is always easy to understand and to follow and the audio is nicely balanced. Sound effects have some good weight behind them and there's a decent amount of depth to Morricone's typically epic score. There are no issues with any hiss or distortion to note. All in all, the audio quality on this release shapes up quite nicely, though like a lot of spaghetti westerns, the gun shots sound a bit thing.
Extras start off with a commentary by filmmaker and Spaghetti Western expert Alex Cox. Like most of Cox's commentary tracks that have appeared on Kino's spaghetti western releases over the last few years, it's an eminently listenable talk, even if it goes off topic now and then (we don't really need a plot synopsis for One-Eyed Jacks but we listen to Cox anyway!). As the track plays out, we get info on the cast and the crew, thoughts on Morricone's score and the overt sentimentality in it, info on Dino De Laurentiis' career, thoughts on Silva's career and his work in this picture, how the film compares to typical American cowboy films as well as how it differs, the importance of Nicoletta Machiavelli's character in the movie, the locations used in the picture and lots more.
A trailer for the feature included on the disc, as are bonus trailers for Death Rides A Horse, Kill Them All And Come Back Alone, The Hellbenders and Man Of The East. Menus and chapter selection are also provided.
While this isn't one of the best Spaghetti Westerns ever made, Silva's performance saves it from mediocrity and the final showdown that happens in the last fifteen-minutes of the film make The Hills Run Red all worthwhile. Kino offers the film in a strong presentation and Alex Cox's commentary is quite interesting and worth listening to. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.