When you think of spaghetti westerns, you think of a lot of names of American actors who traveled to Europe for a chance at stardom (or at least bigger stardom), names like Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Charles Bronson and James Coburn. There were plenty of lesser-known stars though, like Thomas Hunter in 1966’s The Hills Run Red.
It’s late in the Civil War and two Confederate soldiers, Jerry Brewster (Hunter) and Ken Seagull (Nando Gazzolo), have robbed a Union payroll and are on the run. About to be captured, they split a deck of cards to see who will stay behind and buy time, Jerry losing out. He begs Ken to take care of his family until he can get back to them. Captured by Union cavalry, Jerry spends 5 years in jail serving a brutal sentence. Upon his parole, he finds out that his wife is dead and his son is missing. What about Ken’s promise? His former friends has used the money they stole to start up a huge ranch, changing his name in the process. Jerry’s revenge starts NOW!
In the mid 1960s and into the late 1970s, over 600 spaghetti westerns were made (with some variations here and there). There are some classics, some good to really great entries, and some bad to downright awful ones at the bottom of the list. ‘Hills’ falls somewhere in between. It isn’t bad, it isn’t particularly good, but you know what? It’s entertaining in an oh so bad way. I don’t think it’s an insult to say a movie is fun, and that’s what you get here.
It’s hard to come down too harshly on this 1965 spaghetti from director Carlo Lizzani. The genre had started to take off with 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars, but many entries still had that feel of an American western. ‘Hills’ is pretty cheap with a small cast and a small budget. The score from the master himself, Ennio Morricone, isn’t his best, but even just okay or pretty good Morricone is excellent. Give it an extended listen HERE. Not too many familiar locations to mention.
Not much in the way of star power here. In a short career, Hunter only did about 15 movies with some TV parts mixed in. I’d only seen him before in 1968’s Anzio in a supporting part. The verdict here? For one, his dubbing is really atrocious (not his fault). His lips are moving where the words aren’t! Also, his Jerry Brewster is a tortured anti-hero, a cowboy desperately seeking revenge. Hunter’s acting range is him literally SCREAMING his rage and disappointment. It’s actually laughable to watch. Interesting character with potential, but Hunter struggles in an over-the-top performance.
As for his villainous counter, Henry Silva also hams it up, chewing the scenery like his life depended on it as Mendez, Ken’s right-hand man and brutal enforcer. Decked out in all black, Silva rattles off Spanish in almost incomprehensible fashion, laughing maniacally basically every scene. The weird part? He’s the bad guy…but never does anything too bad, except for the maniacal laughing. Dan Duryea plays a mysterious supporting part that looks like he accidentally boarded a plane to Spain and walked on-set. Spaghetti western beauty Nicoletta Machiavelli is wasted as Mary Ann, Ken’s naïve sister. Playing the not so intimidating Ken Seagull (not Segal), Gazzollo leaves little impression, letting Silva do the heavy lifting.
Fueled by revenge, but not much in the way of story, ‘Hills’ is an odd one. I’ve watched it 3 times I believe, and each time, I keep thinking ‘Meh, this isn’t very good.’ The shootout at the end is laughable, Hunter and Duryea running around an abandoned town dispatching bad guys like a Tom and Jerry episode. The twist in the final scene is unnecessary and comes out of left field. But then again, everything here feels a bit disjointed and kooky! Not good, not bad, just stupidly fun and entertaining.
The Hills Run Red (1966): **/****