With the 11th annual and venerated Screamfest LA Film Festival running this Friday, October 14th through Saturday, October 22nd at Manns Chinese 6 in Hollywood, CA, we chatted yesterday with the director of one of the fest’s selections, the feature Rites of Spring, and got the skinny on the slasher/hybrid, which is set for its world premiere on Saturday, October 22nd, at 12:00 noon.
Produced by Wes Benton, Bobby Benton, John Norris and Eric Thompson and written and directed by Padraig Reynolds, Rites of Spring stars AJ Bowen (House of the Devil, Hatchet 2), Anessa Ramsey (Footloose, YellowBrickRoad), Sonny Marinelli (Rosewood Lane), Katherine Randolf (Jarhead), Hannah Bryan, Sarah Pachelli, and James Bartz and (according to the film’s synopsis) centers around ‘a group of kidnappers who abduct the daughter of a wealthy socialite and hide out in an abandoned school in the middle of the woods. But feelings of guilt soon overtake the kidnappers, dividing the group and putting their entire plan in jeopardy. The evening further spirals out of control when their poorly chosen hideout becomes a hunting ground for a mysterious creature that requires springtime ritualistic sacrifices.’
“My two favorite genres are heist and horror films,” filmmaker Reynolds told us of his inspiration for Rites of Spring. “I thought it would be interesting to mix the two. Take a regular kidnapping movie with all the drama and twists, then completely turn it on its head and introduce a creature into the mix, so basically you have two movies in one. I also loved the idea of bad guys becoming the victims. The idea gestated for a long time, and so when it came time to finally write the script, I wrote it very fast.”
Making impressive use of the locations utilized (they are as much a character as the flick’s principals), we asked the filmmaker if he had scouted locations prior to delving into the narrative itself, given how integral they are to the scripted proceedings.
“When I write a script, I always think of the location as a character,” replied Reynolds. “I do a lot of research online, looking at different images and making sure it fits what I want to see in the film, but once we did location scouting in Mississippi, the locations we found were far superior to anything that was in the script or anything I could have ever imagined. They were just incredible and I think make the film look bigger than the budget we had.”
The director’s ease of location-lock withstanding, from concept to execution the creation of an independent feature is generally a meandering and time-consuming road, and according to Reynolds, indeed such was the case here.
“I wrote Rites of Spring and its sequel back to back when I first moved to Los Angeles in 2003,” reflected the filmmaker. “Friends of mine wanted to do two horror movies back to back and approached me about writing and directing. Things fell through and the movies didn’t happen, but I kept plugging away and sending the scripts out. In 2007 I met up with Eric Thompson, who was working for Maverick Red at the time, and he fell in love with the Rites of Spring scripts, and three years later we finally made the (first) movie. So in all it took about seven years from first draft to filming.”
As for casting Rites of Spring, “It was done in Los Angeles and Mississippi,” Reynolds told us. “We used about five actors that were local, and the rest were from Los Angeles. Regarding AJ Bowen, I was a big fan of him from (his work in) The Signal and The House of the Devil. My manager sent him the script, and AJ liked the character and so he signed on. What I think appealed to AJ about his character of ‘Ben’ is that he is really a good person who gets involved in a bad situation that he created. It was a different sort of role for AJ at the time because he was always cast as the bad guy. I think AJ is the one of the best actors working today. The guy can be funny, scary and dramatic. You can’t ask for more than that in an actor.”
Shooting the entirety of the feature in a short eighteen days (a hurdle in and of itself), Reynolds recalled another challenge of principal photography, “We did have a tornado one day, but besides that everything went surprisingly well. I got really lucky and had amazing producers and a team that really supported my vision. The town we shot in was incredibly nice and bent over backwards for us, and on my birthday they made me a decapitated bunny cake. How cool is that?”
The hallmark of any slasher flick is of course its monster, and at the center of Rites of Spring (note: this will be spoiler free) is a creature designed by Aaron Simms.
“He and I have been friends for a long time,” said Reynolds of his collaboration with the designer. “I’ve written some scripts for him that I hope he gets to direct some day. Aaron is really a true genius when it comes to designing monsters and aliens. I think he gave the creature a unique look but still kept him grounded.”
As for the motivations of the flick’s monster (portrayed by Amile Wilson), which Reynolds keeps rather shrouded in mystery during the running of Rites of Spring, “The creature’s back-story is very interesting,” said the filmmaker. “I kept a lot of what or who the creature is ambiguous because I wanted the audience to figure it out for themselves, instead of (the character of) ‘The Stranger’ (actor Marco St. John) just telling us in a lengthy monologue. There are clues throughout the film as to who the creature actually is and where he came from. The true back-story of the creature will be revealed in the second film. Let’s just say he is a family member.”
As always, a flick lives or dies in the editing bay, and Reynolds told us of his experience with Rites of Spring‘s post-production process, “It went smoothly. Ed Mark (Jeepers Creepers, Frozen) was brought on to edit the film. Ed and I had a blast editing the movie together, and I really can’t wait to get another going. Holly Amber Church did the score, and Josh Eckberg did sound design. It was Holly’s first film, and I really think she did a fantastic job.”
With the advent of digital and the ability for nearly anyone to make a film, horror fans have become savvy and rather nostalgic for the classic genre films of yore, and no stranger to this, Reynolds in his sensibility worked to deliver a bit of teaser art for Rites of Spring that immediately had the web buzzing, giving its 1970’s grit.
“My buddy Chuck Sanger used to do music posters for my punk rock band ‘The Nukes’ back in the day,” said Reynolds of the art. “I called him up and asked if he wanted to take a crack, and he sent me some stuff he worked on and I was blown away.”
Given the similarity in narrative Rites of Spring has with director Stevan Mena’s 2004 feature Malevolence, we asked Reynolds of that film’s possible influence, to which he replied, “Malevolence is a great hybrid flick. Stevan and I have been friends for a long time, and we keep wanting to work with each other. My biggest influence on Rites of Spring was Don Siegel’s 1974 kidnapping flick The Black Windmill and Pier Haggard’s 1981 hybrid flick Venom. Venom is one of my all time favorite hybrid horror movies, and if you haven’t seen it, you have to check it out. It’s an amazing film.”
Regarding a potential sequel to Rites of Spring (as was originally envisioned), “It’s in the financing phase,” Reynolds revealed. “Rites of Spring: Devil Sent the Rain takes place directly after the first one and goes in a completely different direction. It’s basically a chase movie for the first hour and then we go deep into the heart of who the creature is and where he came from. We learn about ‘The Stranger’s’ horrible past and the sacrifices he makes in order for his family to survive.”
“I’m also working on another horror/thriller movie inspired by the book ‘Starvation Heights’ by Gregg Olsen with Eric Thompson and Imprint Entertainment, one of the companies that produced the ‘Twilight’ Series,” revealed the filmmaker. “The script is finished, and I’m just waiting to take the next step.”
Concerning the premiere of Rites of Spring, “I’m so happy that it is at Screamfest,” Reynolds effused. “My short film ‘The Election’ premiered there back in 2007. I’m glad Rachel Belofsky invited me back because it is such a great horror festival.”
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