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AICN HORROR looks at more films from Machester, UK’s GRIMM FEST 2012; CRAWL! HATE CRIME! RITES OF SPRING! and the grudge match you’ve always wanted to see; Edward Furlong vs Michael Berryman in BELOW ZERO!!!

Published at: Oct. 5, 2012, 2:17 p.m. CST

Logo by Kristian Horn
What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. In this special column, I’m highlighting the more of films playing at Grimm Fest 2012 in Manchester UK (Check out the schedule here!). The festival will be running all weekend long and I had the honor of checking out quite a few films playing at the fest this year. Below are some of the cooler films premiering in the latter half of the fest; among others such as WAKE UP & DIE, BEFORE DAWN, THE ESCHATRILOGY, and CRAWLSPACE, which I hope to be covering soon! Enjoy the reviews!

Today on AICN HORROR
(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Advance Review: CRAWL (2012)
Advance Review: HATE CRIME (2012)
Advance Review: RITES OF SPRING (2012)
Advance Review: BELOW ZERO (2012)


CRAWL (2012)

Directed by Paul China
Written by Paul China
Starring Georgiana Haig, Lauren Dillon, George Shevtsov
Find out more about these films here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug


Though at times I found this film to literally crawl along pacing wise, CRAWL is a fantastic achievement in ratcheting up tension and suspense. This is a perfect example of a film living within its means, not trying to reach to places the budget can’t go, but settling on making the best of what it has. And what it has are strong performances from it’s cast, especially the young Georgiana Haig who is trapped in a house by a nameless hitman.

This film is very Coen Brothers-esque in it’s attention to building tension due to devious acts and pangs of guilt that come along after those acts. I was taken back to BLOOD SIMPLE as Georgiana Haig, like Frances McDormand in the Coen’s film, must silently move about her house against an assailant who moves silently in the shadows. Haig plays both damsel and ass kicking heroine well here, juggling tough and delicate well throughout the film. George Shevtsov plays the unnamed assassin who is hired to settle an unpaid debt and shades of Javier Bardem as he inscrutably pursues his victims like a great white shark without emotion or care.

The film is an extended standoff between these two characters meticulously plotted and executed with moments of fear to the nth degree (mainly due to the performance by Haig). Come may find this film to drag and I would have to agree that occasionally I felt the undeniable pull of my fast forward finger to it’s favorite button my the remote control. But I’m glad I didn’t end up doing it.

CRAWL doesn’t want to be showy or big budget. It works because the director knows how to build and sustain tension. For the most part it works. Showing director Paul China knows his Hitchcocockian/Coen Bro-ham suspense well, CRAWL is an achievement in the high tension, noir genre.






HATE CRIME (2012)

Directed by James Cullen Bressack
Written by James Cullen Bressack & Jarret Cohen
Starring Jody Barton, Tim Moran, Ian Roberts, Nicholas Clark, Greg Depetro, Debbie Diesel, Sloane Morgan Siegel, Maggie Wagner, Reviewed by Ambush Bug


So I received an email from director James Cullen Bressack asking if I wanted to take a super advanced look at his film HATE CRIME. There were a few stipulations to this offer; no plot was to be revealed, no characters, no motivation, and no revealing who gets killed, when or how. For a reviewer, that’s a mighty tall order and in my response to the director, I said that I would keep the review spoiler free, but would be doing a disservice to my readers if I didn’t provide some details about the film in order for them to understand whether or not they should seek the film out once it is available for mass consumption. Thinking that I wouldn’t get a chance to review the film, I was surprised to be allowed access to viewing. So I plan on honoring the directors wishes as much as I can and also provide you with enough about it to form your opinion whether it will be for you.

With a name like HATE CRIME, you’re bound to be able to piece together what this film is about. Basically it’s a home invasion film, but while most home invasion films hinge on the fact that it is an attack without warning or reason, the invaders in this film at least have a motivation for doing what they are doing, as twisted as it may be. The attack is brutal, it’s unflinching, and it is not for the squeamish. Rooted in reality, HATE CRIME pulls no punches as it never blinks or turns away at the horrors these invaders inflict on an unsuspecting family.

As heinous a crime as this is, director Bressack did a decent job of keeping my interest, despite the despicable acts being played out on the screen. This is mainly due to some strong performances by the cast, both family and invader alike. The best of the bunch is the invader simply known as Three, a hockey masked madman roided up and absolutely embodying a destructive force. But Ian Roberts, the actor playing Three doesn’t just amp up the raged roar of a wrestler, well ok, he does do that a lot, but he also shows a side of his character that is fractured and sad. Roberts delivers by far the most three dimensional of all of the characters in this film and every time he was on screen, despite the fact that he was wearing a black hockey mask most of the time, he had my complete attention.

This is a found footage-style film and though Bressack does a decent job of making the limitations of such a film style never get boring, there are times of contrivance as the camera is dropped or set down just at the right angle to see some of the action going on. There have been many found footagers who have been less subtle about this and though it does happen a few times in the film, the intensity of the situations unfolding definitely makes you forget the contrivance.

I’d better end this review before I reveal too much, but I do want to reiterate that this is a decently done film about an absolutely ugly crime. Some might say that the director Bressack is shining the spotlight on this type of crime by spending an hour and a half showing it all going down. The wrap up, told in text at the end, explaining what happened after the tape stopped rolling does come to a resolution that some may deem satisfying, but I can also see others feeling as if this comeuppance feels more like an afterthought rather than a worthwhile way to wrap things up and I must admit, it didn’t cleanse my palate from the crimes I just witnessed.

As is, if you’re a fan of found footage films, HATE CRIME is definitely one you should seek out. While it won’t convert any of you sick of the subgenre of shaky first person POV cams, it definitely is one of the more intense offerings of this type of film.

Sorry, I don’t have a trailer for this one. It’s still too new. But I’ll be sure to let folks know more about this film as it moves closer towards distribution.







RITES OF SPRING (2012)

Directed by Padraig Reynolds
Written by Padraig Reynolds
Starring AJ Bowen, Anessa Ramsey, Sonny Marinelli, Marco St. John and Katherine Randolph
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug


Too many times, I think filmmakers try to reinvent the wheel. I know there is a temptation to do something absolutely new and different, but sometimes, if you do something right, even if it is something you might have seen before, it turns out to be pretty damn cool. This is the case with RITES OF SPRING, an old school creature feature-slash-homicidal maniac thriller which mashes up the heist gone wrong genre with horror in a truly entertaining fashion.

The film is being advertised as a FROM DUSK TILL DAWN type film and I can see the comparison. There are distinctly two different stories going on in this one and both are bound for a collision course as the run time ticks away, but while FROM DUSK TILL DAWN has a distinct switch in genre halfway through the film, RITES OF SPRING tells both stories from the start. I remember watching FROM DUSK TILL DAWN with a group of non-horror fans and when the film switched to a vamp fest, I remember the shock, disgust and disdain I saw in their reactions (some of them even left the room). Given the capable way the horror and heist material is handled in this film, I doubt people watching this one will have the same reaction because from scene one, you know this is a horror movie. How dark it gets? Well, that’s something entirely different.

The story centers around a group of kidnappers set to earn a big payoff by snatching the daughter of a wealthy businessman. AJ Bowen, who most will recognize from A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE, does a great job as the kidnapper with a conscience, while his cohorts do not feel so guilty. As the kidnapping starts to fray at the ends, they find themselves in an abandoned warehouse. That’s one part of the story.

The other half of the story, I found most intriguing because it involves another kidnapping of sorts, but the motivations behind this one is not monetary gain but ritualistic sacrifice. Seems an old geezer believes a few women should be sacrificed to appease the old gods of spring. What religion or cult this geezer follows is not made clear, but his methods are pretty twisted involving wearing a goat’s head and blood letting. For much of the film, we’re left with the notion that this old guy is just crazy, until a hooded creature with a maggot ridden face crawls out of the cellar of the barn the women are being held in. As one of the women escapes, she heads toward a warehouse and this is where our two stories collide.

A couple of things impressed me about RITES OF SPRING. One was the deft way director Padraig Reynolds handled both genres. This film could succeed as a tense crime thriller with its great performances by both kidnappers and kidnappees alike. At the same time, the horror scenes, especially a fantastically paced scene in a parking lot and most of the stuff that occurs in the barn are definitely toe-curlingly scary. Should Reynolds veer off into either horror or crime tales, this movie is testament that he can do both well (though I hope he chooses the former).

On top of that, I loved the brutality of this film; especially the ferocity of the worm faced killer who acts more like a rampaging beast than a methodical killer. The film does not shy away on gore and blood is lost in copious amounts to appease both the spring gods and gore hounds alike. This is much more in the vein of a TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE with its vicious monsters and murders and the down and dirty way the victims fight back against this thing.

As I said in the opening paragraph, RITES OF SPRING when it gets to the horror can be compared to a lot of things (TCM, WRONG TURN, MALEVOLANCE, even THE WICKER MAN comes to mind with its attention to ritual), but it does horror well and I appreciate that just as much as something shiny as new. With a fantastic cast lead by AJ Bowen who deserves to be in more films and offers a surprisingly wholesome performance here, RITES OF SPRING is definitely a new horror worth screaming about.






BELOW ZERO (2012)

Directed by Justin Thomas Ostensen
Written by Signe Olynyk
Starring Edward Furlong, Michael Berryman, Kristin Booth, Sadie Madu, Dee Hanna
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug


I was all ready to heap a ton of criticism on this film after seeing the preview, but after watching it, I have to say that there’s a lot to like about BELOW ZERO; a Stephen King-esque thriller about a writer with writer’s block going to extreme lengths to channel his artistic muse. Though the story jumps a bit off the rails toward the end, BELOW ZERO has enough going for it to be a pleasant surprise.

Edward Furlong plays Jack, a screenwriter who made it big early and hasn’t had a hit since. His agent has booked him a private room in a slaughterhouse which is exactly like the premise of his new story he calls BELOW ZERO, about a man locked in the meat freezer of a serial killer who doesn’t know he’s in there. Kristin Booth does a decent job as Penny, a thickly FARGO-accented local who is hired to lock Jack in the freezer. Things start off well as Jack begins the novel and we are introduced to the killer played by the always creepy Michael Berryman. Berryman shines in this role. Usually he’s the guy who just stands and looks creepy. Here he’s given more to do and delivers one of the best performances in THE HILLS HAVE EYES actor’s long career. Still forced to play the weirdo, at least Berryman is given a little depth here as he sings opera, mourns loss, and looks after a young boy while disposing bodies and running around bare chested in the night.

Where BELOW ZERO begins to unravel is towards the end as things get a bit too much like Charlie Kaufman’s ADAPTATION as Jack begins to write himself into the script he is writing in the cooler about a writer trapped in a cooler. While Kaufman was able to keep a firm hand in reality, giving us an anchor to hold on to and still understand the narrative, Signe Olynyk’s script doesn’t have that. Things start getting really loose towards the end and we as the viewer don’t know what’s real, what isn’t, and what is being written and rewritten. Director Justin Thomas Ostensen pulls it all together in the end, but still, there were some moments where I definitely applaud the ambition of those behind the film, but feel that all involved lost a hold of what’s what towards the end as fiction and reality begin to blur.

Despite the flawed ending, Furlong does a great job as Jack and pulls off the role of a desperate writer very well. Berryman shows that he has depth that has never been utilized in film before. And those of us who are writers will definitely appreciate some of the ballsy moves this story takes. BELOW ZERO is not the perfect film, but if you’re a fan of King and horror stories about writing, this is going to be right up your alley.





See ya next time, folks!

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in late 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released March-August 2012. Also look for Mark's exciting arc on GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-80 which begins in August 2012.


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