An opening title card for Rites of Spring tells us that five teenage girls went missing on the first day of spring in 1984, and that a string of other young girls went missing the following year, again on the first day of spring, and that these disappearances continued annually for the next twenty-four years. We’re never told what state this happened in, although the film is littered with shots of cornfields, dilapidated barns, and rusty water towers, so it’s obviously somewhere in the Midwest, maybe Iowa or Wisconsin. Because of a passing cop car, we do know that the name of the town is, ironically, Hope Springs. But never mind; the important thing is that none of the bodies were ever recovered. How ominous. This could, perhaps, play into the cliché of passing off a horror movie as a dramatization of an actual incident. We’ll never know, of course, since the words “inspired by true events” weren’t used in the ads.
The futility of applying logic to a movie like this is not lost on me, but I’m forced to wonder about the population of Hope Springs. Given twenty-four consecutive years of disappearances on the same day, you’d think someone somewhere would have noticed a pattern beginning to form, and therefore would have been motivated to hightail it out of there. At the very least, you’d think all the parents would have the decency to send their young daughters away for their own protection. But no; not only is Hope Springs still a thriving community, it also seems as if no one is aware of what has been happening all these years. The opening scene, in which two twentysomething women leave a bar after midnight and are immediately kidnapped by a hooded man with a chloroform-soaked rag, makes this abundantly clear. So too does a scene in which two people enter an old house and discover a hidden room with dozens of pictures and newspaper clippings pinned to the wall.
At this point, the film splits into two plotlines. In one, the two kidnapped women (Anessa Ramsey and Hannah Bryan) awaken to find themselves hanging by their wrists in a dusty old barn. Their kidnapper, an old man known only as The Stranger (Marco St. John), enters the room and asks one of them if she’s clean. He then collects samples of their blood and tosses them into a pit, at which point some ... some creature stirs out of a slumber. Later on, The Stranger cuts all the clothes off of one of the girls, covers her head with a goat mask, and gives her a sponge bath. How boring that his use of the word “clean” was literal. In between these moments, the two women cry, scream, hyperventilate, ask each other what’s happening to them, and make promises that one will not leave the other behind. We also see The Stranger praying in a room decorated with toy horses and using a goat’s skull to pay homage in front of a vast cornfield.
In the other plotline, a young man named Ben (A.J. Bowen) is drawn into a scheme to extort money from a wealthy businessman named Ryan Hayden (James Bartz). The mastermind, Paul (Sonny Marinelli), is cold and ruthless, whereas Ben clearly does not have the temperament for this kind of thing. Regardless, they succeed in killing Hayden’s wife and kidnapping his daughter, Kelly (Skylar Page Burke), although there’s the unexpected addition of Kelly’s babysitter, who saw Paul’s face. They take Kelly to a conveniently abandoned factory and begin making their demands for $2 million in unmarked, unprocessed tens and twenties. Sent to pick up the money is Ben’s brother, Tommy (Andrew Breland). Little does anyone know that Hayden is the not the kind of man you want to screw with.
For the first half of the film, we’re struggling to figure out how these two stories are connected. When all is made clear, we’re more infuriated than satisfied. That’s because, in spite of the history certain characters share, which decency prevents me from revealing, writer/director Padraig Reynolds either didn’t realize or didn’t care that he made two completely different movies. Their convergence in the final act is actually one step below a contrivance; it literally seems as if scenes from a crime thriller and a slasher/creature feature were spliced together in the editing room with only the hope that a cohesive storyline would somehow emerge. Ed Wood turned that level of artistic incompetence into an endearing form of camp. A viewing or two of Glen or Glenda might actually do Reynolds some good.
The Internet Movie Database dubs the main antagonist Creature, although the end credits refer to him as Worm Face, and indeed, select close-up shots reveal a head with worms crawling on it. We don’t really know what the hell he is; he has the proportions of a regular albeit tall man, although his face is anything but human, and miraculously, I could tell this despite the fact that his head was wrapped in some kind of cloth. We do know that his weapon of choice is a sickle blade attached to a long stick, and there will be many scenes near the end of him chasing people, not just though the abandoned factory but also through cornfields, which is only appropriate. The final scene of Rites of Springs is immensely unsatisfying, not only because of the caviler attitude with which Reynolds regards loose ends but also because of a post credit scene that amounts to overkill. This is such a poor effort. How could it have earned a theatrical release?
I’ve said it before, and, if RITES OF SPRINGS teaches me anything, it’s that it often bears repeating: almost anyone with an idea can write and shoot a slasher/horror picture these days, AND almost any studio will distribute it. The upside? The market continues to be flooded with good and … erm … let’s say “less than good” product, and that keeps the consumers coming back to the trough for yet another scare. The downside? Well, … more
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more