The suitably creepy month of October allowed THN to attend Manchester’s cult and horror film festival Grimmfest. Amongst the host of classic and contemporary genre offerings (some great, some gash – all gory), one film this THN contributor struggled with was James Cullen Bressack’s home-invasion shocker HATE CRIME (read our review here). The film is in no way bad in filmmaking terms, it’s actually one of the few found-footage efforts that makes sense and works but it is brutal and more’s the warning, will disturb, disgust and outrage many with its realistic approach to horror that sadly reflects pain and suffering as part of human nature.
Centred on a loving Jewish family celebrating their son and brother Alex’s 13th Birthday, what follows over the course of the next 75 minutes will live long in the memory, providing you last that long. THN were lucky enough to put some questions to director Bressack about his films’ controversial themes, influences and his future in what is only his second full-length feature following slasher MY PURE JOY.
Could you tell us how you became involving in writing and directing your own features?
It’s an interesting question as I don’t really know (laughs). It just suddenly happened, I mean my entire life I’ve always wanted to do it and just randomly one day came up with an idea, wrote it and then managed to find funding for the film and then directed it. It’s kinda serendipitous and hard to explain but I made shorts as I was growing up but it just struck at the right time I guess.
Where did that inspiration come from. Was there any favourite films or filmmakers that you drew from?
Yes! My favourite filmmaker of all time is probably Chan-wook Park, favourite film being OLDBOY. All the other films I really like being in no particular order after that point. Takashi Miike is a huge inspiration. I think AUDITION is an amazing film of course Alfred Hitchcock, Eli Roth was a big inspiration. Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez. Frank Hettenloetter even though my latest film [HATE CRIME], doesn’t show much from him, my first one did. So yea, I basically pulled inspiration on my experiences from watching films and what I like about film.
How did HATE CRIME come about?
It’s an interesting story as I wanted to make a ‘type’ of found-footage movie but didn’t want to make just something run-of-the-mill as I never really liked found-footage as a sub-genre. So I thought it would be kinda fun to make something that was the most messed-up found-footage movie ever! I didn’t have any ideas or anything but I was in Texas with my business partner on my way to a screening of MY PURE JOY, we’re both Jewish and we were accosted by a group of skinheads that surrounded him, started calling him names, threatening him and we ended up leaving the bar and one of them had a Hitler moustache tattooed on his finger that actually made it into the movie and after we were like ‘Oh my God‘. So I went and did some research and found that this stuff is going on so much more now and the media just kind of ignores it. Not only in America, I mean in Europe too, there’s huge uprisings of the Neo-Nazi party. It’s crazy right now with people wearing masks, showing up and then attacking mass amounts of people. So I figured this is what I’m going to make this film about. My biggest fear in life is home-invasions so I figured I’d just combine it all.
I mentioned in my review the similarities between the home-invasion scene in HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER and your film. Was it ever in the forefront of your inspiration?
Here’s something really interesting as HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL-KILLER is one of my favourite movies and my first film MY PURE JOY is heavily inspired by it. It’s a character study of a serial-killer essentially. This film is not inspired by HENRY but in HATE CRIME the woman who was originally going to play the mother and who had been cast but ended up having problems with SAG [Screen Actors Guild] was actually that woman in that scene in HENRY. She was obviously younger then and older now but her name was Lisa Temple and she was set for the mother role.
Did you have trouble attracting actors to the project due to its harshness in tone and plot?
A lot of the actors -once they were onboard the project- were pretty gung-ho about it but a couple of actors ended up taking roles and then backing out because they had a change of heart. So, we had a couple of problems like that and actually Camille Keaton, who is a friend of mine and was in the original I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, she was slated to play the mother also but decided she didn’t want to go back to that place again. So we had a bunch of different people that had happened with. During the auditions I had my PA go out and tell those auditioning that it was okay and I was Jewish and everyone was cool with it, making sure they knew what the content was and then one woman goes ‘This is appalling, we should all leave, we can’t be involved in something like this’. She rounds up a crowd of people who were waiting in the auditioning room, around 30 people and led them out. Only she came back later to audition, she got all those people to leave so she didn’t have as much competition. We had to go through hundreds of auditions but even I thought that was funny.
How deep into statistical and fact-based research did you go into in order to depict the brutality and realistic violence?
Well, it wasn’t just myself, it was my business partner and co-writer Jarret Cohen on the film as much as me. We definitely dug deep into this with statistics and all that stuff and actually all the brutality you see in the movie, and this maybe hard to believe, but a lot of it is metaphoric. What we decided was we were going to put the entire family through the horrors of the Holocaust in that one hour and 10 minutes. What we did was we researched all of the the different things that happened during the Holocaust. One example being that SOPHIE’S CHOICE moment where somebody has to choose which of their children lived. All these things that were going on these camps we decided to bring it to a new age and put everybody through it all at once. The hate crimes that go on in real life are actually just as brutal but not as prolonged. I read a kid had gasoline poured on him and set on fire in the street. A couple of weeks ago a young boy got his mouth stapled shut and it’s stuff like which the media downplays and it goes on all the time. I guess what I took from the movie and what inspired me on how I told the story is the news reports. Because when I watch those news reports, they tell you all these horrible things that have happened to this person, show you a picture of that person for a second, then show you two or three people that knew them, saying how nice they were and that’s why at the end of HATE CRIME, I decided to do all that character development of the characters that you’ve just seen all this horrible things happen to. During the end credits you get to familiarise with somebody you just saw these things happen to. I felt it was more heartbreaking and actually went with the format of the news articles.
Was the film itself based on one particular crime or was it and amalgamation of your research as well as your imagination?
It was certainly a combination of my messed up head, Jarret Cohen’s messed up head and what we had researched. We didn’t want to make it just one specific crime based on one specific event because I felt it would do a disservice to the message. People may have just isolated this as ‘oh this just happened once’ rather than ‘this is what’s going on in the world.
Was it always your intention to make it a ‘found-footage’ genre piece?
It was always going to be found-footage and it’s interesting because I hate found footage films, I really do. What I really liked about the idea of doing this found footage is that I felt it was like the reverse horror movie because in horror movies you’re afraid of when the killer pops out at you and here we’re put in the shoes of the killers and we’re afraid every time we’re seeing somebody on screen who’s not he killer because that means ‘oh God’ something is going to happen to them and you have to watch it. So I thought it was a reverse and it changed how we would look at fear rather than who’s that popping out over there. As I said I hate found footage but I just wanted to make the most fucked-up found footage film ever made so people could never make ’em anymore (laughs).
Is there a release date set, yet?
We’re in negotiations. However, we had to send a copy off to the BBFC before we played Grimmfest to actually play the festival and because we played the festival, I think we actually got by which surprised the heck out of me.
I mentioned in my review that I didn’t enjoy the film but not because it was a bad technically, but because it’s difficult to watch and enjoy. Have you had similar feedback?
I’m one of the few people that enjoys both positive and negative reviews. If someone doesn’t like my film or didn’t feel the experience or didn’t get it I don’t take that as an insult. I always try and listen to their feedback and think constructive criticism is always great and helps me grow as a filmmaker. That being said, if anybody likes this film then ‘whoah’. It’s definitely not a film to be liked. How I’ve kinda explained it to people who wanna see it is that it’s a rollercoaster ride and it’s an ‘experience’. It’s not something I see people liking. It’s a tough watch and it’s meant to be but I think it invokes a strong emotion and that what’s important.
Could you tell us a little about your next project THE NEW NEIGHBOR and anything else you have in the pipeline?
Yea, sure. I have two projects coming up. One is called PERNICIOUS and it’s shooting in Thailand in March, I wrote that and it’s a ghost story believe it or not but unlike any ghost story because it’s going to be the most gory ghost story ever made. I guarantee you that. THE NEW NEIGHBOR is actually the least like anything I’ve ever done. I didn’t write it but I was hired to direct and it has a good script and it’s an erotic, seductive love story about a girl who sees something up with her new neighbour who may or may not be a vampire but it’s not disturbing I can tell you that. I think it’s going to be a nice departure from all those other messed up films. My first few films were really messed up but as I tell people I’m a filmmaker, I make movies and two of my movies just happen to be messed up but I’m not a messed up filmmaker (laughs).
THN would like to thank James for his time and wish is luck in his future projects. Here is a taster of that fucked-up film HATE CRIME…