Review: Rituals (1977)

Director: Peter Carter
Writer: Ian Sutherland

LOU. THE BENEVOLENT old trader in Wall Street. Henry. The spineless scientist in Creepshow. Father Malone in The Fog. The shady head of The Firm. Whether or not you know his name, you've probably seen Hal Holbrook in these supporting roles. Let's take a look at one of his leading roles in a unique horror/survival movie called Rituals (aka The Creeper).
 

A group of doctors are flown into a remote location for their annual backpacking trip. Expecting a respite from the stress of the medical profession, they're preyed on by an unknown assassin. A series of tragic accidents befalls them as they fight for survival.

I’m fascinated by the character development in this film. It’s all achieved through realistic banter. Dirty looks. Stoned and drunken ramblings reveal so much about the men. As the situation becomes more grim, the secrets and regrets pour out. Each man's identity is revealed only as it relates to the story.

The opening scene is perfect. Guys bullshitting around the breakfast table. Simple and effective. Almost Altmanesque. Tarantino–the ambassador of 1970s cinema–devised a similar situation for the opening of Reservoir Dogs. I'm not saying it's easy to pull off. It requires a combination of great writing and great acting to keep the audience interested in a 3 minute conversation about tipping. But the method is tried and true. For any movie that's all about the group, the audience has to see the bond, or lack thereof, before it's tested.

Rituals manages to be part Lord of the Flies and part intelligent slasher. The men are driven to their physical and moral extremes. Forced to choose between individualism and teamwork. Mitzi, played by Lawrence Dane, represents the brutal individualist. He's the perfect counterpart to the quiet, virtuous Harry. I'd call it an intelligent slasher because although they are being stalked by a creep with a vendetta against doctors, most of their physical injuries stem from their own ineptitude and disagreements. There isn't a full-on confrontation with the creep until the very end. I like that.

My main complaint with Ritual is the film quality. It's very grainy and key scenes are too dark to see. There were some very rough cuts as well. With regard to the cinematography, there's not much to speak of. Although it was shot in the Canadian wilderness, it’s not a beautiful movie. It’s bleak.

Most reviews describe Rituals as a copy of Deliverance. On the surface, they do have a lot in common. I think Rituals is better. When the shock of the butt rape in Deliverance wears off, what's left? Dueling banjos. No, thank you.

Rituals is for people who liked The Hills Have EyesThe Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Descent. It's a little hard to find because it's also known as The Creeper, but as of this writing, it's available in its entirety on Youtube: