• Rituals

    Released by: Code Red DVD
    Released on: 4/19/2011
    Director: Peter Carter
    Cast: Lawrence Dane, Hal Holbrook, Robin Gammell
    Year: 1977
    Purchase From TLA Video

    The Movie:

    Directed by Peter Carter in 1977, Rituals (also know under the alternate title of The Creeper) has been a long time coming as far as a decent DVD release is concerned, but that day has arrived. Influenced by the likes of seventies box office hits like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Deliverance, Carter’s picture revolves around a group of doctors made up of Harry (Hal Holbrook), Mitzi (Lawrence Dane), Abel (Ken James), Martin (Robin Gammell) and his brother DJ (Gary Reineke) head north to the deep forests of Northern Ontario for a weekend of fishing and relaxation.

    Things are fine at first, their pilot drops them off without any issues and a day of hiking rewards them with a good spot to set up camp for the night. The pair share some drinks and joke around before calling it a night, only to wake up the next morning and find that someone has stolen their hiking boots. The only one in the group with an extra pair of shoes is DJ and so he heads off to try and find help at a dam they know is close by, while the other four make the best of the situation. Time passes and the next day DJ still hasn’t come back and this time they wake up to find the severed head of a deer mounted on a stick in their campsite – someone is obviously trying to send them a message.

    Completely (and understandably) freaked out by this, they decide they’re not going to wait around any longer and so they wrap their feet in cloth and decide to hike out to find DJ or anyone else who can help. Of course, this hike comes with its own share of problems, from a nest of angry wasps to the appearance of a strange person who may or may not be following them. Conflict erupts within the group and as tensions rise and tempers start to boil, they find themselves in a fight for survival against a menace that seems to constantly have the upper hand.

    First off, there’s no denying the influence that John Boorman’s Deliverance had on this picture – it’s painfully obvious that Carter’s film was hoping to cash in on that picture’s success and it uses pretty much the exact same set up even if it does take things in a decidedly more twisted direction. The film also benefits from the same type of hopeless and destitute atmosphere that Tobe Hooper so masterfully created with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Carter’s picture absolutely wears its influences on its sleeve and no one will likely be claiming this as the most original picture ever made. With that said, it’s a good movie, derivative or not. What sets this one apart from a lot of other backwoods horror films isn’t just what happens to our campers but how they react to it and how they in turn react to one another. What’s interesting about Rituals isn’t just the nasty gore set pieces (handled very effectively by Carl Fullerton who would later work on a few Friday The 13th films and the Oscar winning The Silence Of The Lambs) but how our campers, close friends all these years, start to let their deep seated issues with each other come into play when the proverbial shit hits the fan. When these guys start to snap, some mix of selfishness and survivalist instinct kicks in they go back and forth between attempting to work together and being at one another’s throats.

    None of this would matter very much if the acting weren’t up to par, but thankfully it is. While all in the cast excel with the material, it won’t surprise anyone to hear that Holbook is the best part of the film in this regard. His character has a bit more depth than the others and so he’s got just a bit more to work with and he proves very capable in the physical side of the role as well as the more dramatic side.

    There are slow spots here and there and there are the aforementioned derivative plot points but Rituals succeeds where a lot of other films fail. If it’s not the most original picture ever made it’s certainly one wrought with tension and suspense, some stand out gore set pieces, strong performances and excellent cinematography that makes great use of its remote Canadian locations. In fact, in much the same way that Scorsese lets skuzzy seventies New York City become a character in his film, so too does Carter let the rough terrain of Northern Ontario become a character in his.

    It should be noted that this film was released previously on DVD in the United States by Mill Creek Entertainment, which in turn appears to have been sourced from the VHS release that came out through Embassy in the eighties. Both the Embassy and subsequently the Mill Creek release were cut and there’s a good bit more gore present (in addition to some dialogue and character development bits) in this uncut version which runs almost ten minutes longer at 99 minutes versus 89 minutes.


    Rituals was previously released uncut on DVD in Germany by X-Rated Kult in a non-anamorphic widescreen that left a lot to be desired, in addition to the cut Mill Creek VHS port mentioned previously. This new transfer from Code Red presents the film in 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen for the first time and if it’s not a reference quality looking presentation, it’s a big improvement over the German release and a massive improvement over the Mill Creek tape sourced one. It’s fairly well known that due to a lab accident the ending of the film is pretty messy looking, and it is, but this transfer is still perfectly watchable even if there are some compression artifacts in a few scenes. Expect some print damage and scratches throughout the presentation and some periodic color fading but as this was taken from Dane’s own 35mm print it’s probably the best we’re going to get unless better elements surface.

    The audio quality, handled by an English language Dolby Digital Mono mix, is also fine. Some minor hiss creeps in here and there and if you listen for it you’ll hear a pop or two but it doesn’t seem out of place. No alternate language options or subtitles are supplied.

    The best extra on the disc is an audio commentary with the film’s star and producer Lawrence Dane, who is a fairly affable guy with a sharp memory who shares some good stories here about working on this picture. He discusses the involvement of the various cast members and talks about what it was like working with Carter. He also talks about shooting the picture out in the remote woods and some of the issues that arose during the production.

    If you need even more Lawrence Dane, he also shows up in an on-camera interview (21:02) in which he talks about the opportunity that this film afforded him, to turn in an interesting picture on a low budget, explaining how it was all shot in continuity. A second interview lets actor Robin Gammell (10:12) spill his guts about his experiences working on the film. Gammell talks about how he was asked to appear in the film by the director and what it was like working in the woods on the film. Gammell describes Holbrook as terrific and describes the difficulty of certain key scenes in the film.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc is the film’s original theatrical trailer (1:58, it’s a classic, set to an eerie version of the song Teddy Bear’s Picnic), trailers for a few other Code Red DVD releases (Trapped, The Last Chase, I’m Going To Get You Elliott Boy, The Visitor, Nightmare and The Undertaker), menus and chapter selection. There’s also a brief video intro from Dane that plays before the picture starts. Unfortunately the Hal Holbrook interview that was at one point mentioned as going to be included is nowhere to be found on the disc.

    The Final Word:

    If it’s maybe not a masterpiece Rituals is still a damn good movie with some great performances and memorable set pieces. It’s tense, it’s exciting, and it’s just generally quite well made. Code Red’s DVD isn’t going to win any awards for picture quality but it offers up the film in the best quality so far in its home video release history and throws in some extra features to boot. Fans of the film will want this one, no doubt about it.