MAY 16, 2011
It’s never fun to realize that the production history of a movie is more exciting than anything that ended up in the film itself, but that’s the case with Ritual, which was, wasn’t, and then once again was the 3rd film in the aborted Tales From The Crypt theatrical feature series. It took over five years to see release in the US, over which time it changed hands (from Universal to Dimension) and possibly had some half-assed footage of the Cryptkeeper added in along the way, but no one gave a shit when it was finally put on DVD – in fact I forgot all about it until, somewhat ironically, it popped up on a list of titles that had been sold off from Dimension onto another company, Echo Bridge, who now control the US DVD distribution of a lot of your “favorite” Dimension sequels (Halloween 6! Hellraiser: Bloodline! Most of the Children of the Corns!). Ritual is, hilariously, the only one (I think) that wasn’t a native Dimension production, which just adds to it's sad "tossed around" legacy.
The weirdest thing about the film’s lengthy delay is that it’s chalked up to the box office failure of Bordello Of Blood, the 2nd film after the relatively successful (and awesome) Demon Knight. Apparently, Blood’s failure meant no one wanted to see another Crypt feature, and so it sat around in Universal’s vault for a while before Dimension took it off their hands. Makes sense... except when you consider that the film was produced in 2000 or 2001, and Bordello came and went back in 1996. If the movie was suddenly orphaned because of another film’s failure, why did they even make it in the first place? Did they not realize until after Ritual was complete that Bordello had tanked five years before? I hunted around online for a better/more logical explanation, but found none. My only guess is that they were contracted to do the movie by a certain date or would have to pay penalties out to certain parties, and thus just shot it quickly to avoid legal trouble.
A rushed/half-assed production is certainly evident while you’re watching the movie, with its numerous awkwardly blocked scenes and rushed action sequences. Most offensive is how Tim Curry’s character is killed in what can best be described as an edited for TV version of a death scene (even those are often edited better), and then to top it off, his character is barely mentioned ever again, despite the fact that he was the movie’s most interesting character. And the ending, without spoiling anything, is so abrupt and awkward I couldn’t even tell what was actually going on; it seems like there’s a supernatural twist to it (think Skeleton Key) but I'm pretty sure it’s actually just a poorly executed macabre (kind of sick, really) joke.
And that’s the other thing that bothered me – for an alleged Tales From The Crypt movie, it’s far too dry and serious. There are occasional light moments (mainly thanks to Curry), but it hardly showcases the sort of black/ironic humor that the series was known for. Plus, the story has no sort of twisted moral or poetic justice to it, even though it lends itself to one. I never saw Bordello, and Demon Knight only had a few of these touches (the postal employee’s stash of guns comes to mind), but on the surface, you’d think a tale of voodoo, blackmail, and revenge would be right up the series’ alley – yet it feels nothing like a Tales production (and not for nothing, but even the cartoon had more graphic violence - apart from some nudity this feels like a PG-13 affair). It doesn’t help that the Cryptkeeper intro (unlike the others, he doesn’t come back at the end, though there are some outtakes at the end of the credits) is painfully cheap, with a very stiff and lame looking ‘keeper making a few jokes on a beach while a few non-naked girls show off their covered behinds and chests for what I assume is supposed to be our titillation; star Jennifer Grey (Baby!) actually shows more legit skin. His awful/unfunny Jamaican accent does it no favors, either. Rumor is these scenes were shot around 2006 when the movie reverted back into a Tales movie; I don’t doubt it, but I am curious if real scenes were actually shot and just lost forever? I remember the ones in Demon Knight were fairly impressive and fun, but these are just sad.
The real shame is, this could have been a really good movie instead of a fairly watchable one. The voodoo backdrop is always welcome, and it’s not like you see too many horror movies shot in Jamaica. Grey is an unusual choice for a horror lead, but she mostly plays it like she’s in a romantic comedy or something, and her chemistry and surprisingly fleshed out friendship with the Kristen Wilson character was laudable – it would have been easy to just have her spend most of her time with one of the male characters and have Wilson be some sort of rival, but instead we get this fairly enjoyable and strong female friendship taking us through the story. Curry is also a delight, as always; he’s a bit miscast as some sort of ultimate bachelor, but you will start to miss him the instant he’s gone (which occurs fairly early in the proceedings).
However, I don’t know if Craig Sheffer was another miscast actor because I never trust him, but the reveal that he was the one behind his brother’s “zombie” state (and even WHY) was among the least surprising in movie history. I haven’t seen the original I Walked With A Zombie (this movie is a loose remake), but the fact that it’s a 1940’s horror movie, added with some early exposition here about a will and “who gets the house if he dies”, made it fairly easy for me to guess that we were once again dealing with a “let’s screw someone out of their inheritance” plot (which, ironically, was an invention of this movie’s screenwriters – the original boiled down to a jealous love triangle from what I understand). There’s another twist on top of that, one I DIDN’T see coming, but they definitely could have made the first part less obvious.
The horror elements are hit or miss. There’s a great melting scene right at the beginning, and even though the CGI was crap I liked the idea of people hallucinating various monsters and “things come to life” that resulted in their deaths or major accidents. But the climax lacks any real tension or scares, and there are a few too many nightmare scenes, including one truly obnoxious one where Grey is seemingly having detailed nightmares about characters doing things that she’s not even present for. I have little tolerance for nightmare-based fake scares as it is – the least filmmakers can do is keep the nightmare scene from the POV of the character who is about to exaggeratedly wake up from their dream by bolting up and gasping.
Oh well. There aren’t a lot of movies that sit on the shelf for this long that turn out to be any good, and thus my low expectations were more or less met. It’s not a fiasco, but it’s just not very compelling either; it’s the cinematic equivalent of instant coffee (“Hmm, you don’t have anything else? Fine, beats being thirsty I guess.”). Echo Bridge’s disc isn’t anything to get excited about either; it’s as barebones as they come. The original Dimension release had Spanish subs from what I understand, but this doesn’t even have that much. Frankly I’m not even sure why they are bothering with the double-dip – if there was any person on the planet who wanted to own this movie, they already bought the last one, which at least had a relevant cover (a bad Photoshop of the three main actors, which was still better than this one, which shows a little demonic girl hugging a voodoo doll – there’s nothing like that in the movie).
What say you?