Monday, 28 October 2013

IFI Horrorthon Report - Rituals (1977)

Directed by Peter Carter
Starring Hal Holbrook (Harry), Lawrence Dane (Mitzi), Robin Gammell (Marty), Ken James (Abel), Gary Reineke (DJ)

Sometimes, at horror festivals, a gem is uncovered, something that never got a UK theatrical release, previously available on these shores on a grubby pre-cert VHS, and available only on US DVD as a doyenne of public domain cheapness. This is a Canadian film, made by UK-born director Carter, also behind Klondike Fever (1980, Harry Alan Towers' nearest attempt to a 'proper' film) and the late-period AIP Peter Fonda trucker flick High Ballin' (1978). This film which apparently cost just under $700,000 Canadian dollars, which for a Canadian tax-shelter piece is low compared to the $4 million it cost to make Scanners (1981) or Death Ship (1980), and a sixth of that went on getting Holbrook, because they needed an American 'name'. It's about 5 middle-aged-ish doctors who go on a camping trip in the "Cauldron of the Moon", a fictionalised area of rural Ontario. However, behind the goofery of the trips, four out of the five pairs of boots the men brought are taken. One by one, DJ goes missing, to find a dam in order to get help. Then, Abel gets killed by bees (or did he?) and Marty (unusually for an exploitation film, a sympathetic gay character, just one of the guys, whose sexuality is not made a big deal, bar one shout of "faggot") is left in a vegetative state. Mitzi and Harry then find that someone is bumping them off, but who is this mysterious mountain man?
Yes, though it seems to be a blending of Deliverance and a slasher (unusually, an all-male example of the latter), it works. The performances are realistic, the characters you root for, then feel remorse as they get killed. The killer is a bit unoriginal, and the makeup isn't great, but it works. Dane, in particular (the villain in Scanners, and a regular of Canadian exploitation in everything from Anglo-Canadian Alistair MacLean adap/Channel 4 regular Bear Island (1979) to Happy Birthday To Me (1981) and Bride of Chucky (1998)) is great as the troubled, conflicted Mitzi who wants to abandon the vegetative Marty and get help, while Holbrook's Harry disbelieves him.
In all, an underrated little picture.

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