Rituals Film Details
Overview: Five doctors on a wilderness outing are stalked by disfigured, crazed killers.
Tagline: If you go down in the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise.
Review: Two of the most interesting cult films of the 1970’s essentially anticipated or inspired the mad slasher out for brutal revenge genre: 1974’s OPEN SEASON and 1977’s RITUALS. Of the two OPEN SEASON is perhaps the more enjoyable & popular, but RITUALS is the one which has proved to be more thought-provoking and determined. It is a grim, nasty little thriller that is easily dismissed by it’s low budget, limited acting, lack of technical finesse and sheer obscurity. Much of the scorn heaped onto RITUALS can be traced directly to a 1980 double “thumbs down” review by the then highly influential “At The Movies” with Roger Ebert & Gene Siskel, who were reviewing the compromised 89 minute version re-released as THE CREEPER (and currently available on a DVD box set release called 50 DRIVE-IN CLASSICS), not the complete 100 minute version native to Canada under the title RITUALS. Leonard Maltin also scored the movie with one of his infamous “BOMB” ratings, again basing his judgment on the reduced 89 minute print (also available from Embassy Home Video on VHS as RITUALS: beware of this release too). The three came to the same dismissively scathing conclusion: “Poor man’s DELIVERANCE ripoff, skip it.” While DELIVERANCE had an obvious influence on RITUALS’ basic plot and look, the film was more of a holdout from the 1970’s paranoid revenge genre of exploitation films (like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, OPEN SEASON, WOLF LAKE and DEATH WEEKEND) where justice becomes just as horrific as the crimes being avenged and the lines between good and evil are blurred. RITUALS concerns a group of doctors who take a backpacking fishing expedition into the wilds of Canada and find themselves stalked by a scarred & psychotic WW2 veteran who was cruelly disfigured by inept Army surgeons following a battle injury, spent a torturous purgatory in traction, was decorated as a hero but rejected by society and now lives with his blind brother in their hermit’s shack out in the middle of nowhere. The film purports to be about the ordeal that the doctors must go through in a fight for survival against nature and their adversary, but emerges as a potent metaphor for war and it’s own codes of ethics. As one fellow commenter wonderfully notes, by the end of the film star Hal Holbrook looks, talks and acts like Charlie Sheen at the end of PLATOON: battle dazed, coldly ruthless, haggard and disheveled, face scarred and muddied. And like the end of PLATOON, RITUALS’ primary tormentor more or less tells Holbrook to finish him off much like Tom Berenger’s final line: “Do it.” And one of the most striking aspects of the film is the change in scenery between the first DELIVERANCE section set in lush woods in & along a rocky mountain river, and the second half of the film, set for the most part in a desolate wasteland that was the result of a forest fire but resembles more than anything else a bombed out battlefield, complete with blasted, twisted trees, smoking craters, rubble strewn hillsides and an abandoned hydroelectric dam that looks like it was the target of a B-52 raid. And as in combat the attitude + behavior of the men deteriorates as their shattered nerves give way during the progression of their ordeal. At first they respond philosophically to their plight, but soon descend into the staggered, numbed exhaustion that combat veterans speak of when describing their battlefield ordeals. Only Holbrook’s character is able to maintain his sense of perspective about their “battle”, adapts to the situation and survives. But like the end of a Dirty Harry movie he dispenses their tormentor not with the glee of victory but with a sense of sadness, and shared mutual respect. He finishes the job that the Japanese began in 1945 delivering the ultimate form of euthanasia to a patient who should have been allowed to die with dignity, but was kept alive out of contempt. The killer leaves subtle clues as to his motivations to torment the minds of his victims while attacking their bodies, and uses nature to achieve his ends (one obvious allegory to war being the use of a beehive thrown into the group of yellow hatted doctors like a grenade being thrown at helmeted soldiers) as well as things like hidden bear traps, knives and good old fashioned fire. One element of the killer’s behavior that is not explained, however, is his ability to traverse the woods so quickly — how was he able to rig the body at the dam and stash the boots in his hermit shack and still be back in time to throw the beehive at the guys, set up the bear traps in the river, carve off a head & mount it on a pole and find opportunities to be shown standing still, silhouetted against the sky while watching from a nearby ridge? And for that matter, how did he know that five doctors would be taking a backpacking trip into the woods near where he & his brother lived at all? Coincidence and advanced woodsman’s skills for sure, but either the whole trip was a setup or the idea of having the men be doctors and the killer a scarred medical blunder are just plot devices, which is why I can only give the movie 8/10 instead of a perfect score. But make no mistake and pay no heed to Siskel, Ebert and Maltin: this is a riveting, grim backwoods thriller worthy of restoration, and apparently a print of the complete 100 minute version has surfaced & will be shown in Philadelphia in May of 2006: Let’s hope it finds it’s way onto DVD because my call is that this movie was ahead enough of the times in 1977 to still be relevant + potent in 2007. We are at war and all, you know.
Duration: 100 min
Genre: Adventure, Horror, Thriller
Also known as: Ils étaient cinq,Rites,Nemesis i villmarken,Ритуалы,Rituals,Rytuały,Rituais,Rituals, il trekking della morte,La ceremonia de la muerte,Joki ilman paluuta,Floden utan återvändo,The Creeper,Rituales: la ceremonia de la muerte,Das Ritual,Villmarks-mysteriet