|Tales from the Crypt - Ritual|
|Written by Darren Gross|
|Tuesday, 02 May 2006|
This third feature film in the “Tales from the Crypt” franchise (following 1995’s entertaining but junky “Demon Knight” and 1996’s dire “Bordello of Blood”) was produced in 2001 and outside of a minimal foreign release has sat on the shelf, unseen by US audiences until this DVD’s release. Loosely inspired by Val Lewton’s 1943 classic “I Walked with a Zombie,” “Ritual” is better than “Bordello of Blood” but thoroughly undistinguished.
While lacking high budget slickness, the production isn’t threadbare and benefits from its tropical Jamaican locations. The same probably can’t be said for the cast who look thoroughly miserable and frequently appear exhausted and uncomfortable as if they all suffered from dysentery on location. The acting is mostly adequate, but frequently uneven. Grey is extremely miscast and you never for one second buy her as a doctor. She seems more like a petulant college student on spring break. Claybourne occasionally speaks with an Australian accent and Sheffer seems like a different character in each scene, as if he’s desperately trying to keep up with last minute re-writes. Tim Curry is entertaining, doing what he can with an underwritten role.
The central problem is the Rob Cohen and Avi Nesher’s script which often feels like a first draft. The ideas are there, but there’s no real consistency to it, the story is clunky, there are superfluous characters and it’s a bit flabby, silly and underdeveloped in sections. The denouement offers some surprises, to the filmmakers’ credit, but it doesn’t really make sense of all the incidents preceding it. Tonally, the film doesn’t match the previous two “Tales from the Crypt” features at all, and while it ends on a sick “just desserts” coda that wouldn’t be out of place in one of the TV episodes, there’s a notable lack of comedy.
“Ritual”’s exploitive attempts at titillation are obvious and sophomoric (Grey spends most of the film in tight sweaty t-shirts sans bra, Wilson answers the door naked). In keeping with the series template, there’s an introduction by the Crypt Keeper (again voiced by John Kassir) and a tag of Cryptkeeper “outtakes” after the credits, but they feel like a last-minute addition (extra credits for that sequence would seem to bear this out) and the puppet seems a bit stiff.
The DVD is a sharp and colorful rendition of the film, but it’s a tad on the grainy side. While the image is detailed (you can count the drops of sweat on each of the actors) the contrasts are a bit harsh, as if the transfer was made from a theatrical print. The transfer seems dated technically, and reveals remarkably dirty and cheap looking optical effects. The opening titles are also dirty and the image quality degrades briefly every time there’s an impending or just ending dissolve.
The 5.1 Surround track is surprisingly excellent for a shelved and dumped-onto-video title. The levels are consistent throughout the film, shock scenes have loud and spatial punch and there’s near constant use of the surround fields to give us an audible feeling for the periphery environment, and off-screen activity. The scene where Dodgson tries to stop a hallucinating J.B. (Casseus) from driving off the cliff road is particularly effective. The bass levels are fine but could benefit (as could the film!) from more mood-setting jungle drums. There are no extras, which is a shame. The film calls for some kind of production notes or a commentary to contextualize it and explain its non-release.