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Tales from the Crypt - Ritual Print E-mail
Tuesday, 02 May 2006

Tales From the Crypt Presents: Ritual
Dimension Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: R
starring: Jennifer Grey, Craig Sheffer, Daniel Lapaine, Kristen Wilson, Gabriel Casseus, Tim Curry
TV release year: 2002 (non-US)
DVD release year: 2006
director: Avi Nesher
film rating: 2 Stars
sound/picture rating: 3 Stars
reviewed by: Darren Gross
Driven but careless Doctor Dodgson (Grey) disobeys medical protocol and uses an experimental drug on a dying young boy. When the child dies anyway, she is suspended from practicing medicine for two years. Desperate for a job, she snags a position at a Jamaican plantation, taking care of Wesley Claybourne (Lapaine) who is suffering from an unknown virus and is plagued by hallucinations. After Dodgson befriends sculptor Caro (Wilson), the duo attempt to solve the mystery of Wesley’s illness, while surrounded by an island of menacing possible suspects, especially Wesley’s older brother Paul (Sheffer).

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.

more details
sound format: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
aspect ratio: 1.85:1 (enhanced for widescreen TVs)
special features: Spanish Subtitles
comments: email us here...
reference system
HD DVD player: Toshiba HD-A1
receiver: Denon AVR-1906
main speakers: Energy Take 5
center speaker: Energy Take 5
rear speakers: Energy Take 5
subwoofer: Energy s8.3
monitor: 30-inch Loewe

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