I was introduced to Rituals by Stephen King; not personally, you understand, but via his book Danse Macabre. It’s an excellent read and highly recommended for anyone with a love of horror, be it cinematic or the printed word. One of the many films he referred to was this low -budget Canadian shocker and it was also included in his top 100 horror films at the back of the book.
Now in the early eighties I was a King fanatic (I’m still a big fan) so if the big guy rated it that highly then I wanted to see it. And I did, on a poor quality video cassette rented from the local video emporium; this was in the pre-video nasties era when any Tom, Dick or Harry could set up their own video rental business and Blockbuster had yet to invade these shores.
I was impressed or as impressed as I could be with what I could see on-screen and that wasn’t much. The video had been in a lot of machines before ours and at least a few of them must have found it tasty enough to have a chew on. Added to this was the fact that a lot of the film takes place at night and the film was low budget to start with, so we’re not talking high production values here.
Years later I managed to track down an ex-rental video from America via Amazon.com. This was a lot better quality than the version I first watched, but I later found out that it was cut by ten minutes and was taken from a TV edit. I’ve no idea if the first one I watched was cut or not because too much of it had faded into the mist of memory.
So what’s it about? Well, there are obvious similarities to Deliverance with a group of friends going off into the wilds on vacation only to meet some less than friendly locals and having to fight to stay alive. There are also shades of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and some similarities with a film that was made the same year – The Hills Have Eyes (1977); still, while it may not be original, it is well made.
Director Peter Carter’s career may not have ascended to great heights, but he knows how to get as much tension from a scene as possible and great performances from his actors. The always reliable Hal Holbrook is the most recognisable member of the cast and he relishes being given a lead role for a change. Lawrence Dane is the only other cast member that’s done anything else worthy of note, with a part in Cronenberg’s Scanners (he played Braedon Keller) and he has some great scenes with Holbrook. The rest of the cast may not have amounted to anything but are all a notch or two above the usual brand of actor you’d find in this kind of film.
There is one other person connected with the film who went on to a very successful career and that’s make-up man Carl Fullerton. This was Fullerton’s first film, but with no experience and next to no money he manages some great effects. Not that this is a blood and gore kind of film like those I’ve previously compared it to, this is as much about what you don’t see as what you do.
So the big question is why is this not out on DVD? It seems perfect for Anchor Bay or Blue Underground to release; they can even market it as one of Stephen King’s top 100 films. I’m sure if they ask him nicely he’ll even give them a quote to emblazon the cover. And if they get their act together they could even get Hal Holbrook in for a commentary, probably the director and the rest of the cast, too. A featurette on Carl Fullerton? There are lots of possibilities. Given the current trend for survival horror (Hills Have Eyes, Wolf Creek, Hostel, etc) there's never been a better time for it.
Instead of re-releasing the same films over and over in Special, Ultimate, and Everything but the Kitchen Sink Editions, it’s about time they started digging through the vaults looking for lost classics. Who knows what gems they might turn up?
So please, someone put this out on DVD soon!