Five doctors on a wilderness outing are stalked by disfigured, crazed killers.
It would be fair to say I hadn’t heard of Peter Carter’s Rituals before, either in this form or by its other name The Creeper. Now I have seen it I am a little embarrassed as this film is a crucial piece in the history of the genre and has influenced directly or indirectly much of the horror franchises being produced today.
The premise of the film is a simple one. Five doctors of varying ethics embark upon a trip to explore, and ultimately fish in, the Canadian wilderness. As they struggle to reach their first campsite tensions grow as dark secrets and simmering rivalries bubble to the surface. After all but one pair of their walking shoes mysteriously disappear the one doctor with the remaining pair sets off to walk to a dam to get help. Soon after he leaves a deer carcass is left just outside the camp on a stake leaving the remaining group desperate to leave and after fashioning some makeshift footwear they head out after their colleague.
As they follow his trail more and more strange and deadly events begin to take place and what began as a simple camping trip becomes a battle for survival against an unknown enemy.
Obviously there is more than a hint of Deliverance about this film and you could argue that some scenes and plot points are lifted directly from it’s predecessor’s story, with one river section being the most notable. The biggest difference with Rituals however is that the aggressor is much more mysterious, hardly being seen until the final act, and also much more deadly. With Deliverance the violence is almost random but here it is specifically targeted and extremely malevolent.
As I stated above the influence on many of today’s popcorn horror films cannot be denied. If Rituals is the long lost and little seen grandparent hidden away in a home then its rowdy offspring would be the Wrong Turn franchise and its distant cousins would be films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. Each one of these would nod its proverbial hat to Rituals in its gruesome and graphic character deaths and unknown assailant who may or may not be gruesomely disfigured either by nature or by science.
The performances are strong throughout conveying the fear and anxiety felt by the group. Hal Holbrook as Harry and Lawrence Dane (who also produced) as Mitzi share the lead and their bickering and fighting threatens to boil over into violence more than once dragging the audience into their tense and desperate struggle. The other characters revolve around this uncomfortable axis but become more and more periferal as their number decreases. The scenery itself plays just as big a part as any of the human actors, it being a harsh and at times impenetrable world that our lost city folk struggle to adapt to. The director makes excellent use of this natural resource relying little on sets or studio work at all and certainly puts his cast through the mill at times.
The direction itself is finely balanced between the shocking, intense moments of gore to the slow, desperate trudge to survival but is soft and respectful enough to keep much of the action at arms length, emphasising the isolation the characters feel.
In short I would strongly recommend this film and I suspect that most people may be in a similar position to me in that Rituals passed them by. Everyone has seen Deliverance but I could argue that this is a better, more frightening depiction of a group of men who find themselves way out of their comfort zone and under attack from a foe more familiar to the surroundings. Watching Rituals having seen so many of these subsequent films drives home the fact that it is possible to make a taut, tense horror thriller without the need for huge swathes of special effects and gallons of fake blood. There is more character, story and enjoyment to be had in this film and in much of the current franchise put together.