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Tales from the Crypt - Ritual
Universal originally planned to put this one out, as they did the first two Tales From The Crypt films, Demon Knight and Bordello Of Blood but the unimpressive box office returns on the later film caused them to cut their losses and sell it off, which is why, five years later, it's appearing on DVD from Dimension. In between, however, Miramax had the film and it was shown without the introduction from the Cryptkeeper that appears on this DVD and without the Tales From The Crypt branding anywhere to be seen. Thankfully, Dimension has seen fit to include the Cyptkeeper on this release, but sadly, his horrible puns are the best part about what is otherwise a dismal movie.
Jennifer 'Nobody puts Baby in a corner!' Grey plays a doctor named Alice Dodgson who has her license revoked for two years after she misdiagnosis someone, resulting in the death of a patient. In the interim, she needs to work and in order to work she takes a job in Jamaica as the private physician at a compound run by a wealthy man named Paul Claybourne (Craig Scheffer of Nightbreed and Hellraiser – Inferno). When she arrives in Jamaica she makes the rounds and meets her new boss before finding out from his assistant, Caro Lamb (Kristen Wilson of the Walking Tall remake) that the person she's hear to treat, Paul's brother Wesley (Daniel Lapaine), believes himself to be a zombie.
Alice is intrigued by this, and even more intrigued by Wesley himself, who she seems to be attracted to pretty much instantly upon meeting him for the first time. As time goes on she starts to get to know Wesley better and learns of the local voodoo practices that are going on in the area and which seem to play such a big part in his life. Soon she starts having nightmares where she's attacked by spiders, and later where she's attacked by some of the various people in the compound. This in and of itself wouldn't be so unusual, save for the fact that shortly after these nightmares start occurring, someone starts prowling the area killing off the white folk with a machete. Is Wesley somehow behind all this? Is Alice falling under some sort of voodoo spell?
If some of this sounds familiar, it's because Ritual is basically a rehash of the 1943 Jacques Tourneur classic, I Walked With A Zombie and in fact that film is credited along with its writer, Curt Siodmak, in the opening credits of the movie. It's sad then, with some very cool ideas to work off of, that the film falls as flat as it does. Gone is the dark humor that made the Tales From The Crypt television show and the two spin off movies that followed it so much fun. If this void were filled with genuine horror or interesting suspense then that might be alright but sadly, we don't get any of that either and instead Ritual is content to be a completely meandering and disjointed movie that, ultimately, is quite dull.
In terms of casting, Jennifer Grey (post nose-job, in this film) looks good running around in a skimpy outfit for the bulk of the film but doesn't bring enough to her performance to make it memorable for any other reason than the skin factor. Tim Curry, in a small supporting role, is fun as always but he isn't really given very much to do but wander around and look horny. Craig Sheffer is alright as the mischief making and wealthy patron of the estate but again, he's not given much to do here. Unfortunately, Kirsten Wilson and Daniel Lapaine, both of whom do have larger parts in the story, both over act in spots, ruining a few scenes that could have otherwise had some nice atmosphere.
More problematic is the story itself. While it's fine to use a dream sequence to generate scares once in your film, falling back on that very basic tactic time after time after time, which is exactly what happens in this film, is a sign of lazy scripting. The first time it happens we're fooled but after that it becomes painfully obvious that most of the more interesting and horrific events that take place in the film are happening in Alice's dreams, and when we're able to figure it out that quickly, it takes the impact out of those scenes and basically castrates them. The camera work is fine even if the editing and pacing is poorly handled (the movie feels about twenty minutes too long) but moderately pretty travelogue footage of the rural areas of Jamaica aren't enough to make this on anything less than boring.The DVD
The 1.85.1 widescreen on this disc is pretty nice despite an abundance of edge enhancement in some scenes and some shimmering throughout. Black levels stay strong throughout, only showing mpeg compression in a couple of spots (which is good seeing as a lot of the film takes place at night or in dark places). Flesh tones look lifelike and natural throughout and color definition is acceptable. There's a pretty decent level of both foreground and background detail present in the image pretty much throughout the movie though some fine detail does get lost in the shadows from time to time. Overall though, Ritual does look pretty good on this DVD.Sound:
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track does a decent job of handling the more action/horror oriented scenes for this film. It's an aggressive enough mix that differentiates and places the action sound effects across the soundstage as required by the way the film plays out. The voodoo scenes, with the drumming and the dancing, sound very good as does the dialogue, which lets the talkier bits stay clean and easy to follow. This DVD contains and optional English language closed captioning feature in addition to subtitles in Spanish. There aren't any problems with background hiss or distortion at all, though there could have been more power in the lower end as at times the bass sounds rather lackluster.Extras:
Well, aside from chapter selection and some static menu screens, this release is completely barebones. There is an insert included with the chapter listing on it, but that's it. There's nothing else here.Final Thoughts:
Those looking for the black humor that made the earlier Tales From The Crypt movies so much fun will be disappointed in Ritual as will those looking for a straight up horror film. The DVD looks and sounds okay but the lack of extras don't help things in the least. This one is for completists only, everyone else is advised to move along, as there's really nothing to see here that we haven't seen done better before.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.