Five doctors take their annual break from the rigours of their comfortable lives and settle upon the backwoods of Canada for their destination.
Self-importance, lack of patience and a drinking habit are already causing tension in the camp when, on the second day, the majority of their shoes appear to have vanished whilst they were asleep, leaving the remaining camper with footwear to trudge off to find help.
When he doesn’t return, the cantankerous and miserable troop set off to find where he’s got to, only to find deadly traps and a presence in the forest who has clearly taken a dislike to them…
Known as The Creeper in some incarnations, a name that does it no favours at all, Rituals is part of an odd fascination with backwoods shenanigans that cropped up in mid-70s American/Canadian cinema, following in the shoes (or not, in this case) of Deliverance (1972) and Open Season (1974).
The film is in no way the poor cousin with a magnificent, completely believable cast, including several actors who certainly earned their stripes in the genre; Hal Holbrook (The Unholy; The Fog, Creepshow), Lawrence Dane (Scanners, Happy Birthday To Me), Robin Gammell (The Pyx), alongside Ken James and Gary Reineke.
Though superficially the big brother to many forest/campsite slashers, the most interesting aspect of the film is the dynamics between the doctors; almost immediately unable to cope when removed from their comfort zone, despite their early years in the army, they look to pin the blame on anyone they can and their breakdown is both sometimes humorous and truly quite gruelling.
Even without the hidden menace stalking them, it would appear they would stand little chance of survival even when pitted against the river, plants, and wasps that plague them throughout. As it is, by the time the killer is revealed, your nails will be firmly dug into the arms of your chair, the trials they have gone through enough to leave you breathless yourself.
Despite the grisly trials the doctors go through, there is barely any blood, let alone gore, the psychological terror being intoxicating enough and quite rightly the actors are allowed to express themselves without the trappings the slasher film would soon develop.
The forest setting is suitably unpleasant and the feeling of their fear and exhaustion is easy to appreciate. If the final reveal is slightly disappointing – mainly due to the actual shot being so dark and murky – it would be churlish to be overly critical.
This is absolutely top-drawer horror, showing how a film can be creepy, dark and thoughtful without cheap tricks and with actors at the very top of their game. The film was finally given a North American DVD release via Code Red in 2011.
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES & MANIA
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