You could say that I was a complete Tales from the Crypt geek... except that I was a model at the time and had some really hot girlfriends, so... it was only on the inside. I will say, however, that one of those girlfriends nearly dumped me when during a tender moment together, I leaned in and said "Now, Brandi, you and I both know that nothing is more important to me... than The Crypt Keeper!" Yeah, that relationship didn't work out, man!
Speaking of things that didn't work out... let's talk a little about the third Tales from the Crypt movie, now known as Tales from the Crypt Presents: Ritual! There is almost a complete dearth of press out there concerning Tales from the Crypt Presents: Ritual. Most of what can be found is unofficial and unverifiable. However, the most prevailing rumor is that Ritual (then known as Revelation) was scrapped after the box office failure of Bordello of Blood (Demon Knight wasn't exactly a blockbuster either). The story continues that Miramax's Dimension Films imprint bought the rights to distribute this film (the first two being Universal Releases), removed all references to Tales from the Crypt and let it languish until 2006, when it was released on DVD with those references reinstated after all.
While this flick did see very limited theatrical release in a few other countries in the meantime, aside from that fact, the rumors aren't so clear on the actual stepping stones between the sink holes in this film's undead life. For example, why would a film that flopped in 1996 prevent the release of a movie that was copyrighted in 2001? Slow Press? Did Universal start the ball rolling, then change their minds? Did "Tales from the Crypt Holdings" produce a the film with high hopes, only to spend time searching for a distributor later? Were there copyright issues as well as concern over audience interest? EC Comics (along with other William M. Gaines properties like MAD) is now owned by Time Warner, who also owns HBO (broadcaster and syndication company of the Tales from the Crypt Television Program) and their own comic company, DC Comics. However, Universal, not Warner Brothers, produced the first two films (of THIS series), the comic reprints were not done by DC and the basis for Ritual was not one of Gaines' EC Comics, but the 1943 RKO Radio Pictures Release I Walked with a Zombie! See how convoluted that is? Hence the need for some actual press on this. If you want to see me trying to unravel the legal rights of a cult figure, check out my article on Miracleman.
Regardless of what the truth is, it's hard to believe that any film produced by (TFTC's actual Executive Producers) Richard Donner, David Giler, Walter Hill, Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis would have all that much trouble getting a film distributed. Even if they were "Producers In Name Only" those are big names with more pull than a Black Hole's Gravity Well. But trouble Ritual did have. As hard as it is to believe, this film was released in the Philippines, Spain, Finland and even Norway before it gained DVD release in the USA. Hey, we beat Poland, I'll give you that (unlike in Soccer!!!). Incidentally, although released as Tales from the Crypt Presents: Ritual, and featuring our dreadlocked (or "DEADLOCKED") mascot "The Crypt Keeper" on the cover, the box also proudly states "From The Producers Of House Of Wax And Gothika"! What is this, another rights issue? How about "From The Producers Of The Actual Real Deal Holyfield Tales from the Crypt show", or even, "From The Dudes Who Brought You The Omen, Alien, Aliens, The Matrix And The Frighteners"? Sure Zemeckis and Silver produced House of Wax and Gothika, but do they really want people to know about that?
What ever the reasons, the release wasn't prevented or postponed because of content. No, that's not to say it's a great movie, but it's most certainly better than a lot of what has passed for "Horror" these days. I mean, seriously, the WWE can get a horror movie starring one of its wrestlers released and Donner, Giler, Hill, Silver and Zemeckis had trouble? Are we on Bizarro World?
The film, while maybe not quite up to the acclaim of I Walked with a Zombie, is actually not so bad. The Crypt Keeper is indeed in this film, introducing it as only he can. Although he's represented by a newer, somewhat less articulated puppet (the one also used in the Menu segments of the DVD releases of the TV Show), I can say that he is still voiced, as he always should be, by the great John Kassir (in a fun mock-Jamaican accent)! His brief (and strangely horny) intro is a must see for any Crypt fan. Like the series and previous movies, Ritual also features some recognizable faces as its stars. These include Jennifer Grey, Gabriel Casseus, Craig Sheffer, Daniel Lapaine, Stephen Tobolowsky, Nahtasha Budhi, Erick Avari, Tim Curry, Jessica Collins and, hey, Stand-Up Stand-Up's own Kristen Wilson... NAKED!
Here I've written all the way down this page without even getting to the recap. Here you go: Dr. Alice Dodgson (Grey) looks to escape her troubled past by taking a medical commission (that doesn't require a current license) in Jamaica (poor girl). The job is to care for one of the heirs to the Claybourne Plantation, Wesley (Lapaine), who is said to believe he is a Zombie. His moderately sane brother Paul (Sheffer) is signing the paychecks and also checking out the scenery of the plantation while his afflicted sibling is indisposed. That scenery, I'm proud to say, includes the lovely islander Caro Lamb (Wilson, with a perfect Jamaican accent).
Almost as soon as she arrives, strange things begin to happen around Alice, and she begins to have horrific visions of diabolical Voodoo practices being done to her. Most frighteningly, such visions are a symptom of Wesley's own illness, and it seems to be spreading. Through her friendship with Caro, Alice discovers that the island's "Obeah" (a malevolent export of voodoo) appears to be at work within the Claybourne household. Together they begin to deduce just who might be behind all this, who all is affected, and what this may, or may not have to do with Wesley's illness. Naturally, it's not easy with the horny, grabby hands of Tim Curry's Matthew Hope hanging around.
As the noose tightens, Caro and Alice begin to doubt just who their friends are, and both seem to be having increasingly violent nightmares of murder and betrayal. The most ominous possibility is that Wesley might indeed become what he most fears, and that both the ladies might "wake up dead" in the last reel.
Ritual keeps up with the Tales from the Crypt brand as best it can, continuing the same offbeat brand of dark comedy that made the comics, and the TV show, a success. However, sometimes that humor doesn't shine through quite as well as it should in Avi Nesher's directing. At times, it seems as if his screenplay (written with Rob Cohen and based upon the original script by Inez Wallace, Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray) seems to take itself quite a bit too seriously in places, missing the fun that could be had. While this does amplify some of the horrific aspects of this tale, it also more easily points out the flaws that humor helps to cover up.
There seems to be quite a bit missing from Ritual that could have endeared this film to us all in the TFTC T-Shirts. Few of the characters in this film come off as well-developed, even considering that some are supposed to be mysterious. There is a lacking logic to the way all of these various players fit together. Just how these relationships were forged, how they continue, and (in some cases) what the hell various characters are even doing in various places at any given time, just doesn't seem to be fully fleshed out. When Alice and Wesley show that they've fallen in love, it's hard to quite believe this has happened. Medical Disbarment or not, one has to believe Dr. Alice has some professionalism to her. But the script says so, therefore we go with it.
This same kind of trust is demanded for a lot of other aspects of Ritual, whether the audience is prepared to give it or not. This, unfortunately, leads to a fun ride, that comes off as far too predictable to maintain its shocks.
In truth, there are some other areas that don't quite make it, and prevent this from being a horror classic. However, many of these can be traced back to the rocky post-production this flick suffered. Some of the computer animations look unfinished and fake. The fact that much of these show up only in the illusions some of our characters face might help with your suspension of disbelief. There also seems to be a semi-scattered editing that could only have better served the movie if it more closely followed the time this was shot.
In short, Ritual doesn't quite make it and as fun and scary as it can be, it's hard not to feel a little let down at the end, whether you predicted the surprises or not.
But let's talk about what did work in Ritual against all odds. It really should be said that this one beats out most horror flicks that gained release around this time. For one thing, the acting is solid and succeeds where the character development fails. Jennifer Grey never feels like she's slumming for a paycheck, nor do Wilson or Curry. Sure, they're having fun, but they're taking the job seriously all the while enjoying the ride.
The special effects that do work are noteworthy, especially the special make-up effects of (Kristen Wilson's then fiancé, now husband) Martin Astles. There is one scene of absolutely memorable horror that couldn't have succeeded without Astles. Further, whether by Astles' design or Nesher's, there are some great moments of fantasy that use some seemingly simple techniques to come off as beautiful. A dream sequence in black and white, where only the REDS are colored-in is a perfect example of this. Not only is it a racial nullifier, but the gray and crimson make for an incredible contrast, more than worth watching. There are also a lot of shots of moody discomfort (some of which including the occasional dead body) that help to shore up the loose ends here and build the tension that we lack in so many other areas.
Of course, it should be noted that the real visual treats here Kristen Wilson and Jennifer Grey (post nose-job). Grey's acting is surprisingly good here, considering the type of movie we're watching. Further, she's kept her figure surprisingly well, and shows it off in a number of great scenes. Who knew Jamaica could be so chilly? Grey's fabric-distorting nipples here could deflect bullets, man... whoa. I'd be afraid to do so many close ups, lest they crack the camera lens. Although she never actually gets naked, there's a wet-shirt scene at an Island Dance that leaves little to the imagination. Whoa, now that's what I call "Dirty Dancing", Jennifer! Wilson, a veteran of the Boston Ballet, and holder of a Bachelor or Fine Arts Degree in Musical Theatre from Syracuse University, uses every bit of her training here. That's not just in dancing (which she does a lot of) but in acting, and, well, just looking beautiful. I've never seen anyone with abs like that, who could still make J-Lo jealous in the Booty department. Yeah, she's beautiful alright, and her nude scene (shown mostly from the back side, but what a backside!) gives a whole new meaning to "Stand-Up Stand-Up"! Honorable mention must go to Nahtasha T. Budhi's seductive turn as a topless maid who gets what she wants. Brief yet, sweet!
As a remake, Ritual is noteworthy in its divergence from the source material. Although the core themes remain, there are combined and eliminated characters, changed motivations and strange and incongruous choices in the evolution of this mad tale. The person who is actually afflicted is not the same, nor is the goal behind the essence of the plot. All that said, the real feel of the realistic and biological zombie is still felt here, and the divergence from the original works toward keeping Ritual from feeling stale and "done to death". On the other hand, the Set Decoration by Ron von Blomberg and the Art Direction by Molly Mikula is straight out of I Walked with a Zombie to the point that I could have mistaken the set of Caro's room for the mansion of the original (if she hadn't been naked in the scene, I may have better noticed). There are structures, formations, buildings and scenery that are almost identical... like a colorized version of the original. Way to go! Bravo!
It's refreshing to see a classic and uncommon horror movie like I Walked with a Zombie remade, and by this team, and with this respect paid to it. I just wish we didn't have to wait so long to see it. This is a strikingly atypical Zombie Film that owes much more to The Serpent and the Rainbow than it does to Night of the Living Dead. The medical and biological aspects of Zombies as well as the psychological horror of those surrounding them is explored beautifully here, much better than other films that have tried the same thing. Make no mistake, this isn't the Hoardes of Walking Undead movie you've come to expect on this site. This is a Zombie movie about Obeah and Voodoo... real zombies.
If only the entire flick was quite as good as the promise that so many parts showed. It's not a great film, but it beats the hell out of watching yet another rip off of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Even with its flaws and tortured history, Tales from the Crypt Presents: Ritual has earned its Three Stars out of Five! For fans of Tales from the Crypt, or just those folks looking for a little something different with a well-intentioned script and good acting, don't pass by Ritual next time you see it in the store. Give it a shot... at least it's not the same old Cookie Cutter clomper. While there is no classy clincher from The Crypt Keeper, you can sit through the credits for some relatively humorous fake bloopers featuring your favorite host, and mine. If you feel your time has been wasted, then at least you get to look at more Hotties in Bikinis! No harm in that! No harm in that!
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