Ritual (Tales from the Crypt Presents) (V)

Shot way back in 2001, Ritual has been floating around forever – the tell tale fall out of Bordello of Blood’s lackluster box office. Finally making its way to the hallowed halls of direct to video hell, Ritual shocked the hell out of me by being the best of the three theatrical TFTC films.

Borrowing enough plot from Jacques Tourneur’s 1943 masterpiece, I Walked With A Zombie to elicit re-make status, this missing entry in “Tales” once hotly anticipated trilogy comes along just in time to take advantage of a resurgence in Crypt curiosity thanks to HBO’s release of the series seasons on DVD. Starring Jennifer Grey (Dirty Dancing), Craig Sheffer (Nightbreed) and Tim Curry, Ritual is talky but a well-spun saga of Voodoo in the lush mountains of Jamaica.

After violating hospital protocol, Dr. Alice Dodgson (Grey), relieved of her license, travels to Jamaica to serve as caregiver to Wesley Claybourne, one of a pair of rich brothers who have made their home in the mountains of Jamaica for years. Wesley’s older brother Paul soon informs Alice that his brother suffers under the delusion that he has been cursed through local voodoo practices. Now Dr. Dodgson must immerse herself in local custom in order, not only to save her patient but also herself.

Utilizing the best bits from I Walked With a Zombie, Director Avi Nesher imbues his film with a really great island vibe, and although one hardly equates Voodoo with Jamaica, the premise of the film never seems forced. What makes the film so much better than say, last years abysmal The Skeleton Key, is that the location and the tale are genuinely interesting, but the project really shines thanks to the subtle motivations behind the characters and some brilliant moments of humor. By hinging a portion of the plot of the film on the relationship between the two brothers, a nice human element is added to the supernatural tale and grounds the film’s twists in recognizable circumstance. That key ingredient causes Ritual to succeed where the previous two film failed.

Frankly I had very little hope that the film would be as well made as it was. Historically speaking, despite some significant casting coups, Tales from the Crypt movies have had no luck in capturing the vicious joy of the old T.V. staple. But Ritual gets away from the witless tongue-in-cheek cheese of Bordello and the one-stop-shop boredom Demon Knight, offering an intense -bordering on- psychological thriller that would make most jaded genre geeks buck up and take notice.

As Dr. Dodgson, Grey turns in a great performance with equal parts youthful innocence and fiery sexuality. Spending much of the film braless in the sweltering Jamaican heat, she is likely to turn a few more heads than she did back in her “Dancing days”. Curry phones in his usual smarmy but nimbly appealing, performance as a veterinarian and local island lothario. But Sheffer, is wasted in the role of Paul, with little screen time and even less to do when he’s around, his role could have been played by anyone.

Like most movies that employ voodoo as their central theme, the film is really about individual interaction and character development. Ritual may not achieve the near perfect melding of superstition and scares that Wes Craven achieved in the Serpent and the Rainbow, but for a third in line spin off film from a television series that has been off the air for a decade, Ritual delivers surprises far exceeding its promise.

Official Score