02/24/2023 08:44

Film: Rituals

Year: 1977

Director: Peter Carter

Writer: Ian Sutherland

Starring: Hal Holbrook, Lawrence Dane and Robin Gammell



This is a movie that I’ll be honest, I heard about and put it on a list of ones to check out. I didn’t remember anything about it. This popped up when I used a randomizer for what to watch as part of my New Year, New Movie on Journey with a Cinephile: A Horror Movie Podcast. Seeing the cast pulled my interest for sure.

Synopsis: five doctors on a wilderness outing are stalked by disfigured, crazed killers.

We start this by seeing a plane land in water. It cuts over to a local restaurant where the five doctors from our synopsis are eating. One is giving his pitch to sell a procedure that helps increase blood flow to man’s penis. They point out the flaws to it and we see that they’re loud. The doctors are Harry (Hal Holbrook), Mitzi (Lawrence Dane), Martin (Robin Gammell), Abel (Ken James) and D.J. (Gary Reineke). They went to medical school together where they became friends. It should also be pointed out that Marty and D.J. are brothers.

They head out via seaplane to go fishing. The pilot informs them that it is difficult to get in and out of this area. D.J. is the wilderness guy who planned this trip. He’s annoyed that no one followed what he said they needed to bring to be prepared. Marty is no longer a practicing surgeon, choosing to go into general medicine. He is also gay. Harry is a neurologist, Mitzi a surgeon.

The group hikes into the woods and that first night doesn’t go well. They drink and we see that there is pent up animosity amongst them. Each one seems to take different things to heart. They also take shots at each other. The following morning, they notice that all their boots are gone. This is unnerving as they wonder who could have taken them. D.J. elects to hike to a nearby dam for help.

Things get even more odd from there. They find a deer’s head with a snake coiled around the spine. This resembles the logo for medicine, which I learned while writing this is called the caduceus. Everyone except Marty believes that D.J. did it. They decide to hike to the dam after him. Even more odd things happen as they find booby traps and seem to be hunted by someone hiding in the woods. What I questioned, are they really being hunted or is D.J. the one messing with them, having hit his limit with this group.

That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is that this feels like a clone of Deliverance or at the least, highly inspired by it. I don’t mean that as a bad thing. It just shows to me that when something is successful, you’ll get different variations on it. The similarities of having these city people go out into the wilderness. They’re all doctors here. Deliverance had them as successful men who were professionals. They also must traverse the elements while being chased.

Now with that established, what is interesting about the feel of this movie is that it comes off as an almost slasher. Our characters are picked off one by one. I wouldn’t say that it is done in the traditional sense. There would have been proto slashers already out, but Halloween wouldn’t come out until the following year. There are traps used. I do have a problem here as well. The differences of our characters cause them to separate, allowing them to be attacked. That does feel a bit off to me, but then again, this is how slashers work as well. This doesn’t ruin anything, but something I noticed.

I should say here that I’m not going to spoil this. The reason that the killer or killers are coming after them is interesting. They know that this a group of doctors. The group starts to think of people who might come after them for something they’ve done. Things get revealed as we go and it works for me. It is an idea that is still relevant today and we’ve seen similar ideas in modern horror.

Where I’ll then go would be over to the acting. First, I’ll say that this group of five are great. They act like characters who have known each other for a long time. The littlest things set them off and that feels real. Holbrook is great as our ‘leader’. Not so much in the survival concepts, but he just seems like the strongest overall guy. Dane is funny to me because he’s so annoying. Gammell is good as Marty. I found it interesting that he is a gay person. It doesn’t bother this group which makes this progressive for 77. James is solid as is Reineke. This latter guy is the ‘survivalist’ of the group. Other than that, I thought the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed. Special credit to Jack Creley who is Jesse and Michael Zenon as Matthew.

All that is left to go into would be with the filmmaking. We don’t get a lot in the way of effects, but what we do are good. They went practical. That was the time this came out. The effects look good though so I’ll still give credit. I love the setting. It is so isolated so anytime some gets hurt, it amplifies the difficulty. It also rises the stakes. The cinematography there is good. That helps with the atmosphere. I also think that the soundtrack and design of the movie are solid.

In conclusion, this is a solid little film. It is one that I hadn’t heard of, outside of those podcasts. I like this idea of our group of doctors getting together and going on this trip. They get out in the middle of nowhere and it becomes a fight for survival. The story is one we’ve seen before while still feeling different. The acting is the strongest part there. This is also a well-made movie that I enjoyed my time with. If you like movies like this, give it a go. I mean that for horror and non-horror fans alike.


My Rating: 7.5 out of 10