Graphic Horror: Ritual
While a lot of people are familiar with the great television series Tales From the Crypt that ran for seven seasons on HBO, there are slightly fewer people who realize that they made a feature length film towards the end of their run called Demon Knight. Even fewer people realize that they made another movie the next year starring Dennis Miller called Bordello of Blood. And not even I realized that they had a this as a third movie to round out the trilogy. But when Bordello of Blood was a disaster at the box office, those plans were scrapped and the film, possibly still at the script stage was sold to Universal who stripped out all the references to the Cryptkeeper and Tales From the Crypt and released it as a solo film several years later. It wasn’t until even later that the Tales From the Crypt presents was restored when it was released on DVD and the Cryptkeeper scenes added back for the release, albeit with a very low budget version of the Cryptkeeper puppet that was also used in the DVD release of the television series which was around the same time. And after all this passing around, was the movie actually worth it? Not really. It felt like one of the mediocre episodes of the show drawn out into an hour forty-five. Mysteries were confusing for the sake of being a reveal closer towards the end, but it just made things confusing rather than interesting. And the final payoff was pretty weak anyway. I almost would have rather seen the Tales From the Crypt name left off of this movie.
The movie starts out by setting up the whole Jamaican voodoo situation where the doctor is in his lab and the entire place gets so hot it starts melting everything including him. After he dies, we see that it was all a hallucination, and to add insult to injury, the woman that was with him also got killed in a more traditional way: with a machete. Meanwhile back in America, Jennifer Grey is a doctor who is treating a hopeless case and wants to use experimental drugs. When her boss, played by Stephen Tobolowski turns her down, she uses the drugs anyway and her patient dies. She ends up with her license taken away and the only job she can find in the medical field is out in Jamaica. When she makes it there, she finds two rich white brothers and one has a rare disease but has also gone crazy with voodoo talk. In other words, there is a ton of setup in the first few minutes of this movie and none of it makes a whole lot of sense or is connected in any way that the audience can tell at this point.
Even though this is a Tales From the Crypt movie, it feels much more like a crime mystery along the lines of an episode of Matlock or Murder, She Wrote. Nearly everyone you see is a potential suspect and there’s plenty of red herrings thrown around. From the beginning, it’s set up to be all about this voodoo curse, or technically a specific Jamaican version of voodoo whose name I don’t remember so it will be referred to as voodoo. It is set up as being something that can only affect a person if they actually believe it can. And while Jennifer Grey’s Alice doesn’t initially believe in the whole voodoo angle, she is ready to play detective to find out what’s actually going on. Since she is a doctor, maybe the whole thing’s more accurately like an episode of Diagnosis: Murder.
Aside from all the plot contrivances, it does carry some elements of the Tales From the Crypt show, at least as far as some of the weaker episodes go. There’s quite a bit of nudity, and when there isn’t nudity, Grey favors wearing a white shirt with no bra, or just a pair of bra and underwear. Besides that, there’s also plenty of gore and scares which usually happen through the voodoo hallucinations. Unfortunately, many of these are very low budget CGI which look ridiculous, like when Grey’s hair starts attacking her, or when a tree does. The other thing this movie borrows from the TV show and comics is the fact that there is a twist at the end. After Grey figures out the whole plot surrounding the mystery she goes to confront the brother who she thinks is behind everything. But surprise! It turns out that the woman who has been her friend throughout the movie is the big voodoo priestess and also the illegitimate half sister of the two brothers who wants their inheritance for herself. The twist is probably the best thing about this movie, but ultimately it comes out of nowhere. Even though the explanation makes sense within the context of the movie, it doesn’t feel like it’s something that was ever actually foreshadowed properly and thus rings hollow. And while the movie does its best to set up the fact that all of this voodoo is real, it then goes to great lengths to explain the scientific nature of how it supposedly works in the real world, but then it goes back on that yet again and becomes something supernatural during the climax.
The biggest flaw with this movie is that none of the characters in the movie are fully formed, nor do they believably develop. Grey ends up falling for the brother aka her patient because he’s attractive. At least, the other characters in the movie tell us that he is. Grey should be the most developed character in the movie as she has the most screentime, but she ends up spending most of the movie as a plot device. She’s either trying to solve the mysteries of the situation, or she’s on the verge of becoming another victim of the mystery. The sick brother just spends his time being mysterious and aloof, or a charming womanizer with nothing in between. Meanwhile the scheming brother just spends his time looking shifty. The mastermind of the entire movie, the servant girl or whatever her supposed relationship is to the household, spends her time playing the role of the best friend. It’s almost worth it to watch the film again to see if there is something in her performance that casts suspicion on her throughout, though that would mean watching the film again. There is one moment that was noticeable during a first watch and that was when she was suffering from a voodoo hallucination before crashing the scooter. Every other voodoo curse had shown what the victim was seeing, but this time she only explains what she is seeing because she is just pretending to be affected by the voodoo. There was a very good reason why this film wasn’t made directly after Bordello of Blood, and why it wasn’t made until years later, and why it wasn’t released in the US until years after that. Even with the support of actors like Tim Curry, Jennifer Grey, and Stephen Tobolowski, this is just not a very good movie and a twist more worthy of an episode of Quincy M.E. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.