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Monday, August 2, 2010

Tragic Ceremony (1972) review


Camille Keaton (Jane), Tony Isbert (Bill), Luigi Pistilli (Lord Alexander), Luciana Paluzzi (Lady Alexander), Jose Calvo (gas station attendant)

Directed by Riccardo Freda

The Short Version: Odd and obscure Italian curio has a bizarre, muddled storyline, but makes up for its deficiencies with some ghoulish atmospheric qualities. There are several sequences that are typical of European nightmare movies and while Freda's film is often a confusing affair, the creepy visuals provide enough of a distraction to buoy this flawed picture slightly above average.

A group of hippies find themselves without gas during a raging thunderstorm. Amidst the pouring rain and violent lightning, the group find an ominous mansion and are invited in by the aristocratic owners who are having a party with a number of guests. Later that night, the young group make the discovery that both the homeowners and the guests are all satanists. The Devil worshippers, in a trance like state, begin killing each other allowing the horrified hippies to escape. However, something evil follows them from the castle and begins killing them all one by one.

The director credited with creating the boom of Italian horror with the release of I, VAMPIRI in 1957, helms this confusing, eerie and bloody obscurity from the early part of the 1970's. The English title fits perfectly with a particular sequence midway into the movie, but for whatever reason, the makers decided to market this as what would appear to be an early example of a police thriller/Giallo hybrid. The actual film itself is diametrically opposed to the images that title brings about.

Camille Keaton, later to play an exterminating female avenger in I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978), does little here but look hypnotized. Later on in the film, though, this look fits her character when she becomes the target of the devil worshippers. Busy character actor, Luigi Pistilli (FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE), is seen briefly along with the alluring Luciana Paluzzi (THE FORGOTTEN PISTOLERO) as the couple hosting the satanic bacchanal.

Dark Sky Films presentation of TRAGIC CEREMONY is a subtitled Italian version which presents the movie in its uncut version. What's curious here is that generally, foreign movies were often truncated for export whether it be dialog scenes, or bits of gory violence. Well, in this original version, there appears to be a lot of exposition missing in several places as a few plot devices suddenly disappear, or are never fully explored leaving the viewer puzzled.

However, the film is rich with Gothic atmosphere and more than a few wholeheartedly creepy moments perpetuate the grim aura haunting Freda's movie. The loud, penetrating, yet repetitive score by the reliable Stelvio Cipriani aids these scenes and even had me tempted to look over my shoulder on a couple occasions while watching this film with all the lights out. Maybe it was the nostalgia of reliving those days of seeing similar horrors late at night on television? Maybe it was just the fact that Freda's movie is frequently successful in conveying a sense of dread and horror? It's probably more of the latter than the former.

Utilizing the tried and true formula of a group of young kids stranded in a storm with a big, spooky mansion nearby in the midst of ensuing terror has been done hundreds of times before and since. I've always enjoyed this story conceit and never seem to tire of it, especially when its done with a deft hand sprinkled with some tense moments. Freda's movie brings to mind the recent HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009) with a subtle dash of RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975) and a shocker final moment that has been used in several movies after.

Probably the most bizarre and garishly gory moment in the movie would have to be the 'tragic ceremony' of the title. As the satanists prepare to sacrifice Jane, her friends break in just in time to save her. Instead of chasing the intruders, the Devil's disciples decide instead to violently kill each other instead. Carlo Rambaldi (PERSEUS THE INVINCIBLE, KING KONG, ALIEN, E.T., DUNE) created the graphic head splittings, gunshots and decapitations seen during this ostentatiously gaudy showcase. From here, the group are stalked and killed one by one by a mysterious killer, or force of evil which is revealed during the last scene of the movie immediately after a doctor (of all people) explains everything for those who might be a bit confused.

I enjoyed TRAGIC CEREMONY quite a bit. If I were being critical, I'd say it was merely an average picture with little to recommend it outside of some interesting visuals and crippled by a fractured script and occasionally confusing narrative. I've yet to see a movie from this director that I would deem a great experience all around, but this comes pretty close. From a movie fans perspective, those visuals and creepy situations are enough that I will be watching this movie again in the near future.

This review is representative of the Dark Sky Films DVD


Samuel Wilson said...

This one definitely has its creepy and insane moments, but its climax comes too early and the later highlights don't live up to that. The Italians seem to be fond of pedantic sounding titles, and I've always suspected that they're meant to discourage copycat filmmakers or parodists.

venoms5 said...

It's definitely a curious production which an audio commentary would have proved beneficial. Keaton doesn't really divulge much in the interview on the disc, aside from working with the various co-stars and her time in Italian cinema.

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