Friday, May 13, 2011

Rituals (1976) review

RITUALS 1976 (US release in 1978) aka THE CREEPER

Hal Holbrook (Harry), Lawrence Dane (Mitzi), Robin Gammell (Martin), Ken James (Abel), Gary Reineke (D.J.), Jack Creley (Jesse Crowley), Michael Zenon (Matthew Crowley)

Directed by Peter Carter

"We're payin' for somethin' somebody else did!"

The Short Version: One of the most talked about and yet one of the most obscure horror movies ever made. This Canadian wilderness tale of terror is greatly respected in horror circles and now it's finally available to the masses in an uncut version. The plot has been done before and so many times since, but seldom this good. Very similar to DELIVERANCE (1972), this outright horror film has plenty of suspense to go around ably assisted by an intriguingly witty script and astonishing, sometimes cataclysmic cinematography.

Five doctors on their yearly vacationing ritual decide to enjoy a six day sojourn camping in the wilderness. Not long after they've arrived, they discover they are not alone. Someone, or something is watching, waiting and stalking them--playing a game of cat and mouse that ends in gruesome violence. With no compass and dwindling resources, the remaining men eventually turn on each other pointing fingers in the process; unable to figure out why this unseen stalker wants them dead.

Peter Carter, the director of the obscure ALIEN inspired TV monster movie, THE INTRUDER WITHIN (1981), helmed this ominously suspenseful spooker about a group of friends on a camping trip who encounter danger and death on their six day excursion into the woods. With a resume full of outdoor productions, Carter makes the most of the dense forests and desolate wastelands of the Canadian wilderness. The photography, the locations, the music, the acting and direction all gel to create a satisfyingly uncomfortable viewing experience. It's a shame RITUALS remains an obscurity. It's recent DVD release from Code Red sold out amazingly fast (it has since become available again), so hopefully the film will find the audience that eluded it years before.

The theme of city dwellers battling both the elements and crazed denizens of the woods was done most famously in John Boorman's DELIVERANCE (1972). While that film was less a horror movie than it was an adventure thriller about three men discovering themselves and civilizations darker side, that storyline was reused for later pictures that heightened the horror potential of such a story. Movies like JUST BEFORE DAWN (1980), HUNTER'S BLOOD (1986) and WRONG TURN (2003) are good examples of this. RITUALS (1976) follows this template as well, but abandons slasher conventions and while it's definitely a horror movie, it perfectly balances the cruelty with its characterization. Another 'Campfire Carnage' movie, MOTHER'S DAY (1980), uses the idea of a group of friends partaking in an annual ritual of picking a new vacation spot as a grand getaway. In that film, it's three young women who are stalked and eventually captured by two insane brothers trained to brutalize, rape and kill women by their demented mother.

In RITUALS, a great deal is learned about these five friends before the unseen stalker begins killing them off. Meticulously toying with them before he kills them, this mountain madman utilizes methods that recall similar tropes seen later in THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999). Individuals are startled by bizarre, or gruesome objects left for them to see, or are stumbled upon. Once it's finally revealed during the last twenty minutes just who the killer is, his motive is not laid out for the viewer. It may not catch your attention the first time around, but there's a sequence early in the film during a campfire scene with the five doctors getting sufficiently drunk that clues the viewer in on the deranged and deformed maniacs reasoning. RITUALS is one of those movies that's best discovered with very little knowledge of what transpires beforehand--knowing about as much of what's going on as the five men being terrorized onscreen.

Genre fans more akin to newer examples of wilderness horror (that leave nothing to the imagination and splashing severed limbs at the screen every few minutes) may find this exemplary production tiresome with its talky stretches, exposition, haunting, desolate locations (some of these are absolutely stunning emitting an apocalyptic vibe) and minimal gore. Even though very little blood is spilled, the gore present elicits the appropriate shock especially one scene when two of the men awaken to find a surprise left for them sometime during the night.

The practice of keeping the killer in the dark till the closing moments works wonders and there's some strikingly eerie shots of the madman seen standing stationary from afar; watching his quarry, savoring the hunt. There's one shot early on in the campfire scene near the beginning where we see a shadow of a scraggly man in the moonlit glow from the river. Of course, POV shots had been generously used in Bob Clark's BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) and again in Carpenter's HALLOWEEN (1978). The usage of a stalker merely standing at a distance watching its prey was seen in the creepy excess of the even more obscure SHOCK WAVES (1976) and yet again in HALLOWEEN.

Containing a sufficient degree of suspense, this character driven exercise in backwoods terror is an essential title for the serious horror fan and one that has been hotly anticipated since its announcement two years ago. It's been a long time coming, but RITUALS is well worth the wait. Previously available in inferior versions in both stateside and foreign releases, this Code Red version, while bearing a fairly beat up print, is uncut at 100 minutes and the concluding cabin sequence (damaged in a lab accident back in '76) looks far better than the murky mess of all other releases. While this movie deserves a class A release all around, Code Red should be commended for their efforts considering the climate of the niche DVD market these days. Brave the elements to secure yourself a copy of this brooding and shocking entry in the backwoods survival horror sub genre.

DiabolikDVD got over 40 copies in this week they are now down to 8 as of this writing. It can be purchased their at this LINK

This review is representative of the Code Red DVD

Malibu High (1979) review

A blatant case of false advertising. Not only are none of these people featured on the above poster in the movie, but this image would have you believe the title film is a teen sex comedy! However, there's plenty of sex and lots of UNintentional comedy.


Jill Lansing (Kim Bentley), Stuart Taylor (Kevin), Katie Johnson (Lucy), Phyllis Benson (Miss Bentley), Alex Mann (Tony)

Directed by Irvin Berwick

"You can screw the teachers, but you can't screw the school!"

The Short Version: Tawdry and tasteless flick about a spiteful high school tramp who screws her way to the top of her class becoming a hooker and hitwoman along the way. This amazing, morally repugnant, no budget wonder is a treasure trove of trash for drive in and 42nd Street specialists.

***WARNING! This review contains nudity***

Kim Bentley is a high school hellcat who has no interest in graduating and no tolerance for anyone save for her friend, Lucy. After her boyfriend dumps her for another girl, Kim decides to get 'A's the old fashioned way--by screwing her way to the top. Making money on the side as a hooker, Kim attracts a high dollar clientele who makes her an all new proposition--as a paid assassin!

Irvin Berwick, the director of THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS (1958) was behind this wholeheartedly hokey, but profusely entertaining chunk of 70s sleaze. While the performances are terrible and the production values are non existent, this poverty row picture is never boring and has one of the scummiest auras of any exploitation movie that spewed onto a theater, or drive in screen during the 1970s. Playing like a reverse version of an 'After School Special' and loaded with sex, nudity and violence, MALIBU HIGH is a checklist of what NOT to do when in high school.

This image sums up Kim perfectly

Jill Lansing's performance as Kim, while not good, is the only one that registers a pulse. Her constant eye rolling and cavalcade of snide remarks are memorable. Kim is a wholly unlikable character and a seriously hateful bitch. While her scenes and dialog exchanges elicit some laughs, there's nothing about her that makes her sympathetic in any way. She insults her mother, seduces her teachers, sells her body, kills various cast members and gets revenge on those she perceives as having wronged her when she is the one in the wrong the entire time!

MALIBU HIGH is simply one of the most mesmerizingly bizarre exploitation movies you're ever likely to see. From the way it's shot, to the ridiculous dialog, the line delivery and the way the plot works itself out. The story of a high school hitwoman is just too wild to pass up and even though this largely hack work from start to finish, it's undeniably entertaining just the same. Even more peculiar is the films title and its poster. Both are one of the most incredibly deceptive cases of false advertising you're likely to come across.

Kim has got it made and she's Hot For Teacher

The music is another case of hilarity. There's recognizable stock tracks throughout (you'll recognize one from KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS), but the most riotously funny is the inclusion of THE PEOPLE'S COURT main theme. Once it hits, you expect to hear Doug Llewelyn to introduce Judge Wapner and both the plaintiff and defendant. Other humorous musical moments are these chintzy game show like stings that follow heated conversations that close out a scene. They're bewilderingly bad and serve this uproariously awful, but summarily sleazy flick all too well.

Kim has the principal sent to her office

It's not a horror movie and it's not a teen sex comedy as its title and marketing would have you believe. There are teens, though, and plenty of sex. There's also dollops of lewdness and aberrant behavior that signals a goldmine for exploitation hounds. Before you decide to flunk out, make sure you take the course in High Trash at MALIBU HIGH.

This review is representative of the BCI DVD

Cool Ass Comics: Thor Edition! Part 1

With the release of the new Hollywood THOR movie, I thought I'd dig out a handful of old Thor comic books I have. Granted, I wasn't around when this character first hit, but these mid 60s issues were given to me by my uncle. He has pretty much every issue of every Marvel character including first appearances. This will likely be a multi-part special like the Godzilla Marvel series from a few posts back. The following issues range between 1965 through 1966.

I've never been a huge THOR fan, but some of the issues are interesting as are the characters appearances in THE AVENGERS comic series. The above issue, #114, is the earliest one I have and it isn't in the greatest of shape.

Funnily enough, this new Hollywood makeover isn't the first time Thor has been seen in a movie. He featured in the TV movie THE INCREDIBLE HULK RETURNS (1988) and was played by Eric Allan Kramer, a muscular actor who also played the lead in the awful mess, QUEST FOR THE MIGHTY SWORD (1990).

Speaking of The Hulk, Thor first did battle with the big green monster in JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #112, also the issue with the origin of Loki.

These string of issues here with Hercules I like quite a bit as they are more mythological in nature as opposed to being Earthbound.


Phase IV (1974) review

PHASE IV 1973 (released in 1974)

Nigel Davenport (Dr. Ernest Hubbs), Michael Murphy (James Lesko), Lynne Frederick (Kendra Eldridge)

Directed by Saul Bass

The Short Version: Astonishing science fiction film foretells a potential Armageddon at the pinchers of millions of super intelligent species of ants, the product of a mysterious cosmic occurrence. Two scientists--one wishing to study, the other wishing to destroy--attempt to thwart the impending doom of mankind. Incredible visuals accentuate this confounding, if spine-chillingly unusual entry in the 'Animals Attack' sub genre. Impatient and easily distracted viewers should look elsewhere, but those with some time to ponder what's transpiring onscreen might find the proceedings enlightening.

An unknown cosmic event hits the Earth. Predicted to have almost cataclysmic results, the effects to the planet seem insignificant. However, the rays from space have an extraordinary effect on various species of ants. They begin to think, make plans and eventually wage war with mankind. An ecological imbalance is discovered in an Arizona desert location with the eradication of beetles, scorpions and spiders--creatures that feed on ants. Two scientists are dispatched to an isolated location specially built so as to study the escalating and potentially devastating problem in an effort to quell the onslaught of this new super intelligent breed of ant.

"...their ability to adapt genetically. I believe that after this test run they'll move rather quickly into desert areas taking over the countryside first then laying siege to towns and cities. I believe they will learn as they advance...anticipating our moves and continue to stay a move ahead."

This fascinating and frequently frightening science fiction slow burn is arguably the most ambiguously complex motion picture of the entire 'Nature Amok' sub genre. An incredible visual experience, this movie is unlike anything else that has ever been made in this style of film. This is the thinking man's version of any number of the 'Killer Kritter' flicks that propagated during the 70s renaissance. One way to describe it would be a cross between THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (1971) and EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977) with a dash of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968).

Undeniably unique and possessing a sprawling, hypnotic visual style, Saul Bass created a thought provoking, apocalyptic creature feature for the intellectual set. Equally terrifying as it is provocative, PHASE IV is based on a novel by Barry Malzberg. Whatever this mysterious planetary alteration was is never explained, but its effect on ants puts them on a level equal to, and in some cases, surpassing that of man. Instead of building ant hills, the ants construct towering monolithic skyscrapers that, compared to the size of the creatures, match the dimensions of the type of buildings made by man. When Dr. Hubbs attempts to get the ants' attention, he does so by destroying their "city". The insects retaliate by destroying a nearby family's home.

After the scientists fire back with a yellow poison, the ants then build these reflective surfaces which threatens to burn the humans out of their scientific dome. Not only that, but the ants act as martyrs in an effort to bring back a sample of this yellow poison (it hardens into a sugar like powder shortly after exposure) to the queen in a bid for immunity. The queen then gives birth to a new yellow tinted species! Another mind boggling scene is when the scientists use a sonic weapon to liquidate the reflective constructs threatening to burn up the station and destroy their computers. Thousands of the yellow ants are wiped out. The black ants emerge, drag the bodies back to the hive and neatly align the carcasses in single file formation for a bizarre funeral procession!

"We knew then we were being changed and made part of their world. We didn't know for what purpose...but we knew we would be told."

In an interesting dichotomy, the aged Dr. Hubbs is the one wishing to destroy the ants while Lesko the cryptologist is more interested in communicating with the creatures. This time, older isn't necessarily the wiser. Lesko, using his techniques of geometric and mathematic configurations, gains more answers in his quest to "talk" to the war mongering ants than Hubbs with his strategic assaults. Lesko manages to come to the conclusion that the ants want something from them--from man. Just exactly what it is these super intelligent insects wish to do with us is one of the unanswered questions that leaves the answer up to the audience. The final few minutes still invoke a chilling denouement even if the end result isn't entirely clear. Do they want us as slaves to the queen? A new source of food? A new species of ma-nt that can peacefully co-exist?

Whether the sometimes confusing nature of the proceedings was intentional or not is unknown. Very little is spelled out for the viewer and a good number of questions go unanswered, especially the aforementioned ambiguous ending. Apparently, the film suffered at the hands of studio intervention sacrificing 9 minutes in the process (this DVD is that abridged version) which allegedly soured Saul Bass on directing leaving this as his only such credit in the chair. Regardless, it's also unknown whether the removed footage would make the film anymore linear, or confound things further. One thing is certain, the film is a visual showcase and unravels in such a way that the convoluted aspects are never irritating, but add to the perplexing, oppressively scary atmosphere.

One of the more peculiar portions of the film is at the beginning when Hubbs and Lesko find what appears to be a crop circle with a small patch in the center and the dead carcass of a sheep lying in the patch. Hubbs inspects the dead animal and finds three holes--perfect circles in a line from which several ants exit from this wound (these bizarre wounds later turn up on a human corpse, but this, too, is never explained). Hubbs divulges to Lesko that certain species of ants retaliate against any opposing species including man, should they threaten their food supply. Later in the movie Lesko receives an "answer" from the ants told in a geometric pattern--a circle with a round dot at the center. He surmises the ants want Hubbs. The next scene correlates with Hubbs' assertion earlier in the movie that the insects do indeed annihilate any threatening element.

Ken Middleham's special photography of the numerous insect sequences are both incredible and occasionally skin crawling. We see thousands of them make a quick meal of both a large spider and a rat. Another astounding sequence has a single black ant attempting to chew through the air conditioning cables to shut down the computer inside the dome. A praying mantis watches stealthily from above. Snatching the ant, we see in close up as this predator eats the ant alive. But below, the mantis doesn't realize one of the yellow ants is watching it, too. The new species grasps the long leg of the mantis and pulls it down into the electrical grid frying it to a crisp.

Dick Bush, the DP on a handful of Hammer productions as well as Tigon's BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW (1971), was responsible for the eerily striking phantasmagorical color palette that saturates the world seen in PHASE IV. The electronic soundtrack by Brian Gascoigne (THE DARK CRYSTAL) is of an otherworldy quality and creepily conveys both the natural and the unnatural that unspools on the screen. It's an incredible score that fits the film like a glove. Another novel touch is the how the film is presented. At the beginning, we see a view of space. The words 'Phase 1' appears in the right corner. Over the course of the film, we see Phases II and III and in the last shot, the films title appears--PHASE IV--apparently the final stage in civilizations new evolution.

Fans will remember actor Michael Murphy as one of the good guys in Bob Kelljan's creepy COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970) and one of the bad guys in Richard Franklin's delightful CLOAK & DAGGER (1984). British actor Nigel Davenport played Van Helsing in Dan Curtis's version of COUNT DRACULA (1974) and also took a major role in Don Taylor's version of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1977). The late and lovely Lynne Frederick was in Robert Young's VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1971) and Lucio Fulci's FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE (1975).

With so many facets of interest in PHASE IV (1974), this enigmatic science fiction horror opus portends to prophecise calamity on a genocidal scale, but by the end, the true meaning is left up in the air for the viewer to ponder. Naturalistic in approach, the inherent realism is far more frightening than if these tiny arthropods were depicted as gigantic. It's not a film for impatient viewers, but those with a serious interest in science fiction will be rewarded with one of the most unusual visual experiences they've likely ever witnessed.

This review is representative of the Legend Films DVD

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