[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 12 – Tales from the Crypt presents Ritual (2002)

Director: Avi Nesher
Cast: Jennifer Grey, Craig Sheffer, Daniel Lapaine, Tim Curry
Screenplay: Rob Cohen, Avi Nesher
99 mins. Rated R for violence, language and some sexuality.

I bet there are quite a few people out there, even among fans of Tales from the Crypt, who were unaware that there was a third feature film in the series. Were you one of them? We’ll get into all that and more today as we discuss Ritual!

Dr. Alice Dodgson (Jennifer Grey, Dirty Dancing, Bittersweet Symphony) has just had her medical license revoked following the death of one of her patients. Unable to get work anywhere in the United States, she instead packs up and moves to Jamaica to take on caring for a young man the locals believe to be cursed. As Alice begins to peel back the layers of the situation, she discovers a sinister plot to use voodoo to kill the man, and she must find out why quickly in order to save him.

Originally, Universal Pictures planned on a trilogy of Tales from the Crypt films, starting with Demon Knight and Bordello of Blood. After the financial failure of the latter, Universal scrapped these plans, and some years later, Ritual, which wasn’t initially planned to be a Tales from the Crypt feature, became one. Bookends featuring the Cryptkeeper (voiced once again by John Kassir) was shot and added to the finished film, and voila! You have yourself another Tales from the Crypt film.

Sadly, the film doesn’t bolster a whole lot of confidence in the viewer almost immediately after beginning. This is some of the most lackluster shoehorning of a franchise I’ve seen in a long time, and I’ve watched most of the Hellraiser sequels. The bookends with Cryptkeeper are so disappointing. He’s surrounded by scantily-clad women, perhaps in the hopes that we wouldn’t notice how terrible the puppetry is (we noticed). This is clearly not the same Cryptkeeper seen in the HBO series. That version was a full animatronic puppet that looked incredible and really gave a flavor to every appearance. This one is a hard plastic puppet with “deadlocks” that just sits there. It’s almost like you can hear a dispirited John Kassir from the soundbooth being forced at gunpoint to do the terrible line readings he’s been given. I know, I know, you are probably wondering why I’m going off about a bookend that really has no bearing on the finished film. Well, there are two reasons for that:

  • I spend money on this thing thinking it was going to be a classic Tales from the Crypt movie, complete with iconic Cryptkeeper!
  • This is the same bullshit that dropped Cats significantly in my scoring, because the filmmakers knew they were creating a subpar product and didn’t care.

Now, onto Ritual itself. The biggest problem with forcing this into being a third Tales from the Crypt film is that you expect that same kind of Crypt flavor in the storytelling. You expect something from this brand to be fun, goofy, perhaps a little mean-spirited in the name of satire, and overall, entertaining. That’s the way Demon Knight and Bordello of Blood were. Even The Frighteners, which almost ended up being retrofitted into a Tales from the Crypt film, had that flavor and style. Ritual is just a little paint-by-the-numbers (it is a very loose remake of the classic I Walked with a Zombie), and it does nothing interesting with the material. Perhaps its biggest sin is that it is…boring. I’ve seen Ritual a few times, and I struggle to get through it with each viewing. Not, each viewing does get a little less bad, but at the end of watching it, I struggle to even remember anything of value about the movie-watching experience. It’s a deeply forgettable and boring movie, something that no Tales from the Crypt film should have in its DNA.

The cast is fine with what they have. You can see Jennifer Grey and Tim Curry (Congo, The Rocky Horror Picture Show) in particularly really committing to the material. It’s just that they have nothing to do. Even Craig Sheffer (A River Runs Through It, Palmer) can usually give a memorable genre performance (on a side note, Craig Sheffer also appeared in Hellraiser: Inferno, a movie that was retrofitted into being a Hellraiser movie, and you have to wonder if he ever knows what the movie he is in will end up being).

Ritual is forgettable, boring, and a disservice to fans of this franchise, who should be able to have trust in something bearing the name of Tales from the Crypt. The movie is not the worst thing to have to sit through, but fans deserve much better, and a boring movie is oftentimes worse than a flat-out bad one. Shame. Shame indeed.

2/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Ernest R. Dickerson’s Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight, click here.
For my review of Gilbert Adler’s Tales from the Crypt presents Bordello of Blood, click here.

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