The Ritual’s full title is actually Tales From the Crypt Presents: The Ritual, but for brevity’s sake, or perhaps to separate it from the now less-than-profitable TV show of the same name, the producers have gone with the simple title of The Ritual. This achieves one important thing: it separates the movie from the failures of the last two “Tales from the Crypt” films and allows the film to succeed or fail on its own merits. Whereas the last two “Tales” movies were bookended by an introduction and a closing coda by the Cryptkeeper, a skeletal puppet known for making extremely bad puns, this movie is lacking that jocular fellow.
The history of the “Tales from the Crypt” TV show, which was based on a horror comic book published in the ’50s and ’60s, is an interesting one. The comic book’s graphic and often scary tales (for that era) was one of the main impetus for the creation of the comic book code, which labeled comic books in order to “provide guidance” for parents so they don’t purchase books for their kids that would “promote” violence or other “unacceptable anti-social behavior.”
It was essentially an MPAA (the board that gives out the “R” or “PG-13” ratings for movies) only for comic books. In its recent TV incarnation, the show focused on the dark and macabre, but always with a comical flair. You could always count on the tales being somewhat funny or at least offering a few chuckles, and the endings, like all horror or sci-fi anthology series, consisted of an unexpected twist. In this way, “Tales from the Crypt” did for horror what “The Outer Limits” did for Sci-Fi and “The Twilight Zone” did for fantasy.
Why did I just spend two paragraphs talking about the history of the “Tales From the Crypt” TV show and comic book instead of the movie? Well, for one the comic book’s history is much more interesting than The Ritual, which is a bore from beginning to end. The Ritual takes what was a familiar theme used in the TV show — the subject of voodoo and white people who crosses voodoo practitioners much to their ultimate regret — and turns it into a feature length movie. Whereas the TV episodes dealing with the subject were sometimes interesting, the movie version is too long, overwrought, and its idea of suspense is hinting at latent lesbian attraction and having star Jennifer Grey walk around half-naked half the time, or in the process of being half-naked.
Grey plays Doctor Alice Dodgson, a New York doctor who gets her license suspended when she treats one of her patients with an unapproved drug, resulting in the patient’s death. Without a job, Alice is forced to go to Jamaica, where she tends to the brother of a wealthy white landowner (Craig Sheffer). The twist? The brother thinks he’s a zombie, and is heavily involved in the local people’s voodoo practices and rituals. Oh, and someone is killing off white people with a machete. Ouch!
The biggest problem with The Ritual is that it’s essentially a 20-minute “Tales from the Crypt” TV episode stretched out into a movie. The result is a boring and oftentimes silly film that tries to provoke cheap scares from the audience but only ends up irritating them. One of the movie’s favorite ploys is the “attack the heroine with various objects, things, and persons, only to have her realize it’s all just a bad nightmare” gimmick. After the fifth time Grey’s Alice dreamt of being attacked by this person or that person — essentially, every character in the film attacks her in her dreams at one point or another — I quickly got bored. To add insult to injury, besides ample nudity from lead Grey, the film is neither action-packed nor bloody. Blood is shed, mostly at the hands of a machete-wielding maniac (or maniacs), but it’s all done without much inspiration.
As mentioned, actress Jennifer Grey walks through the whole movie in a tight top, often showing us her perky nipples. That is, if she’s clothed at all. It’s all very nice to look at, but Grey plays her part straight and as a result you wonder if she’s supposed to actually be a doctor or a stripper going by the stage name of “Doctor.” The supporting cast, including Craig Sheffer in a throwaway role as the brother of the would-be zombie, is irrelevant to the movie. Even the actress who plays Carol, the sexpot living on Sheffer’s estate, is not all that interesting even when she’s gyrating around like a frenzied giraffe in heat, which she does quite often.
The oddest thing about The Ritual is that I missed the puppet Cryptkeeper, and I wonder if leaving the “Tales from the Crypt” title on the marquee would have been a better idea. This movie went straight to video, and as such it has been buried on the shelves of your local Blockbuster or Hollywood Video. Those undiscerning horror buffs that might have rented this turkey will skip over it now without the “Tales from the Crypt” tag to catch their eye. In the long run, the producers probably shot themselves in the foot by tossing this turkey off the roof and hoping that it flies on its own wings.
Avi Nesher (director) / Rob Cohen, Avi Nesher (screenplay)
CAST: Jennifer Grey …. Dr. Alice Dodgson
Daniel Lapaine …. Wesley Claybourne