It is impressive what a brand name can do for a film’s chances to be seen, especially for a remake of a film not many people can claim to have seen before. Audiences want familiarity, so a fusion of a familiar brand name, with a new idea can make for a happy bit of synergy. When your brand has a looser definition of continuity (or is better yet an anthology) it can be even easier to fill with brilliant ideas that couldn’t shine on their own. In 2002, a made for D.V.D. feature-length film got a better chance at reaching an audience, with the help of the Crypt Keeper, in Ritual.
After losing her medical licence, Dr Alice Dodgson finds it challenging to find a new job, so she jumps at the chance presented to her to work in sunny Jamaica. Upon arriving she realises that it wasn’t the paradise she envisioned, still she quickly settles down to her new position, as a private doctor, only to find that her patient may be a zombie. She soon falls for the brother of her patient but learns that dangerous elements lie in the rituals of the island’s residents.
Inspired by the cult 40s film, I Walked With a Zombie, this undead based love story is a tale that like others that became franchise instalments late in their developments, haves some awkwardness in integrating certain elements. However, Ritual, manages to assemble a cast of recognisable names, most notably post-surgery Jennifer Grey is great as Doctor Dodgson, forced to face forces she can barely comprehend. Craig Sheffer and Daniel Lapaine play the Claybourne brothers, Dodgson’s patient, and lover respectively. She does have a friend in Caro (played by Kristen Wilson) a native to Jamaica. Rounding off is an appreciated appearance of Tim Curry as Matthew Hope. With its plot points, the calibre of actors and the relative downgrade in its budget, Ritual feels the closest to being an extended episode out of the three Tales from the Crypt films.
The soundtrack is fun in a very early 2000s way, especially for those who are huge Joe 90 fans. The mysterious key from the first two films doesn’t make a return, which is a shame as the proto-extended universe that the franchise promised didn’t get a chance to start. Still considering that this only became a Tales film toward the final moments of its making, it can’t be helped. John Kassir returns once again as The Crypt Keeper, so some franchise continuity remains intact.
Ritual is the final outing for the Tales from the Crypt film offerings and its finality is unfortunate as the Presents range presents some great topics. Its reduced budget does provide a more focused take and with the collection and calibre of its celebrity cast, Ritual does provide an experience closest to watching the episodes. The almost direct to D.V.D. zombie romantic drama delivers some pulpy fun, resurrected from the swarm of films not destined to attract a wide audience. For all its talk of curses, if you give it a chance, Ritual will certainly charm you.
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