Code Red DVD Review: Rituals

Posted on April 21, 2011 by Deaditor

DVD Review: Rituals
Released by Code Red DVD
– April 19, 2011
Directed by: Peter Carter
Cast: Hal Holbrook, Lawrence Dane, Robin Gammell, Ken James, Gary Reineke
Review by Marc Patterson

Sitting down to write this review I have bittersweet feelings. Rituals is perhaps the most hotly anticipated cult horror film never to get a proper DVD release*. It has finally arrived, though not with glorious thunder and tons of slick marketing, but with a sad and quiet whimper and without even the most obscurely placed banner ad. Worse, most horror sites glossed over its release in their weekly listings. Check that – they didn’t just “gloss over” it. In every case I saw it flatly failed to be mentioned at all, period. It falls on us to beat the drum, and if you’re a fan of the film it falls on you to spread the word.

That said, let’s get on with the review of this Code Red DVD. Back in June of last year I provided a review of Rituals as a VHS retrospective, specifically looking at the release from Embassy Home Entertainment. I would definitely encourage you to take a look at that write-up as it is my intention not to be overly redundant, allowing my review to speak to the specifics of this Code Red release and keep the criticism of the film itself to a minimum.

My feelings about the film haven’t changed one iota. Rituals is a wonderful story of backwoods horror and survival, psychologically terrifying, portrayed in a sophisticated manner. I’d still contend that Rituals is one of the smarter horror films ever made. Smart, because its focus is a story of inter-personal relationships between a group of five adult men, professional doctors, old buddies who have gone on an annual trip for years. It just happens that this year they picked the wrong spot. There are no young nubile half-naked chicks with their boozy frat boyfriends partying in the woods to be found and the cast isn’t comprised of shitty B-movie actors, and most of all – none of the characters are two dimensional. Rituals is a realistic film that despite its minor flaws, lends an air of maturity to its storytelling that so many slashers lack. The dialogue is sharp and delivered authentically, even laced with moments of hilarity. The doctors have their annual ritual, but are about to engage a demon who has his own twisted rituals he intends to perform.

For fans of the film you’ll notice an immediate improvement. First, Rituals is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Need I say more? The sound appears to play out in mono, or a very minimal stereo track at best. It’s riddled with the same pops and dusty scratches that plague my Embassy release, but thank God – none of that VHS hiss!

When it comes to video and audio quality there’s going to be some bickering. I can see the home theater enthusiasts moaning that this isn’t the vast improvement they might have expected, especially when stacked against some of these restorations that are being done for Blu-ray releases. The meticulous 2K digital scans being done after prints have been worked over frame by frame by white gloved restoration artists have certainly done a lot to spoil us. But this isn’t Blu-ray and bear in mind that the VHS edition of this film was barely watchable.

You’ll see from the screenshot below that this edition, though in widescreen, has its fair share of scratches (okay, maybe more than its fair share), but the overall picture quality is a big improvement. The daytime shots get a little boost, but it’s the nighttime shots, which were so murky they were all but blacked out, that now finally get definition. This isn’t a shitty transfer by any means, and to be perfectly honest, any improvement is welcome. I’m still giddy about the fact that I’m watching this digitally on my big screen. To drive my point home – one should also consider the new “grindhouse” movement that intentionally distresses their prints to look like this. It’s not tragic by any means.

Code Red does include a disclaimer clearly stating that part of the final scene at the cabin is going to look like shit (that’s a paraphrase) as this problem dates back to the 70s when the original negative was damaged in the lab by Pathe Studio techs. The film on a whole was passable enough for the big screen, but the dark nature of the prints were never able to be compensated for when transferred to home video or television formats. The 35mm print used here is director Peter Carter’s personal copy, still a print, but one that is in better condition than others out there. It should be mentioned that Mr. Carter passed back in 1983, so just getting this print was a gracious move on the part of his family.

A Nighttime shot:

Extras are where the fans will have the most fun. Sadly, there is no Hal Holbrook interview, which was rumored to be included, but the film does include a lengthy 25+ minute interview with producer and co-lead Lawrence Dane as well as a slightly shorter interview with Robin Gammell, who played the “juicer” Marty.

The interview with Lawrence Dane provides some insight into the film not seen or heard before, and complements his interview with Rue Morgue. Having produced the film and played the key role of Mitzi puts Dane in the unique situation of being able to share interesting anecdotes, and those really come to the forefront on the feature length commentary track, which is moderated by Lee Christian of Code Red. Besides the commentary track and two interviews you have the original theatrical trailer, as well as trailers to other Code Red titles. It was nice to see the original trailer in a non YouTube format, all dressed up for DVD.

The bottom line is simple. Rituals is a title you’ll want to buy, and moreover – you shouldn’t wait to do so. I love Code Red DVD to death. I really do. But their on and off track record has been noticeably shaky, and to be fair, it’s not all their fault. Code Red has been hanging it all out there to bring older, more obscure titles to market and not reaping the financial rewards. Back in September of 2010 President and owner of Code Red Bill Norton announced that he was closing up shop in mid-2011. News of that announcement spread like wildfire through the community. However, in December of 2010 their blog suddenly lit back up as they announced they had signed a deal with VCX to release older catalog titles. Now we’re seeing a handful of titles slated for release this year. For me this is good news. Point is – Rituals isn’t an Anchor Bay or Lionsgate release and doesn’t come with big studio backing. It’s a classic title that didn’t get its due back in the 70s because it was “a Canadian film”, and seems to be somewhat cursed to that same fate now thanks to this quiet release. If you want it, you need to support Code Red and get out and buy it, and do so now, not later. Need I actually say it? Rituals comes highly recommended.

*Rituals was released on DVD previously as The Creeper, as a part of a 100 Horror Movie Classics Collection available through Mill Creek Entertainment. It was a full screen transfer, a straight dump from the VHS copy onto DVD.

Additional Screenshots & Menu Screens