Code Red DVD Review: Rituals

Posted on April 21, 2011 by Deaditor 16 Comments


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



16 comments

  • sampanaflex says:

    Thanks for the review, Marc. Well done and the screenshots are piquing my interest as I have never seen this flick… just learned about it from websites of your ilk and have eagerly awaited this release. I also thank Code Red and will support them in the future as have in the past. I ordered mine on Tuesday and should get it Friday. This is the only review of the disc I could find and appreciate the insight. I’m actually kind of psyched with the scratchy “grindhouse” experience. There will be a movie in a dark living room with some cold beers tomorrow!

  • Cameron says:

    Great work on this review and in getting the word out on this film, the 2nd greatest Canadian horror film ever, right behind My Bloody Valentine. And to finally have a beautiful DVDS print has made Xmas come early this year.

  • Cameron says:

    Watching this CodeRed print I will say two things. The end footage that is claimed to damaged is not all that bad. You get to see Carl Fullerton’s excellent make-up on the Creeper is full glory. Oddly however, one shot in the film is not as good as I have (and have seen) on other inferior DVD prints. It occurs roughly at the 18 minute mark. The scene is when the guys are dancing in a circle, chanting “put me back together again” repeatedly. The camera then pans with a drone of forboding music to a shot of the woods to reveal a shadowy apparition watching from a distance. In this otherwise fantastic Coder Red print, the figure is not at all visible and the picture too dark, while in other previously release and inferior DVD prints, this figure is quite apparent on screen. Strange.

  • JP Ward says:

    Great review. Like the first commenter, this was the only DVD review I found. I posted a link to it on the Rituals IMDB forum so hopefully more people will find it.

  • Ewan says:

    Hi, thanks for the review. Have been following the story of this release since I first read about it online a few months ago. Happy to hear it’s finally out!

    Only problem is I have no idea where I can buy it, can you point me in the right direction? (I’m based in the UK so would need to buy online)

  • Marc says:

    Hey Ewen – Right now this DVD is only available for ordering in the US. I would probably best direct you to Diabolik DVD. They list this a region 1 disc, but my DVD is NTSC 0, which means it should play in all players – and okay for you in the UK.

    Here is a direct link: http://www.diabolikdvd.com/category/Horror-sl-Thriller/Rituals-DVD-(Code-Red)-(NTSC-Region-1).html

  • Lava Plains says:

    I just wanted to clarify something: the print used for this release (and I have direct knowlege of this) is the personal copy of actor/producer Lawrence Dane, not Peter Carter. I have been aware of this title and it’s preparation for release for the last two years.

    • Marc says:

      Hi Lava – thanks for the note. We’ve also been following this release for just as long as well. Our reference regarding the Peter Carter print is taken from Rue Morgue who is quoted as saying “It was sourced from Carter’s own personal print, which was dug out of the back of a closet by his widow Linda Goranson” Can you provide any added details to the claim that this is Lawrence Dane’s print and not Carter’s?

  • Ewan says:

    Thanks Marc. It’s currently listed as out of stock – does that mean that all copies have already been snapped up?! I guess I should have been more on the ball…

    • Marc says:

      Oh I hope not, but they might be. I also checked with DVD Empire (where I got it from). Their service is a bit slower, but reliable. Not sure how they are with shipping overseas. Diabolik is a bit more reliable on that front as well. DVD Empire is also listing it as “On Order”. They may have only picked up a limited number of DVD’s not expecting them to sell out. Hopefully more will be on their way. Here’s that link: http://www.dvdempire.com/Exec/v4_item.asp?item_id=1499839

  • Ewan says:

    Cheers Marc, may try out DVD Empire in that case… Fingers crossed!

  • Dustin says:

    Not available on Netflix. I guess I’ll just trust Ben’s opinion and snatch up a copy. That batty Brit is usually on the ball, though. :p

  • KGG says:

    My favorite Canadian movie(once you ignore the American star and UK director). Watched it more than a few times and never been bored. Someone needs to corner Holbrook at one of his Mark Twain presentations and ask him about this flick! He’s the star dammit! Anyway I need to get this dvd. From what I have read the Dane print source comes from Canuxploitation discussion on it-as the movie was screened in a few places a few years ago presumably using his print of it. I wonder if Code Red used Dane’s print but they are saying it came from Carter so there’s no trouble over legal claims because(according to Canuxploitation, the actual rights to the movie are held by some US company).

  • Lawrence Dane says:

    Let me clear up the question of the print source.
    It is presently my print and safely in a film storage facility.
    But, I did recieve it from Peter Carter’s wife who had it in her basement. That should clear up the matter.

    Enjoy…

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