Let's take a moment to talk about Jennifer Grey. Alright, who am I kidding? I mostly watched this film to get to talk about Jennifer Grey. Sure there's a Tales from the Crypt connection I could have played up to make myself look cooler, but let's be honest here, Ms. Grey was an extremely important part of my youth. When Dirty Dancing came out, I was eleven years old, and Jennifer's scene in the water with Patrick Swayze practicing lifts, well, it holds a special place in my heart... or my loins. It wasn't my sexual awakening, I can thank Bryan Adams' 'Cuts Like a Knife' video from 1984 for that particular milestone, for Raquel Pena (who also appeared in Micheal Jackson's Billie Jean) and not the Master of the Canadian Power Ballad. Now that we've got the first over-share out of the way, there was something magical about watching Frances 'Baby' Houseman rise from the water in her extremely wet, skimpy, tight, white tank top. Yes, entirely magical... Sorry, got distracted there. Since then, I've been a fan of Ms. Grey's despite the fact that she literally cut her own nose off to spite her face. So when Netflix rolled out Ritual on Instant Watch, the almost final installment of the Tales from the Crypt trilogy, and I noticed that Jennifer carried top billing, I knew I was going to have to check it out. (And folks, the tank-top.... it's back!)
Grey stars as Dr. Alice Dodgson, a physician whose licence has been suspended for dangerous medical practices. Unable to practice in the United States, she takes a job working in Jamaica for Paul Claybourne (Craig Sheffer) who needs a caregiver for his younger brother Wesley (Daniel Lapaine). Wesley has a breathing problem, but that might not the most pressing issue. He also thinks that he's been turned into a zombie by a native priest of Obeah, a kind of Jamaican Voodoo. As people begin to mysteriously die around the Claybourne estate, Alice begins to believe something supernatural might be going on. With the help of a beautiful, mysterious artist named Caro Lamb (Kristen Wilson), Alice begins to unravel the island's secrets which might not be so paranormal after all.It seems Paul is looking for sell the Jamaican estate, and the only ting that stands in his way is his addled brother.
Also Tim Curry appears as a horn-dog veterinarian. I couldn't figure out how to get that into the synopsis, as it is not important to the plot, but it might be important in deciding if you want to watch this film. Sure, Tim was there to pick up a paycheck, but earning it by ogling boobs and fondling derrieres (all the while setting up a pivotal back-end for your character) seems like an honest day's wage. Plus, Tim doesn't hold back, and he's full of all the campy glory that he brought to his roles in Oscar and Clue. The rest of the male ensemble in the cast seemed readily replaceable, and if they did replace one of them mid-film, It's a shame too because I quite liked Craig Shaffer in Nightbreed, but he has so little to do he's almost forgotten until his character takes a turn in the third act. Lapaine has cut a long career appearing in films like Brokedown Palace and Last Chance Harvey along the way. In the role of Dr. Dodgson's tormented patient cum paramour, he actually came across less leading man and more Ted Raimi on a particularly testosterone fueled day.
Luckily, the film is buoyed by the two female leads. Jennifer Grey puts in a solid performance and looks astoundingly lovely while doing so. If anyone else has good memories of tank-tops of yesteryear, Ms. Grey spends a good portion of the film in one, and her sweaty, spirited churchgoing experience is not to be missed. The role is no more than stock, but Grey tries to give the part some degree of soul. I think other mean may have more of a reaction to Kristin Wilson. Not only does she doff her clothes completely at one point in the film, she has an alluring manner that was perfect for the exotic sculptor. Wilson also has the most dynamic part in the film, and she really sells her character's story line. After this film, Wilson landed a role on the short lived series The District and a role in Walking Tall (2004), but her last feature was the SyFy vehicle Mega Python vs. Gatoroid... so, I hope things are going alright for her. She is an actress whose billing ought be going up and not falling far behind former pop princesses.
Director Avi Nesher was not someone I was familiar with at all, and after consulting his IMDB resume, I'm still not familiar with him at all. Nesher helmed a string of B grade thrillers and action films during the early 90s, and was a journeyman director like the men behind the previous two Tales from the Crypt films. However, unlike them, his film didn't get released with all the Tales thunder attached. After Bordello of Blood faltered, Ritual was shelved for five years before being released without fanfare to video. The release was devoid of any Cryptkeeper silliness beyond a picture in the upper corner, and most folks, myself included, didn't even register that a third film in the series had been released. On HBO, Tales from the Crypt was a powerhouse and they struck gold with Ernest Dickenson's Demon Knight, but they needed to bring in some of the high profile talent from behind the camera on the television show to the big screen.
I've saved my biggest qualm about Ritual for the last, and many of you who are ardent horrorphiles might have picked up on it after the synopsis. Ritual is a loose adaptation of the Val Lewton film I Walked with the Zombie. Where the Lewton's classic featured moody lighting and eerie performances, Nesher's film had boobs. There's really no comparing the two flicks without becoming entirely incensed with the sad state of low budget trash so I won't go into it. I think most of you who are six paragraphs into a review of a Jennifer Grey film, you already know how that rant goes. Ritual is not a good-bad film. It's mostly just bad-bad, but there's traces in between where the film tried something. It just didn't really work. However, will I watch Ritual again? Yeah, probably. It's not the time of my life, but it's a few good moments.... and a couple nice tank tops.
No trailer was to be found so here's a selection to whet your appetite.