02 May 2007

"Rituals" Screens At The Bloor

In the early days of Global Television, the then-fledging network had very little programming and tended to play the same movies over and over again, most of them Canadian-produced, which meant one thing to impressionable young minds: harsh language, nudity, violence, and downbeat endings (and given the state of the homegrown industry at the time, a particular photographic style in which the image seemed to have been printed on old army blankets and the sound was always on the verge of going out-of-sync). "Black Christmas" screened every yuletide season, and if you stayed up to 11 on a Saturday night you could catch everything from "The Pyx" to the ultra-naughty "In Praise Of Older Women".

But my favorite was "Rituals", which is essentially the hoser "Deliverance". Released in 1978 (although produced almost two years earlier), this brisk, lean n' mean shocker was directed by Peter Carter (who secured his place in Canadian film and television history by directing episodes of the series "Wojeck" and the feature "The Rowdyman"--the tax-shelter trucker comedy "High-Ballin" with Peter Fonda and Jerry Reed notsomuch...) from Ian Sutherland's screenplay. Shot in Northern Ontario's Batachawana Bay (near Sault Ste. Marie), the scenario finds five middle-aged doctors out on a weekend retreat who find themselves terrorized by a faceless maniac whose initial pranks turn deadly (remember that is a good couple of years before the "Friday The 13th" series and the 80s slasher boom--although gore hounds will likely be disappointed with its character-oriented screenplay and the lack of explicit bloodshed, although there are a few doozy moments). True to form of other films of the era, "Rituals" headlined an American star, in this case, Hal "Mark Twain Tonight" Holbrook, who dug Canada enough to return to shoot "The Kidnapping Of The President" opposite William Shatner.

The fact that someone made a cool thriller right in my own province inspired my own ill-fated attempt a horror feature when I hatched my Grade 11 epic "Blood Hunt" (don't look for it on the IMDB--the reels are sitting in my fridge), in which a quartet of high-school drama club actors playing adults (myself included, when one of my cast bailed without notice) go into the woods with rifles and machetes (the latter easily purchased at K-Mart) for no apparent reason other than to encounter some hungry zombies, presumably spawned by the toxins from a local paper mill (a plot point I ripped off from John Frankenheimer's "Prophecy", although in his film the pollutants created a mutant bear). I stole the (ironic) use of the children's song "The Teddy Bears' Picnic" from the "Rituals" trailer...and the truth is, my Super-8 cinematography didn't look much worse...

To my eventual surprise (and delight), "Rituals" proved to have quite the cult following in the U.S., awarded hefty praise from Stephen King in his non-fiction treatise on horror "Danse Macabre", and just a few years ago, a good American friend of mine was so thrilled when I provided him with a bad VHS dub that you'd think I'd unearthed a lost Dead Sea scroll.

Well, if you're GTA bound you can finally see it for yourself, as the fine folks at Rue Morgue magazine are hosting a rare theatrical screening this month, featuring a 35mm print provided by the film's co-star (and co-producer) Lawrence Dane, who will also be in attendance for an intro and post-screening Q&A! Dane's a great actor (Genie-nominated)--one of those "oh that guy" Canadian journeymen performers who's appeared in everything from features like "Scanners", "Happy Birthday To Me" and "Bear Island" to commercials (Colour Your World) and tons of series work including "Stargate SG-1" and "Queer As Folk", CanCon classics like "The Littlest Hobo" and "E.N.G.", and and vintage stuff like "Mission: Impossible" and "The FBI".

(only the brave in attendance will mention that Dane also co-wrote and directed the unfortunate Canadian answer to "Flashdance": "Heavenly Bodies", featuring Cynthia Dale)

"Rituals" screens Thursday, May 17th at 9:30 PM at The Bloor Cinema. Don't miss it.