Ritual feels about as much like a Tales from the Crypt film as Def By Temptation felt like a Troma film — that is, not at all. With barely a hint of the humor or the gore (aside from a grisly opening scene) that marked the excellent Demon Knight and the, er, Dennis Miller-y Bordello of Blood, this restrained and serious-minded third entry in the Crypt series seems like it was made outside of the realm of the Cryptkeeper and, like Def, had the recognizable name slapped on after the fact.
Ritual is actually loosely based on I Walked With a Zombie (including a horrible rendition of Sir Lancelot’s calypso classic “Shame and Scandal”) which goes a long way to explaining its lack of sensationalism — although really, it ends up feeling like a poor man’s Serpent and the Rainbow. As with both IWWAZ and SATR, a white doctor/medical/scientist-type (Jennifer Grey, whose nose may have shrunk but whose nipples cannot be contained) visits the Caribbean and gets wrapped up in deep voodoo doodoo. This sets things up for the standard “white tourist in an ominous land of dark-skinned people horror movie.” Whereas I Walked with a Zombie was set on the fictional isle of Saint Sebastian, however, Ritual is set on the very real isle of Jamaica, making its depiction as a “Godforsaken place” in which babies are born with machetes in their hands a tad problematic.
Since the film takes place in Jamaica, the term used more often than voodoo is “obeah,” although it’s said in this instance to be mixed with voodoo, as the primary practitioners in the movie originated from Haiti. Whatever the label, it’s portrayed in typical Hollywood fashion as mysterious and dangerous, with the most prominent characters using it for nefarious purposes — although by cinematic horror’s low standards, Ritual is relatively balanced in its attempt to also show a more innocuous side of the religion. Additionally, its portrayal of zombiism is more “realistic” in that there are no walking corpses, but rather, in Serpent and the Rainbow fashion, there’s a powder that renders victims inert husks of humanity. There’s also some interesting insight into the racial and sexual dynamics of the Caribbean plantation system, but hey, is this a horror film or a history book?
It works well as neither, the main draw being the overall mystery. Since the plot was changed dramatically from its I Walked with a Zombie origins, there remains some question as to how it will all play out, and while the story works fairly well, the hackneyed climax is a laughable instance of the villain explaining every detail of the scheme to the hero and then serving up on a platter a way for them to escape the villain’s clutches. And why, oh why, do these movies always have one or two “good guys” surrounded by dozens of tribesmen/voodoo practitioners who then all run away as soon as the good guy vanquishes their leader? Wouldn’t they want to chop up this person who just merc’ed their beloved chief? What are all those damn machetes for anyway?!?! All of that is just dumb, but the final scene of the film — in which *SPOILER ALERT* villainess Caro (Kristen Wilson) is doomed to a fate of being a zombified sex doll at the perverted whim of a corrupt local police chief — is gross, noxious and completely unnecessary.
That said, the restraint shown at not featuring a scene of Jennifer Grey gyrating with a zombie to a Jennifer Warnes ballad is much appreciated.