The success of John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972), which dramatised the clash between the white collar urbanity of middle class America and a disenfranchised backwoods rural community created ripples of influence that extended far and wide. Although ostensibly an action orientated adventure movie, there was enough paranoia and nightmarish hysteria in the film to reignite the inspiration of low budget filmmakers working within the horror genre. The rural slasher film subsequently became a sub-genre within a sub-genre, and much of its success was derived from the necessity for location shooting. Another happy by product of the poverty row production values enforced upon such films as The Last House on the Left (1972), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Just Before Dawn (1980) was the need to shoot with handheld cameras. This gave these rural horror pictures a sense of verisimilitude that the more slickly produced effects driven slasher pictures lacked. They also tap into a more primal impulse; the survival of the fittest in the face of both nature and an unseen assailant. For me these backwoods chillers represent the most intriguing face of the slasher film, and there are very few that impress as much as Rituals.
The last thing these highly strung and edgy individuals need is the disappearance of their boots. This is a moment of genius from scriptwriter Ian Sutherland; the only one he chooses to leave with boots is the organiser of this particular expedition. A character with macho pretensions, the one we are led to believe is best equipped to deal with the savage wilderness of the Canadian outback. Sutherland writes him out within the first twenty minutes, installs him as a potential red herring, and then concentrates on the vulnerabilities of the remaining four. The second sign that something is amiss is a decapitated deer’s head outside the camp, the third terrible event the death of one of the party after the group unwittingly disturb a wasps nest. The fourth travail sees the three survivors lured into a nearby river, the floor of which is covered with bear traps. But despite these external threats the film is propelled by the rage, guilt and anger within the three men. Harry (Hal Holbrook) is a veteran of the Korean war, a brain specialist who must live with the thought of the vegetative state some of his patients have been reduced too, and must contend with guilt over the death of his father. Mitzi (Lawrence Dane) is a whiner, a truly selfish individual who constantly niggles at Harry’s insecurities despite being totally reliant on Harry’s survival skills. The third man Martin (Robin Gemmell) is a homosexual alcoholic whose fate is in the hands of Harry and Mitzi after breaking his leg in the bear trap.
© Shaun Anderson 2011