Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ritual of Death (1990)

His friend, the dubious occultist sleazebag Jim, convinces the boss of a theatre group that the best way to get at a new play to stage is stealing a book containing a sacred Indian/Egyptian ritual that is supposed "to make the pharaoh immortal" from an old man. After a dream sequence with dancing Indians, a hairy book, a man with a bowler hat and cough syrup coloured goo, the deed is done. Jim celebrates the success by having sex with his girlfriend and a blood-dripping goat's head in his bathtub while the bowler hat guy looks on and an Indian howls and dances. Afterwards, Jim and Mickey the director have a nice little chat about sacred rituals, or rather if they make for good theatre. They certainly make for good rehearsals.

The longer the rehearsals for the play with no plot go on, the weirder lead actor Brad starts to get. At first, he only develops a compulsion to eat raw meat and sleep surrounded by candles, toads and our old friend the blood-dripping goat's head, but soon he's getting all bloody, pus-y and gooey and starts to kill women in gruesome ways. It all is supposed to have something to do with bowler hat guy's wish to be reborn in Brad's body, but neither the film nor I know what that's all about.

At least the old man whose book it was seems to know the score. That's something, at least.

It'll only end in pus and goo and the selective blindness of protagonists for what's happening right in front of their eyes anyway.

In theory, (The) Ritual of Death is the American dubbed version of a Brazilian movie made by (softcore?) porn director Fauzi Mansur, but you might as well tell me that it was made on Pluto for all the sense that it makes.

The quality of the English dub alone would render the film unintelligible, what with it consisting only of mumbled sentences without much coherence. However, the way the actors make bug eyes and mug into the camera whenever possible hints at the possibility that the original dialogue doesn't make much more sense.

I still don't understand why the film pretends the native population of Brazil and the Egyptians are somehow the same thing. Jim does start to explain it at one point, but just babbles about something completely different after a sentence or two as a perfect mirror of the way the whole film is structured - not at all.

The beleagured viewer needs to broaden her definition of the word "film" if she actually wants to call this one a film. It is more like a very loose conglomeration of scenes, vaguely connected by the same actors, a genuine love for pus and goo and fog and breasts, filmed in weird angles and sprinkled with dancing Indians and a guy in a bowler hat. Oh, and mock Egyptian sacrifice ritual jazz dance.

Of course, I'd be all on board with that and howl like the monkey who is providing the film's music by hitting a synthesizer and trying to sound "Indian", if not for the dreaded curse of the second half.

Until today, I thought this only concerned Bollywood films. Ritual of Death however managed to teach me something new in this respect. The film's second half tries to alleviate its weirdness by becoming a conventional slasher film. As a film that uses things like a pimped wind machine as a murder weapon, it doesn't manage conventional too well and gets a little slow and boring, fortunately without losing its power of "what the hell?" completely. Beside the wind machine of doom, there is still a creepy scene with all of Brad's dead victims wrapped up in plastic, moaning and writhing to look forward to. That should be enough for most discerning friends of the insane, yet I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed that the incomprehensible madness of the first half turned into mere gory strangeness.

At least I'll always have bowler hat guy.


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