Saturday, December 23, 2006

Canadian horror film discovery - Rituals

I'm an admirer of a Canadian horror film called Rituals, which screened not too long ago at the Vancity Theatre, introduced by author Caelum Vatnsdal. I seem to recall him mentioning there - it's not in his book - that a subsequent US release of the film, entitled The Creeper, was re-edited; I'm not sure about the details of that, but one thing I can confirm is that the old US VHS video release - on Embassy, with the box art pictured - is not the same as the print we saw at the Vancity. It's playing as I type. Nevermind the lousy image quality and the cropped, panned and scanned presentation: in at least one place - I believe more - dialogue has been trimmed, to give the film a faster, more plot-driven feel, while incidentally damaging its articulation of theme (which it does have - the film is a variation on the urban/rural horror film, and itself a sort of "ritual" of overcoming guilt and conscience, liberating an ethical and self-effacing doctor to finally transcend his compassion and kill the revenge-seeking "victim" of medical malpractice). The change I can confirm is in the early scene where the doctors are debating medical ethics around one man's proposal to open a penis-lengthening clinic; the line "What man wouldn't pay for a bigger dick?" is cut - we never even find out that a penis lengthening clinic is the subject of the conversation; the scene is missing everything but a brief reaction shot after Harry (Hal Holbrook) says, "Is it ethical?" We leap immediately to Mitzi (Lawrence Dane) lecturing Harry about the negative effects of Harry's overly conscientious manner on his career, a scene which I also believe has been shortened. These alterations change the rhythm of the film considerably, ruining some of the film's naturalism and subtlety, giving the early sequences a hurried feel, and detracting from Ian Sutherland's enjoyable, literate screenplay.

After confirming that the movie had been wrecked, I watched the majority of the tape on speed search, to get the actual runtime and note any other obvious changes; while I didn't catch any - certainly all gore and violence has been left in - the film played for a few seconds over an hour and thirty minutes, as opposed to the listed runtime - on the video box, even - of 100 minutes, suggesting there were other chunks cut - perhaps the subplot about Harry's guilt over the death of his alcoholic father? I would imagine the hacks who trimmed the film didn't understand the importance of any of that; I'd be surprised if they left in it, frankly... Unfortunately for the film, it belongs to a disreputable genre, so that no one will get particularly indignant about these sorts of changes - or ever bother to restore it to its proper state, I should imagine; this adumbrated video version is the only way most people can currently see the film. It's a shame; it's one of the better commercial Canadian films I've seen, and worthy of more respect.

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Post script: how about that, there's been a European PAL release of the "uncut" film, in widescreen format! There are also enough people aware of the cuts to the VHS version to have a little discussion on it on this forum, and the DVD is already being listed on eBay. Little did I know...! The runtime of the DVD is given at 95 minutes, but with Pal speedup, that should be just about right. Looks like people care after all!

1 comment:

mrmanatee said...

Thank you for this post; I couldn't remember the name of this film and google tossed this out at me. I was lucky enough to see it uncut at a local theater and it's amazing.