The Ritual Of Death (1990)
Brazil. Dir. Fauzi Mansur
With one exception, Brazil is not renowned for its contribution to horror cinema. That exception is, of course, José Mojica Marins, better known to cult movie fans as Coffin Joe.
At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse and Awakening of the Beast are all classics, combining gorgeous Mario Bava-esque cinematography with blunt shocks, folky horror and dark sleaze.
Hey, did somebody mention sleaze?
Step forward Fauzi Mansur, prolific Brazilian director of such titles as Sexo Animal and Sadismo – Aberraçoes Sexuais! There is little information out there about Mansur, but judging by the titles and posters available he seems to have dabbled mostly in porn, with occasional horror, crime and thrillers. South America’s own Jess Franco? We’ll probably never know.
But this brings us to The Ritual of Death, one of two low budget horrors Mansur made in 1990, the other being the fabulous Satanic Attraction.
Available only on dubbed VHS, The Ritual of Death is a true oddity. Gore-soaked and perverse, it’s kinda like late-period Lucio Fulci remaking Blood Feast and Stagefright at the same time.
It opens like all films should, with a pounding rock song backed by tribal drums. All I could find out about the singer, Sarah Regina, is that she was popular in the disco era, then in her later career became a dubbing artist, so I presume her involvement in this film is the reason this is the only Mansur film to have been dubbed into English.
But more on the dubbing later, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The film tells the absurd story of a small theatrical group choosing their next play. After some convoluted nonsense, they decide to steal an ancient text on Egyptian sacrifices from an old man who lives in some kind of weird windmill barn.
You see, apparently the Egyptians spent a lot of time sacrificing “young virgins and relatively useless members of the tribe”, which must have been a pretty awkward conversation to have with someone.
It turns out that one of the members of the group, Jim, has a connection with a sinister preacher trying to be reborn through the play. It’s worth noting that Jim not only looks like Steven Seagal, but dresses like him too.
Jim enjoys theatre, wearing silk robes, and bathing in blood while rubbing a freshly severed goat’s head over the nude body of his lover.
[Joking aside, I’m not convinced that goat’s head is a special effect. Watch with caution, animal lovers.]
And so they put on the play, which, incidentally, looks like it might just be the worst thing ever. Or perhaps the best, depending on your tolerance for tin-foil dresses and crimped fright wigs.
We’re about halfway through by this point, and apart from the aforementioned bloodbath, nothing much has happened. Luckily, the characters are all either idiotic or insane.
There’s Brad, our hero, who gets possessed by the play and pops giant demonic pimples in the mirror.
There’s Brad’s girlfriend Carol, who, after witnessing her boyfriend nearly kill a woman, wraps her arms around him and coos, “Wanna talk about it?” rather than calling the police.
And there’s Brad’s mum, perpetually drunk and slurring, much like the rest of the dubbers.
See, here’s the thing with dubbing — I don’t mind it.
I watch mostly European horror movies and kung-fu films, so I’m no stranger to dubbing. I can appreciate a well dubbed movie, and make no mistake, there are plenty of great examples out there, by expert performers such as Nick Alexander and Ted Rusoff.
The Ritual of Death is not one of them.
The cast appear to be speaking English, just…so…so…slowly. Perhaps they learnt their lines phonetically? Or someone off-camera was feeding them their lines? Regardless, scenes drag on forever as the characters stretch every syllable to breaking point, over-enunciating to the point of madness, and they’re not helped by the dialogue.
“At least we were able to get through the whole piece today.”
“At least that.”
Thankfully, the film comes alive in the second half, turning into the outrageous splatter movie it always promised.
Possessed Brad romps around killing the theatre group in ever-more outlandish ways. He pushes one man into the bath and strangles him so hard, his, er, eyeballs pop out.
Then he stabs a woman to death. Pretty standard, yeah?
After she falls to the floor, an enormous metal disc rolls out of absolutely nowhere and slices her in two!
I have to say, for a low-budget endeavour, the special effects are pretty damn good. They’re certainly helped by the grotty VHS image, but I reckon they’d hold up pretty nicely on a Blu-ray disc we’re almost certain never to see.
There’s a classic exploitation moment towards the end, where Brad murders a woman who’s indulging in a spot of casual DIY while wearing nothing but a vest and thong, which is a health-and-safety nightmare.
Only in horror films, eh? Ya gotta love it.
The Ritual of Death is a tough one to recommend. If the pacing was better, and the murders and craziness better placed, it would be a fun, throwaway gore movie of the kind they just don’t make anymore. As it is though, you do have to suffer through some interminable scenes to get to the good stuff.
If I remember correctly, Mansur’s Satanic Attraction was a better film, despite running twenty minutes longer. Having said all that, fans of late 80s Italian horror from Umberto Lenzi and Bruno Mattei will find something to enjoy here.
The rest of you need not apply.
David Sodergren lives in Scotland with his wife Heather and his best friend, Boris the Pug. Growing up, he was the kind of kid who collected rubber skeletons and lived for horror movies.
Not much has changed since then.
His first novel, The Forgotten Island, was published on October 1st 2018 to critical acclaim. Up next is Night Shoot, a brutal throwback to the early 80s slasher movie cycle has just recently been released.
He has several more books in various stages of development.
You can follow David on Twitter @paperbacksnpugs
To find out more about David please visit his official website www.paperbacksandpugs.wordpress.com
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