It kills with “unholy precision, with nothing left to chance.” What IT is, is very gradually revealed in Rituals, aka, The Creeper, an underseen and unappreciated Canadian survivalist tax-shelter classic.
It follows the exploits of five bickering doctors dropped by float-plane into the Lake Superior / deep Ontario wilderness for a fishing and male bonding getaway.
Unlike the dilettante weekend warriors of Deliverance, there’s no joie de vivre or camaraderie here: they drink like fish more than they actually fish and deride each other’s professional specialties around a campfire.
Hicksploitation as a genre doesn’t really exist as a cultural phenomenon in Canada. So whereas Deliverance has ruthless, toothless inbreds revealed as the antagonists very early on, Rituals has to chart another path.
Forget Errol Flynn, no one dies with their boots on here.
During a swimming/fishing excursion, the docs return to camp to find someone’s made off with their footwear, and the four who didn’t pack extra shoes are left in the lurch as one goes to seek help and the dam upriver. Why the dam? “Because operations that big don’t run themselves.”
Soon, the foursome left behind is attacked with a trap – a swarm of bees, which ends up killing one of them. They then see a deer carcass strung up by their campsite with a snake wrapped around it like the Rod of Asclepius, the universal symbol of the medical profession. This leaves the medics nothing to do but to sit in the woods, ponder their fate and quote Yeats’ apocalyptic The Second Coming until deciding to make their way upriver themselves. And the river itself provides a danger we won’t reveal here but will haunt our memories.
The legendary Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild/All the President’s Men) is Harry, the wizened backwoods Burt Reynolds, here a crafty Korean war vet. Lawrence Dane is the hyper-rational, heartless Mitzi.
A load of terrific films came out of the Canadian tax shelter era. Rituals, AKA The Creeper looks a bit faded, but is a great example of the raw talent operating during the time and is definitely worth a look. Someone on IMDb said it should be mentioned in the same breath as Deliverance. Boy does it deliver.
***1/2 (out of 5)