Thursday 30 April 2020

Ritual of Evil (1970)

Director: Robert Day
Writer: Robert Presnell, Jr., based on characters by Richard Alan Simmons
Stars: Louis Jourdan, Anne Baxter, Diana Hyland, John McMartin, Belinda Montgomery and Wilfrid Hyde-White

Index: Horror Movie Calendar.

Many of the films I’ve included in this book are obscure, but for different reasons. Some were indie releases that didn’t reach a big audience. Some have been unjustly neglected. Some of them just plain suck. This TV movie may have merely arrived a blink of the eye too early to have the impact that it could have had, meaning that, instead of spawning a cult television show, it became instead a historical footnote for half a century, waiting to be rediscovered. It’s actually a sequel, to 1969’s Fear No Evil, which introduced us to a psychiatrist named David Sorell, played by the ever-reliable Louis Jourdan, who reprises his role here. Sorell is also an expert on the occult and he investigates the strange and unusual. Both films were broadcast on NBC during their Tuesday Night at the Movies series of films made for TV, which tended to run longer and cost more than their equivalents on other networks. The cast of each was stellar and Ritual of Evil even won a Primetime Emmy for cinematography, but the hoped for TV show never materialised.

Instead, they served as an influence. Another investigator of the supernatural, Carl Kolchak, showed up a couple of years later, with his history beginning on the TV movie The Night Stalker, an ABC Movie of the Week, in 1972. The Night Strangler followed it a year later, with the supernatural horror genre perhaps reaching its peak with William Peter Blatty’s adaptation of his 1971 novel, The Exorcist. ABC promptly ordered a full series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which only lasted a single season but was itself a primary influence on later shows like The X-Files. Had Fear No Evil and Ritual of Evil been made just a couple of years later, perhaps Chris Carter would have been inspired by the cult investigations of David Sorell rather than those of Carl Kolchak. In a parallel universe not far adrift from ours, maybe he did, but here in our universe, we’ve had to make do with terrible quality nth generation bootleg VHS tapes thus far. The good news is that Kino Lorber may well be releasing both these films on BluRay in late 2020. Fingers crossed.