Review Date: January 19, 2008
Released by: Dark Sky
Release date: 1/29/2008
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Considering the distinction of horror directors Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci, as well as other Italian directors like Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini and Bernardo Bertolucci, you’d think having the distinction as Italy’s first horror director would really mean something. Such is not the case though, for Riccardo Freda, whose I, Vampiri
(which was eventually finished by Bava), became Italy’s first sound-era horror film. Freda would go on to direct a few more horrors, namely The Horrible Dr. Hichcock
and the giallo The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire
, but otherwise found himself as a middling director-for-hire for whatever genre Italy was knocking off. Shooting indistinct westerns, poliziotteschia, and even costume dramas, he’d never become the heralded auteur that many of his contemporaries would. This is evidenced once again by Dark Sky’s new Tragic Ceremony
DVD, which boasts star Camille Keaton before any mention of Freda.
Still, whether we want to consider Tragic Ceremony
as a film by Riccardo Franco or as one starring that most elusive of I Spit on Your Grave
stars, at least there’s finally a new Italian catalogue release. A couple years ago, with NoShame and Blue Underground really delivering the foreign goods, it seemed like the well would never go dry. It certainly has now though, so Tragic Ceremony
already gets points alone for being released. Let’s throw it up on the altar and see if that’s all the points it, and its DVD deserves.
A few hippies are lounging around, soaking in the sun. With three guys and one girl (Camille Keaton
), there’s bound to be some sexual conflict, so before they even step foot into the ceremonial castle of the title, there is a copious amount of flashbacking and promenading. Since the film really doesn’t take these scenes all that seriously, neither will I in trying to recount them. Basically one guy was with her and the other was jealous, and in his jealousy he took a pearl necklace from his mom (or was it the other guy’s mom?) and presented them to Keaton’s Jane. Little did he know though, that the pearl necklace had some significance in a previous religious sacrifice, so woe to anyone who bears its beauty.
So, you know, they’re cruising around, indulging in many a voice over montage by boat, by bike and by car, just, you know, being hippies and having fun. Where’s the sex, though? Anyway, the sun finally sets, and wouldn’t you know it, they run out of gas. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, they manage to conk out within only a few clichés of the local gas station. There they find a cryptic old man who refuses to fill them up because of their lack of a passport, giving them instead only enough gas to make it to the local haunted house. Seems like a decent act of generosity.
They make it to the haunted castle, and are treated with immediate hospitality. Unfortunately for them though, the castle is also to be the home of a live sacrifice…and Jane is the subject! Jane walks towards the altar in a necklace induced trance, but before her blood is spilled, her shaggy friends sweep in for an impromptu massacre. Blood flies, they bolt, and the newscasters link the event with the Manson murders. Ahh, to be topical. They may have escaped the castle, but its curse lingers on, and one by one they find themselves victim to this horrid ritual. Peace, love and happiness…no more.
is one of those movies that looks as if it were made explicitly to play on drive-in screens featured in other movies. It’s the kind of movie Ponyboy sneaks into with his greaser friends in The Outsiders
, or the one everyone gets invitations to in Bava’s Demons
. For the vast majority, certainly the first half, the plot is so loose and insubstantial that it seems like nothing but background filler. I guess this would be the part where you make out with your girlfriend in the back seat. Again, it’s montage of overdubbed exposition after montage, with a few interspersed flashbacks about as pertinent as the dog flashback in The Hills Have Eyes Part II
. By the time they finally make it to the titular ceremony, you’re basically hoping for the movie to finally end. Even making out with your girlfriend in the backseat gets boring after awhile.
Finally, though, the ceremony kicks in, and there’s at the very least one really graphic display of gore. Missed it the first time? Don’t worry, there will be a Howling II
-esque montage of it near the end. I counted seven occurrences of the same shot. There are a few other moments of bloodletting and gore that look great even today, so for 1972 consider it virtually unrivalled. But at 87 minutes, that twenty or so seconds of footage seems like an awful lot to sift through. It would be one thing if there were some dialogue to establish character or setting or subtext or something. As it is though, it’s as if the movie were written on a grid the way the words serve only to move the story from one scene to the other. In terms of construction, it’s about as shoddy as they get – and it had three writers!
definitely follows that grindhouse mantra of interspersing a few show stopping effects sequences with otherwise static clumps of dialogue. Again, you sneak into this movie with your greaser friends and infatuate over Cherry Valence to the tune of Stevie Wonder. You don’t actually pay attention to what’s going on behind you. Since most of the drive-ins are all run down these days, your best bet is to rent a projector, fire it up in that open lot, and then ignore it completely. As filler it’s nice, even nostalgic, but as a movie, not so much.
Proving once again that Dark Sky are in a league of their own when it comes to color correction on catalog titles, Tragic Ceremony
comes through in a beautifully vivid transfer. The blacks seem overly contrasty at times, but considering how lush the color reproduction is, it’s hardly a deterrent. There are some white specs that pop up throughout, but generally the track is clean, and certainly doesn’t have any moments of major print damage. The print itself doesn’t look like the original negative, which would explain the slight contrast issues and the fairly prominent grain throughout. Considering the age and obscurity of the film though, Dark Sky has once again culled together another notable restoration.
Keaton fans are no doubt bound to be disappointed here, since all that’s included is a dubbed Italian track. She’s clearly speaking English, but the only language option here is native to the production. Still, considering the vast majority of her role in the film is either looking ethereal while walking down hallways, or shocked while seeing the dead, it’s not like we’re missing all that much. The score’s also a disappointment, with the usually reliable Stelvio Cipriani really phoning this one in. In terms of Dark Sky’s hand in the sound, they’ve done an adequate job with this track. A crackle can be heard throughout and there are at times some abrupt drop outs. The dialogue can sound slightly muffled at times, but overall it’s all still presentable. An English track would have been much better, though.
Considering how notoriously reclusive Camille Keaton seems to be, this new 13-minute featurette “Camille’s European Adventures” should do well in casting the actress in a new light. She’s incredibly pleasant here, joyously recounting her time in Italy as the time where she really came of age not only as an actress, but as a person too. She talks about landing her first gig as the titular victim of What Have You Done to Solange?
as well as working on a Pasolini sequel, and almost working for Tino Brass. She talks mostly of Tragic Ceremony
, but does manage to address the elephant in the room that is I Spit on Your Grave
. She doesn’t seem to have any ill will towards it – if anything she’s mad most about Joe Bob Brigg’s phallic interpretation of the boat (if that movie isn’t entirely phallic, what is it?). I was expecting a lot of scandal and spite here, but really it was a nice little interview that paints a nostalgic portrait of the seventies era of Italian filmmaking – right down to the affectionately foreign opening and closing credits.
The only other extra on this disc is a trailer, and it’s definitely a keeper. It uses the ridiculously long giallo-esque title, From the Secret Police Files of a European Capital
, with added footage to make it look more like a police procedural about a Manson style killing spree. Lots of special filters, too. Considering most of the good gore bits are already shown here, I either recommend watching this after the film, or better yet watching this and skipping the film entirely.
Not terrible, but definitely trite, Riccardo Freda’s Tragic Ceremony
is the kind of loose and insubstantial kind of movie that plays on drive-in screens in the background of better movies. Still, there are a few bits of note, thanks to some great effects work. The sound is a letdown, with Camille Keaton dubbed only in Italian, but the picture looks typically lush for Dark Sky, and the Keaton interview is warmly affectionate. Considering Four Flies on Grey Velvet
is already out of print, and there aren’t really any other Italian horror films being released now, picking this up would be far from tragic. Just watch it from the backseat of your car though.
Movie - C
Image Quality - B+
Sound - C+
Supplements - B
- Running time - 1 hour 27 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Italian mono
- English subtitles
- Interview with Camille Keaton
- Theatrical trailer