Rituals 1977 ★★★½

Starting off with a wonderfully comedic plane flight "Rituals" makes itself very welcome.
And the fact we have grown men not teens as the would-be victims is also a welcome change from your normal Slasher set-up.
In fact you can put this down with "Silent Night, Bloody Night"and "Black Sunday" as one of the pre-"Halloween" films that has many Slasher tropes.
We also have some nicely guerrilla style filming of the impressive scenery and lots of atmosphere.

But then things start to go dip and even Hal Holbrook in his y-fronts can't deliver much excitement in this portion of the movie.
A slow burn is one thing but this is just 40 solid minutes of the same medical arguments and back and forth shouting (how are any of these guys friends?!) that really tests the patience.
The in-fighting becomes so OTT it tends to verge on the unintentionally funny as well, especially when one fight breaks out in the middle of a torrential river and they fail to notice one of their injured party floating away!

Lack of gore is okay too, but so much happens off camera during the first half of "Rituals" that most of the danger seems like self inflicted/unexplained accidents instead of the work of a psycho killer who, an hour in. we've seen kill absolutely no one.

Full marks to the actors for going through some major physical hardships though.
It's certainly enjoyable seeing Hal Holbrook ("The Fog") do a Burt Reynolds
.
Thankfully the excellent acting and grim, bleak, cinematography carry the film over these many pitfalls and the film does manage to keep boredom (if not annoyance) at bay.

But after all that negativity lets get to mentioning the great parts of this film.

The motivation/how that motivation is revealed aspect of the killer is pretty unique and intriguing and in the last 3rd some suitably grim sights finally make a welcome appearance.
One such sequence in particular, involving a mutilated body stuck in a chair, is excellent as both a horror and a dramatic moment.
And although all the actors are good this is Hal Holbrook’s' film all the way. His raging, despairing, driven, sweaty, physically wrecked, filth caked, performance is utterly breathtaking at times.
This is a genuine tour-de-force performance.

Talking about tour-de-force moments, the final few minutes of "Rituals" deliver some truly outstanding, screaming, in-your-face moments of horror and violence.
It's searing backwoods horror at its finest and is genuinely disturbing in it's extremity and bludgeoning insanity.
There’s a great looking killer too (real joy from backwoods cinematic nutter fans) a smattering of gore.

The final 20 minutes or so are some of the best, most brutal, atmospheric horror filmmaking you will ever see. Its that good.
Perhaps in fact it comes off this intense because of the very sedate/horror-lite build up.
So stick with it.
Know that the 7th medical morality argument of the day and badly timed in-fighting will indeed lead to a truly stunning final 3rd and a truly amazing finale.

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