January 19, 2015

The Dog Farm Finally Creeps Up On The Creeper - Movies At Dog Farm IV Looms Ominously In The Distance...

A beaten and bound middle-aged man sitting atop a hill...

     Does the screen cap above look familiar to you?  I've been deviled by it for thirty-five years.  It doesn't look quite as I remembered it, but that's definitely it.  I was frustrated by my inability to recall the movie from which this image was taken for decades.  Then - even worse - I finally realized it was from a movie that was essentially unavailable.  This image was nothing more than a vague memory I would carry with me to the grave.  As the years passed I began to question if I'd ever even seen this image.  Perhaps it was only something I fabricated in my mind's eye, assembled from the unclassified scraps of horror movie detritus that litter my brain.

     I consider myself fortunate that I came of age during the seventies and eighties, arguably the last true golden age of genre movies.  I also consider myself fortunate that I lived through the glorious heyday of DVD in the nineties and aughts.  Almost any movie I recalled fondly from my youth was readily available to me, often in a beautifully packaged collector's edition.  Still, there were a handful of oldies that remained frustratingly out of reach. 

    I was haunted by the image above largely because it was from a movie that I could neither recall nor acquire.  I was certain it was from a movie I'd seen at the Skyline Drive-In.  I knew this because I remembered it being dark during its nighttime scenes to the point that it was almost incomprehensible.  I recalled also that it was a movie I hadn't particularly enjoyed, haunting visual notwithstanding.  My inability to remember its title and/or see it once again vexed me.

     At last I discovered that it was a Canadian movie I'd seen under the title The Creeper somewhere around 1980.  Part of the reason I could never place it was because it's better known in genre circles by its original title, Rituals (1977)The Creeper was a retitling for the American market intended to position the movie as a backwoods slasher flick.  It's not, really.  That probably explains why my ten year old self didn't care for it at the time.  I'd been duped.  As for the impenetrable darkness in those nighttime scenes - it was due to damage inflicted upon the original negative during processing by Pathe Studios.  Who knew?

     So now I had a title, but I was thwarted by the fact that Rituals had essentially become a lost film since I'd seen it so long ago.  There were still substandard public domain releases under its retitling that popped up occasionally, but they were usually from a heavily edited broadcast television version that omitted over ten minutes of footage and still suffered from the excessive darkness that marred its presentation wherever it appeared.  The only unexpurgated version seemed to be an old Canadian VHS release by Astral Bellevue Entertainment, long out of print, that was difficult to locate and exorbitantly expensive.  Later there was a German DVD release, but it had forced subtitles and reportedly did nothing to correct the dark image.

     Finally there came word of an impending DVD release from Code Red DVD.  Code Red had obtained access to director Peter Carter's personal copy that his wife found in a closet and passed along to actor/producer Lawrence Dane.  The elements were still rough, but the print was uncut and Code Red had reportedly lightened the excessively dark passages.  This was all pretty big news in genre circles.  The impending release even scored a cover story in a special VHS issue of Rue Morgue magazine in December of 2009.  Then the release was delayed and later assumed abandoned by most until it finally showed up unheralded roughly a year and a half later.  It sold out almost immediately despite the low profile release, and it quickly became almost impossible to score a copy for less than fifty bucks or so from online resellers.  I missed that brief window of opportunity, and so Rituals once again eluded me.

     I've finally convinced myself to quit being a cheap bastard though, and I've ponied up the cash for a copy of that out of print Code Red DVD release.  I'll be sharing it with others soon at the next Movies At Dog Farm live event.  I'm pretty stoked about seeing Rituals again outdoors under the moonlight just as I saw it at the Skyline Drive-In nearly thirty-five years ago.  Rituals is now the first official selection for Movies At Dog Farm IV in May.



  1. Wow, that was an exhaustive search for an old ghost haunting you. Kudos on finally figuring out the title--not remembering something like that could drive one batty.

    One thing that I could not glean from the article is the subject of the film. You mentioned that it's not about backwoods shenanigans like Deliverance. So what could the film focus on? Is it more akin to The Wicker Man?

    Good to see the Dog Farm back up and running. I suspect this was a brutal retail year, eh?

    1. Deliverance is actually a pretty fair comparison. The link built into The Creeper title above will shoot you to the movie's IMDB page. My meaning was that Rituals isn't a backwoods slasher ala Friday The 13th, The Burning, and so on. Its presentation under the the title The Creeper was clearly intended to pass it off as such. No teenagers, no gratuitous tit shots, no cartoonishly exaggerated violence... Since movies of that ilk were pretty much the definition of a horror movie for me at the ripe old age of ten, I was disappointed.

      Ironically, the fact that it's more than a backwoods slasher is precisely why I suspect I'm going to enjoy it after not having seen it for so long. It's more of a grown up's horror movie, and I've only ever watched it as though it was a simple slasher movie. I think watching it as an adult with the correct expectations is going to make all the difference.

      I'm going to refrain from watching Rituals again until May, at which time I may revisit it with a proper review that addresses its particulars in more detail. I don't remember it well enough to review it now. I didn't even mention that Hal Holbrook is the badass in this, did I?

      I was definitely having some trouble getting my motor running again after the holidays. Fortunately Phil announced the dates for Movies At Dog Farm IV, which kickstarted everything. I believe I'm finally going to buy my own projector this year...


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