Air Date: Feb. 23, 1970 (NBC)
Production Companies: Universal Pictures, Universal Television
Running Time: 100 min.
Available on: YouTube
Written by: Robert Presnell Jr.
Characters: Richard Alan Simmons
Directed by: Robert Day
Cast: Louis Jordan, Anne Baxter, Diana Hyland, John McMartin, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Belinda Montgomery, Carla Borelli, Georg Stanford Brown
In the “unsold pilots” sub-subgenre of 1970’s television horror movies, comes the second of two starring Louis Jourdan as Dr. David Sorrell, a psychologist that became involved in supernatural investigations. The series would have been called Bedeviled, and the first movie was Fear No Evil, broadcast on NBC on March 3, 1969.
Nearly a year later, a different creative crew returned with Ritual of Evil, as did Jourdan and Wilfrid Hyde-White as his mentor, Harry Snowden. I was unable to locate Fear No Evil, so decided to start this new TV Terror Guide series with its sequel, which launches a decade full of terrific TV movies catering to the young horror fan/monster kid in all of us, then and now.
What Ritual of Evil lacks in clarity, it compensates with atmosphere. The music by veteran television composer Billy Goldenberg (Duel, Don’t be Afraid of the Dark) is particularly effective and the out of focus swirling of colored lights, that will become a trope throughout the decade, is appropriate for scenes that we aren’t sure are dreams, altered reality, or witchcraft in action… maybe all three.
The script by Robert Presnell Jr. is firmly rooted in the 1960s with language like, “Those are really groovy pills you gave me” and “She was really beautiful, man; I dug her.” This alone makes Jourdan’s Dr. Sorrell feel a little out of place; such “mod” language would never escape his lips. Although he is good in the role, the character has no distinguishing… well… character.
There’s no unique personality written into the role, something that would make him stand out and want people to return week after week. He’s no Carl Kolchak, for sure. What is his background? Maybe we learned it in the first movie. Here, though, he seems to be skeptical at times, yet treats the supernatural as common at other times. His delivery is no different with either approach.
In Ritual of Evil, Dr. Sorrell arrives at the Wiley estate at the request of Aline (Carla Borelli), who is soon found dead in the ocean surf by her friend, Larry Richmond (Georg Stanford Brown.) For some reason, Sorrell becomes part of the investigation, interviewing coroners and directing the sheriff to dig in the garden for buried bodies.
You could also consider the movie an offshoot of the “hagsploitation” subgenre since it features an award-winning actress of yesteryear in a late-in-her-career role in a horror movie. Here, it’s Anne Baxter (All About Eve, The Razor’s Edge) as the family matriarch, Jolene Wiley. Jolene is a boozy woman past her prime who declares in her opening scene that she thinks she’s losing her mind.
John McMartin plays Edward Bolander, a cad who wants to marry her for her fortune. When she tells him he thinks too much of money, he says that when he has it, he won’t have to think about it. He’s depicted as a red herring, but then so is everyone. There seems to be no doubt that someone spearheaded a black mass that resulted in the death of a young man at a party.
Who was it, and who was under the influence of this person? We learn fairly soon, but I guess we’re not sure if anyone else was in cahoots. The new target during the investigation is Aline’s younger sister, Loey (Belinda Montgomery.) However, now that I think about it, I’m not sure why. Once you remove the obvious red herring, what is the motive? Maybe it’s simply that witches aren’t good people.
Obviously, Ritual of Fear, doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. It’s entertaining and I enjoyed it, though, so that’s really all that matters. Since it’s the first movie I’m watching in what I hope will be a chronological retrospective, I’m going to rate it “average”… right in the middle, then give it one bump up for the dreamlike mood it creates. I’ll see better movies, but I’m pretty sure I’ll also see worse.