Ritual of Evil – USA, 1970

Ritual of Evil is a 1970 American made-for-television horror feature film directed by Robert Day (The Initiation of SarahFear No EvilGrip of the Strangler) from a screenplay by Robert Presnell Jr., based on characters created by Richard Alan Simmons. Produced by David Levinson, the Universal movie stars Louis Jourdan, Anne Baxter, Diana Hyland andWilfrid Hyde-White.

Plot:

Psychiatrist Dr. David Sorrell (Louis Jourdan) treats young heiress Loey Wiley (Belinda Montgomery), whose parents have died under mysterious circumstances. His investigation uncovers a cult, led by a powerful witch, Leila Barton (Diana Hyland). Things grow complicated as Sorrell and the witch begin to fall in love…

Review:

While lacking the feverish Dutch-angled scenes, creepy cinematography, and phantasmal script of director Paul Wendkos’ Fear No Evil, as well as the substantially sinister performance of Carroll O’Connor as Myles Donovan, director Robert Day’s Ritual of Evil still packs a punch, benefitting from composer Billy Goldenberg’s unearthly ethereal score and Anne Baxter’s eccentric channeling of Phyllis Diller in her portrayal of a stewed Jolene Wiley, mother to Loey Wiley (Belinda Montgomery) and Aline Wiley (Carla Borelli).

Its plot of occult detective battling a woozy jumble of sinister forces at the root of multiple deaths is typical of American TV horror film production of the time, and appropriately so, considering the silly ballyhoo of marketing mountebanks like Anton LaVey, Carlos Castaneda, and Timothy Leary; with them, witchcraft mingles with satanism which, in turn, becomes indistinguishable from ESP, reincarnation, ghostly communications, and paganism.

The main thrust, if you will, of Ritual of Evil is that a coven of satanic witches is performing sacrifices to Priapus, an ancient Greek fertility god who would normally be depicted with an enormously erect phallus, but in this case, is limited to representation by a vaguely sensual and smolderingly malevolent Satyr-like statue which could easily be passed off as one half of a set of macabre bookends. The sterilisation, of course, was due to the Federal Communications Commission’s regulation and definition of unacceptable content at the time, which has fluctuated along with common opinion since its inception.

Ben Spurling, HORRORPEDIA

Other reviews:

“The music (again by Billy Goldenberg) is highly reminiscent of the themes used in Fear No Evil, heavily borrowing the sonic tone and mood of the first film. Sadly, editor Byron Chudnow did not return for the sequel, as it could have used his master touch. The film commits the gravest sin (no pun intended) for a horror film, feature or TV-wise: it’s just plain not scary.” Conjure Cinema

“The story touches on a few themes pertinent to the time period but in ham-fisted fashion with laboured speeches. Day stages the spooky moments with a similar bludgeoning lack of subtlety. The protagonists are also far less interesting this time around: shrill, self-absorbed soap opera types straight out of an Aaron Spelling production about whiny rich people.” Andrew Pragasm, The Spinning Image

Cast and characters:

  • Louis Jourdan … David Sorell – Swamp ThingCount Dracula 1977; Daughter of the Mind
  • Anne Baxter … Jolene Wiley
  • Diana Hyland … Leila Barton
  • John McMartin … Edward Bolander
  • Wilfrid Hyde-White … Harry Snowden – The Cat and the Canary; Fear No Evil; Chamber of Horrors
  • Belinda Montgomery … Loey Wiley – Phantom Town; Silent Madness; The Devil’s Daughter
  • Carla Borelli … Aline Wiley
  • Georg Stanford Brown … Larry Richmond
  • Regis Cordic … The Sheriff
  • Dehl Berti … Mora
  • Richard Alan Knox … Hippie
  • Johnny Williams … Newscaster
  • Jimmy Joyce … 1st Reporter
  • James LaSane … 2nd Reporter
  • Clarke Lindsley … Chris [uncredited]

First broadcast:

February 23, 1970, on NBC.

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