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Reviewed by: Dave Murray

Directed by: Riccardo Freda

Camille Keaton
Tony Isbert
Máximo Valverde

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What's it about
Three guys and one beautiful gal go sailing, then off-roading once a storm hits, finally seeking refuge in a villa on a barely inhabited island. Little do they know that the residents are cooking up a bloody satanic ritual, and their female companion is now the sacrifice. After one hell of a gory orgy of murder and escape, the hippies find themselves haunted by the murderous ghost of the villa's mistress, who has inhabited one of their bodies!
Is it good movie?
I honestly didn't know what to expect when I sat down to watch Tragic Ceremony. Truth be told, I haven't been very impressed with some of the re-releases from Dark Sky Films. Their presentation is always awesome, and their restored cuts look great every time. But their penchant for releasing little known or hard to find cult classics has been a little hit and miss for my tastes (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer being a hit, and Eaten Alive being a big miss). What I got from this movie was that while it pretty much follows the standard formula of Italian Horror movies from the 1970's (characterized mostly by Fulci and both of the Bava's), it is an entertaining mix of lush scenery, gothic set pieces, decent acting, some awesome gore and one hell of a premise.

This is essentially a setup for a possession, and the four hippie kids are drawn into a satanic ceremony gone horribly wrong (lots of folks die in some nasty ways) which results in the sole girl of the group, Jane (played by Camille Keaton), getting possessed by the mistress of the villa. There is a subplot, barely explored, where one of the hippie guys is in league with the evil Lady Alexander, but mostly the movie is a showcase for the impressive gore, some ultra scary scenes near the end, and for the talent of Keaton, who plays her role with such doe eyed innocence that it makes her disturbing turn at the film's twist ending that much more powerful. As well, for the small amount that she is actually in the film, Luciana Paluzzi is very effective as the Lady of the Villa Alexander, especially in some of the voice over scenes after she has possessed Jane.

But of course, what is every lover of classic Italian horror interested in? Why, blood and boobs of course! Keaton is stunning in this film, whether clothed or nude. And the blood! The ritual that degenerates into "a bloodsoaked orgy of violence" (from the DVD cover), includes an awesome head being split down the middle, multiple stabbings and nasty gunshots to the head. There is a shot later on in the flick, when the possession is revealed, where the lower half of Keaton's face appears eaten away, with her bloody and grisly jaw showing nothing but teeth, and the effect is awesome (and I'm making a guess, but I think Eli Roth nodded to it with the rot to Jordan Ladd's face in Cabin Fever). Mind you, the dead zombie look of one of the guys is a little hokey (think blue and green Dawn of the Dead kind of zombie), but on the whole the flick pulls out some wicked gory punches that, while not on a level of extremity as say in a Fulci movie, still serve the plot and add some chills to the proceedings.

For a film that has been bootlegged for many years on shitty VHS copies, this DVD release looks awesome. While the organ heavy music is grating at times, and the dubbing is typically atrocious, the sound matches the flick nicely (it sounded pretty slick for 2.0 Mono Italian). Despite taking a little too long to get to the goods of the movie, director Riccardo Freda put together a chilling and effective thriller that doesn't feel fake or forced. It really is a good movie. Some of the scenes (such as Jane coldly watching the last of her male companions drown) are memorable, and they are even echoed in some of Keaton's later films (such as I Spit On Your Grave, the similarities to which Keaton points out in the Special Features), which is a testament to the visual creativity of Freda and his crew, and to the interesting talent that Camille Keaton is. This is definately one of Dark Sky's more interesting hit releases, and it is a awesome addition to any classic horror fan's collection.
Video / Audio
Video: Widescreen - 1.85:1. Dark Sky didn't skimp on the digital restoration, and the flick looks great.

Audio: Italian (Dolby Mono 2.0) with English Subtitles. A little flat at times, and the organ soundtrack gets on your nerves because it drowns out everything else. But the musical scare cues are effective. The dubbing is not bad either.
The Extras
There is a 30 minute featurette called Camille's European Adventures, which has Camille Keaton recalling her first films, which were mostly done in Italy, and the influential people she worked with at the time. It's a nice review of some pretty good Italian horror classics, and an informative overview of her early career leading up to I Spit On Your Grave. The only other feature is the Trailer. This disc is pretty slim for a Dark Sky release.
Last Call
Tragic Ceremony is, for the most part, your standard Italian horror movie from the 1970's. Beautiful young people, a gorgeous location, a little nudity, and strange rituals. What it also has are some excellent gore effects, crappy dubbing, and a cool premise of possession that predates The Exorcist. Freda created a horror flick in the same vein as Fulci or Bava, and Dark Sky have given us a pristine DVD transfer that, while low on features, presents a rare and hard to find movie from Freda and Keaton that every lover of Italian horror should own. If you like gothic possession stories, or are just in the mood for a rare gore treat with some great visuals and superior acting, give this one a try.
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