Film Review: The Ghastly Ones [aka: Blood Rites] - (1968)
Bloody Awful is what this should have been titled.
A few years ago, I charged myself with a task to collect and view the 72 films that make up the U.K.'s infamous Video Nasties list. If you're not familiar with this list, I suggest you Google it or check out Wikipedia. There's way too much to info to get into here. That task is still a work in progress and it's had its share of good and bad in terms of quality. This one is bad. So bad.
I knew when I started this project that not every film on this list would be a winner. While there are a few hidden gems, a vast majority of these films are only remembered today because they appear on this list. The Ghastly Ones is one of those films, and I use the word "film" loosely.
Three sisters, Veronica, Victoria and Elizabeth, receive letters from their late father's lawyer informing them of their father's wish that they spend three nights in his house on an isolated island before his will can be read. Not only are they to spend three nights in the house, but they are to spend it in "sexual harmony" with their respective husbands. I guess dear old dad must have been in tune with the free-love, swinging 60's scene. Once there, they meet Martha and Ruth, the maids and the hunchback Colin, who is sporting the scariest pair of "Billy Bob" teeth you've ever seen. Once the couples settle in however, the 'ghastly' murders begin to take place. See what I did there? It all leads to a shocking twist ending that would make M. Night Shayamalan proud, and no, not in a good The Sixth Sense way but more of in a stupid and crappy The Village way. Yeah, it's that bad.
But wait, is it the 1960's or the Victorian era? Everyone seems to be dressed in outfits that would seem to recall the early 1900's, but the settings seem to be somewhat contemporary. It's never explained when this film takes place, and to be honest, I don't think the filmmakers even knew or cared. Heck, the director could have just as very well said, "Hey, we have these clothes. These will make good costumes."
If only the ambiguous setting was the only fault of this movie. The camera work is all over the place. If you thought the shaky camera work of The Blair Witch Project was bad well, this film makes that look like a Steven Spielberg masterpiece. Several times throughout, crew and equipment can be spotted and the camera spins, tumbles and rolls as if the cameraman took a tumble and filmed it POV style. This happens quite often in the film and usually during intense (if you can call it that) moments. I'm not sure if this was an artistic choice to disorient the viewer or if the cameraman didn't know how to turn the camera off before switching angles. It also appeared to me that no one knew how to properly frame a shot as we see shots of the tops of people's heads at the bottom of the screen while they're having a conversation. A lot of the cinematography was the equivalent of going out to your backyard with a camcorder and filming whatever is in front of you. Badly.
Ok, so it was filmed badly, but surely the acting was tolerable, right? Ugh. There are a total of 12 people in this cast, and all of them are bad. The three couples are all bland and uninteresting and deliver their lines like they were in a grade school play. I'm sure the director tried to get something resembling a performance out of the actors. I'm so sure because on occasion I could hear him giving direction in the background! The only characters that are somewhat interesting are the two servants, Martha and Ruth, who have been taking care of the house while no one was living in it. They slightly hold your attention because they seem to know something the couples don't (not that it would be too hard to do so), but that interest is worn thin rather quickly. Then, there's the slightly amusing lawyer who is apparently really old. We know this by the ridiculous old age make-up that looks like something from a really bad theatre adaptation of a Charles Dickens novel. Not to mention the grating, high pitched and clichéd "old man voice" the actor chose to use.
Then there's Colin. Ah, Colin, the loveable, half-witted, hunchback man-child with dental work courtesy of Spencers Gifts. Seriously, the last time I saw teeth like that a kid was wearing them for Halloween. You're never really sure what to expect when Colin is on the screen. He first appears at the beginning of the film to kill and dismember a couple. Why? Heck if I know. I don't even think it's important to the plot (I just typed "plot" with a straight face). Next we get to see him catch and eat a live rabbit. Even Glen Close boiled the bunny first. So is Colin dangerous and deranged, or sad and misunderstood? Who knows, and really, who cares?
If this movie does have one redeeming quality, it's that its running time is only 81 minutes. So, you only have to sit through this torture for just over an hour and twenty minutes. It will feel like four hours though. A long, painful, brutal, agonizing, tumor-inducing four hours.
So why is this not only a Video Nasty, but one of the prosecuted 39? That's a damn good question. Besides the fact that the film is just awful and shouldn't be shown to anyone not undergoing some kind of hideous torture, there's only two really brutal killings, the afore mentioned dismemberment and a disemboweling, not to mention a severed head that's served up for dinner, and all of these scenes look ridiculously cheap and goofy, even for 1968. So, you can imagine how cheesy they looked by the 1980's when this was released to video and placed on the DPP's list. The nudity is gratuitous and full-frontal, but yawn inducing as well. That's a true sign of how bad a film really is. Usually good nudity will increase a bad film's likeability, but in the case of The Ghastly Ones, I think it just made me hate this movie more.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the Video Nasties, I highly recommend checking out Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide Vol 1 & 2. They both contain great documentaries on the subject as well as, combined, over 150 trailers for these films!