Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Ritual of Evil: Dr. David Sorrell Meets His Match

Considering how many Hollywood celebrities have fallen for cults (Scientology, Nxivm), it only stands to reason some might get involved with Satanic groups. At least that way they can keep their shrinks, like Dr. David Sorrell. He happens to be an especially good one, who even makes a late-night house call at the beginning of Robert Day’s Ritual of Evil, the second Sorrell TV film, which releases today on DVD, along with Fear No Evil, on a one-disk set.

Sorrell has been called to the coastal beach house of a patient, heiress Aline Wiley, but he finds her former movie star aunt Jolene Wiley in a state of extreme inebriation and her niece Loey in alarmed agitation over the death of the family dog. The good doctor tries to establish some order, but he succumbs to a supernatural drowsiness, clearly (to viewers) brought on by a sinister demon statue.

The next day, everyone is distressed to learn Aline Wiley has committed suicide, including Larry Richmond, the African American folksinger, who had the misfortune of finding the body. Sorrell is also professionally distressed, since he never considered Wiley a suicide risk. Of course, he starts investigating, learning through Richmond that the previous night’s party descended into a black mass, during which a bearded hippy may or may not have been sacrificed. His perception of the night is a little hazy—and he won’t have much time to sharpen his recollections.

On the other hand, Sorrell will spend considerable time with Wiley family friend Leila Barton. Although the supposedly larky Satanic circle is ostensibly overseen by Jolene Wiley’s money-grubbing lover, Edward Bolander, Sorrell suspects Barton is the real brains behind the operation, which is maybe more serious than they let on. However, he also finds her quite charming—and the attraction is mutual. Ironically, Sorrell’s soulmate could well pose a profound risk to young Loey Wiley’s immortal soul and physical wellbeing.

So, things get super complicated in a way we rarely see in horror movies. “Loving the enemy” is usually the stuff of espionage thrillers and Mary Higgins Clark novels, but it works quite well in the Sorrell universe
. Jourdan and the late Diana Hyland have terrific good-vs-evil romantic chemistry. The generate a lot of heat, while staying true to their characters’ personas.

Happily, Wilfrid Hyde-White and his twinkling eyes are back to give Sorrell some sage advice, as his mentor, Harry Snowden. Anne Baxter makes the diva-ish Jolene Wiley a hot mess worthy of vintage Aaron Spelling nighttime soaps. Georg Stanford Brown (or an uncredited voice double) sounds pleasingly bluesy as Richmond—and he acts convincingly freaked out when interrogated by Jourdan’s Sorrell.

Ritual of Evil is even better than Fear No Evil, so great credit is due to Day and Robert Presnell Jr., who respectively assumed the helming and screenwriting responsibilities. Again, this is a far more sophisticated and subtler supernatural story than one typically found on television at the time (1970). Sorrell, as portrayed by Jourdan, deserved to become a horror icon, but instead he is more of a footnote. Hopefully, his stock will appreciate with the release of Kino Studio Classics’ double feature. Very highly recommended for fans of vintage late 1960s/early 1970s TV horror, Fear No Evil & Ritual of Evil release today (10/20) on DVD and BluRay.