Tragic Ceremony (1972)

a.k.a. - Estratto dagli archivi segreti della polizia di una capitale europea (ITA)

Camille Keaton stars in Riccardo Freda's bizarre modern gothic horror film. Dark Sky R0 DVD

The Film

Four young people are enjoying the easy life, crusing on a yacht in the sun. Returning to land their car runs out of fuel and they find themselves outside a large manor belonging to Lord and Lady Alexander. Hoping to find fuel they are invited in to stay the night and shelter from a heavy storm. The three men are put up in the servant's quarters while Jane gets a room in the house. Hearing a strange noise she heads down stairs, finding the Alexanders performing a black mass and she is put onto the altar to become the sacrifice...

Co-written by Mario Bianchi (La bimba di Satana (1982)), Tragic Ceremony seems to be something of a 'missing link' between the Italian gothic horror films of the 1960s and the youth oriented American horrors of the 1970s and 80s, as such its main cast are young hippies but the black mass they find themself in is populated entirely by much older participants. Exploitation elements are present and correct - an utterly gratuitous topless scene and some gory deaths - but they are quite brief and certainly nothing to approach the depravity that Italian horror films would stretch to later in the decade.

The script is an incredibly minimalist affair, managing to stretch to ninety minutes a very thin plot that could easily have been compressed down to a twenty minute anthology piece. Very little seems to happen for most of the film, yet there is no attempt at anything but the most basic characterisation and the film becomes sleep inducingly slow at times with some blatant attempts at padding (five minutes is wasted when the group try to hide out at Bill's parent's house only to be told by his mother that they should find a hotel and the revelation that she has another man in the house with her, something that has absolutely no bearing on the storyline at all). This lack of characterisation means that when the main characters start getting killed, there is no emotional attachment and the film drifts along in the final chapter, picking up suddenly to an unexpected climax and a wonderfully ambiguous final shot, only for it to be ruined by a lengthy coda with an "explanation" that makes absolutely no sense at all and ruins the best atmosphere that the film had achieved.

Riccardo Freda is a hard to follow director and it can often be difficult to work out exactly which of the films he is credited with he actually worked on and which he either walked out of or just let his assistants direct. Some sources suggest that he later disowned this film, but whoever was really behind Tragic Ceremony they certainly try and do something different with the material, shooting the majority of the film hand-held - the gothic horror films, particularly in Britain under directors like Terence Fisher, had usually been photographed with very stately camerawork - this serves to emphasise the very modern feel of the production and underscores the emphasis on realistic horror rather than fantasy, which if the script had been better would have made the Black Mass sequences and the well filmed shots towards the finale more effectively jarring. Like Freda's earlier A doppia faccia (1969), the special effects (in this case some gory effects) are very poor and almost comical, although fortunately they are only brief. Oddly despite the British setting insisted on by the script, there are no attempts to make the locations look anything but Mediterranean.

A few familiar Euro-cult faces appear in the cast, including Luigi Pistilli who took one of the lead roles in Bava's Reazione a catena (1971) and Jess Franco veteran Paul Muller (Venus in Furs (1969)), but they are little used. The main cast are the young quartet lead by Camille Keaton, with Spanish actor Tony Isbert as Bill - the acting is certainly not the most impressive from any of them but admittedly they are not given much to do by the limited script.

Tragic Ceremony has some interesting ideas and creative direction but the storyline is horribly padded and drawn out, the special effects are comically woeful and the best atmosphere the film builds up, at the climax, is ruined by an utterly inane denoument that the film would have been far better off without. There are certainly many worse films from the era, but this one is not recommendable.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Camille Keaton - American actress best known for starring in the notorious I Spit on Your Grave (1978).
Luigi Pistilli - an Italian actor who also starred in dark Spaghetti Western Da uomo a uomo (1967).
Directed by anyone interesting? Riccardo Freda - an experienced historical drama director from the 1950s, he went on to helm a variety of Pepla and several horror films including I Vampiri (1956) and Lo Spettro (1963).
Any gore or violence ? A short scene with a number of very gory (but not very realistic) deaths.
Any sex or nudity? A short topless sequence.
Who is it for? Fans of Freda and Italian horror might be interested but the film is not recommended.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The print for the most part is strong with good colours and detail.
A couple of very brief shots look to be taken from a different, slightly lower quality source.
Audio Italian mono - sounds fine.
Subtitles English subtitles for the Italian audio (yellow).
Extras The disc includes:
  • Interview with actress Camille Keaton about the film and her career in general. Interesting, but it would be interesting to hear more information about Freda and his directorial techniques. (13 minutes)
  • Italian theatrical trailer.
Region Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
Other regions? Previously released in the USA by Image Entertainment.
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut as per the Italian version of the film - the Spanish print has some different editing, cutting out the nude scene and the closing denoument. Print language is Italian.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 17th October 2011.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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