Five physicians are flown into a Canadian wilderness area, with no way out until the pontoon plane returns for them in six days. The area is called "the cauldron," & one of the doctors states, "The Indians consider this place big medicine." Another replies, "Five little medicines enter the big medicine!"
Except for Hal Holbrook's character Harry the neurologist, these guys are not very likeable, & would be horrible to have as anyone's family physician. So if they have an experience out of Deliverance (1972) from which Rituals aka The Creeper (1977) gets most of its ideas, it's hard to have a great deal of sympathy for them.
The next day their boots are stolen. Only DJ (Gary Reineke) still has shoes, so he sets out alone for what he believes will be a twelve hour journey to a hydroelectric dam shown on their maps, where he hopes to get help for the others.
The next morning the remaining four find a fetish object erected near their camp, constructed from a dead deer. And when DJ doesn't return, the others start off to find him, having wrapped their feet in whatever they could.
Another of the doctors, Abel (Ken James), is killed mysteriously, whether by man or beast or accident the others can't tell.
They struggle onward down river toward the promised hydroelectric dam, & find a spot in the river arranged for an easy crossing. They figure DJ must have gone that direction. But the shallows are set with bear traps, & Marty (Robin Gammell) gets his foot badly mangled, while one of the backpacks of needed supplies is washed away.
It's predictable Z-budget wilderness horror, but surprisingly well acted for junk, thus sometimes convincing. Holbrook in particular does a pretty fine job slowly turning into a frightened desparate maniac.
Onward they go, Harry & Mitzi (Lawrence Dane who is also the producer) pulling Marty along the river on a small inflatable mattress, as he goes into shock & eventually a coma.
The next morning there's another construction near their camp -- with Abel's severed head on a pole.
Clues are being left as to who is stalking them. From an old head X-ray & other bits of a medical & military records they realize there was a botched surgery in 1941 in some wartime tent hospital.
The doctors at first wonder if one of their own number is responsible for a mistake they're all now paying for. But eventually they figure out they have no direct connection to the stalker, but whoever he is, he has one enormous grudge against doctors.
The wilderness experience goes from bad to worse as they discover DJ tortured near the dam, which is a broken abandoned ruin where no assistance can be expected.
DJ is near death & suffering, so that Harry feels compelled to put him out of their misery, an act that so horrifies Mitzi that he runs off leaving Harry with Marty who soons dies.
Harry discovers a well-stocked hunter's cabin & soon encounters a blind mountain man named Jesse (Jack Creley), an underutilized character who explains, "I tried to stop him. I tried. It's not safe for you here. My brother's not the same as us anymore. But he's a good hunter. He provides."
The climax is a gnarly battle between Harry & Matthew the hideously disfigured psychopath, with the return of Mitzi strung up in a tree like a piece of meat. Matthew is played by assistant director Michael Zenon, but we get barely more than a glimpse of him near the very end. The climax attempts to be gross & brutal, but eh.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl