DEADLY CEREMONY, a Scream before its time?

Almost fifteen years before Scream, CÉRÉMONIE MORTELLE knowingly uses the codes of horror and slasher films to destabilize the spectator and confuse the tracks as to the identity of the killer.

Curious object released in 1983, DEADLY CEREMONY will probably not have marked the spirits. Pure exploitation film of its time, it is part of the wave of slashers post-Halloween and certainly does not revolutionize the genre. Its director, Howard Avedis, also stands out as a typical 80s B-movie craftsman, quite capable of producing honest entertainment, without necessarily shining with obvious talent. And yet… Seen from 2022, DEADLY CEREMONY turns out to be much more surprising than it seems.

Credits: Rimini Editions

Anchored in the commercial logic of its time, the film mainly features television stars of the time. We can see, in the main roles, Mary Elizabeth McDonoughstar of the series The Waltonsunpublished in France, and David Wallace, actor in soap operas without notable success. Best actor in a feature film, Bill Paxton stands out from the whole cast in the role of the clerk son of the local undertaker. Still unknown when the film was released, the future favorite actor of james cameron indeed portrays a surprising character, who walks around gracefully and strangely clashes in the landscape.

Mysteries and spiritualism

However, he is not the only one to surprise in this whodunit of an altogether intriguing modernity. DEADLY CEREMONY fits well in line with slashers mass-produced from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, following the same characteristic recipe. However, it differs all the same by a real desire to cover the tracks. fourteen years before Screamthe film already seems to play on the codes of the genre and suggests in turn the guilt of the mother, the madness of the daughter and the possible responsibility of the undertaker.

Photo from the film DEADLY CEREMONY
Credits: Rimini Editions

As Scream after him, he even amuses himself by aping the fashions of his time. Imbued with a certain mysticism, a fad of the horror film of the 70s, – from The curse at AmityvillePassing by Devil’s Rain For the experts – DEADLY CEREMONY incorporates a subplot embellished with seances. Which have the function of destabilizing the viewer. However, the scenario does not do much about this element and we remain far from the dimension meta and parody of a Scream. The idea, however, is indeed present and holds something of a forerunner.

Halloween shadow

And from the idea DEADLY CEREMONY don’t miss it. The work ofHoward Avedis, to the direction and the writing, certainly does not shine with a flamboyant implementation, but affixes here and there some appreciable references to genre cinema, which the filmmaker seems to know like the back of his hand. Obvious in a slasherthe subjective shots attest to the presence of a killer lurking in the shadows, like Myers in Halloween. According to the productions of the time, Avedis cheerfully uses the codes imposed by John Carpenter to paint the portrait of his killer. The murder which, moreover, opens the film very readily evokes the sequence shot of the introduction toHalloween.

Photo from the film DEADLY CEREMONY
Credits: Rimini Editions

The director also gives his antagonist a characteristic weapon and costume, again in the style of Michael Myers. Dressed in a black robe and a white mask, the killer of DEADLY CEREMONY thus refers to the character of the reaper, and oddly reminds the current viewer of the costume of Ghostface in Scream. Equipped with a clean weapon like Jason holds his machete, the killer adorns himself, moreover, with an embalming tool used to exsanguinate the bodies. Far from being a masterpiece, DEADLY CEREMONY definitely worth a look for its dazzling modernity.

Lily Nelson

deadly ceremony dvd

DEADLY CEREMONY goes out Blu-Ray and DVD combo at Rimini editions. The film is accompanied by a 20-page booklet designed by Marc Toullec, with a bonus presentation of Gilles Pensojournalist and director.

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DEADLY CEREMONY, a Scream before its time? – To analyse