Director George Gallo’s The Ritual Killer is an eye-opening serial killer thriller in every way possible. A witch doctor from Zimbabwe is in Rome cutting people up and removing certain parts to take with him. The Italian police are trying to catch the suspect, Randoku (Vernon Davis), but he has eluded capture. He’s contacted by the wealthy power player Shelby Farner (Brian Kurlander), who wants to hire him for some reason and offers to smuggle him out of Italy.
Meanwhile, in America, Detective Lucas Boyd (Cole Hauser) has just shot a suspect hiding a teenage girl he bought. The guy was right next to his gun, but Captain Marchand (Peter Stormare) is suspicious Boyd executed him in cold blood. Suddenly teenagers start getting murdered with body parts missing, and Boyd and his partner, Detective Kersh (Murielle Hilaire), are on the case. Boyd seeks the help of Dr. Mackles (Morgan Freeman), a professor of African Studies from Soweto, to decipher some crime scene pictures with strange phrases written on the walls in an African language. Dr. Mackles reveals that the killer is taking the body parts for an African black magic practice called Muti. As they chase down Randoku, the witch doctor leaves more bodies for law enforcement to stumble over.
The script was written by Bob Bowersox, Francesco Cinquemani, Jennifer Lemmon, and Luca Gilberto from a story by Bowersox, Cinquemani, and Joe Lemmon. Thanks to all those talented people’s efforts, The Ritual Killer has one of the all-time great movie endings; not just an excellent one for this movie but one of the great endings for the serial killer subgenre as a whole. It redefines everything that you see and increases your admiration for the film. Of course, to say more would spoil the ending and the seat-dropping sensation when it catches you off guard. See this as quickly as possible before word about the conclusion breaks out.
“…the killer is taking the body parts for an African black magic practice…”
Much of the plot follows the same steps as so many other police procedurals. However, the black magic edge makes this carve deeper than the rest of the mob. The writers also use a flawed protagonist who strays further from heroic standards as things progress. Not only does this give the audience the catharsis of seeing rules broken, but it also adds an aura of deterioration to the dominant perspective. Additionally, the creepiness of the police officer intensifies the creepiness of the blood rituals.
Gallo’s directing style is a no-frills, knife, and fork style of storytelling that avoids flashy moves. This works well with the gritty proceedings, similar to the hard-boiled writing in the Mickey Spillane crime novels. While the plain visuals impart a generic feel over several scenes, this landscape allows the stand-out features to do so even harder.
The acting definitely stands out. Hauser is perfect for this part. I have been a fan of his work since he stuck a needle in his eye in Pitch Black. This is another one of Freeman’s more notable roles in his illustrious career. The archetype for Dr. Mackles is none other than Freeman’s famous Alex Cross from Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. As such, Freeman’s presence here is put to good use, playing both with and against audience expectations. Relative newcomer Davis is a wonder here as well. His kinetic brutality fuels some of the flashes of brilliance here.
The Ritual Killer all comes down to those last few crazy seconds. In them, the film goes somewhere beyond the police procedural pale and stands out in a sea of serial killer films. While it seems on the surface to be a paint-by-numbers thriller, the numbers add up to something higher than usual.
"…has one of the all time great movie endings..."