Easily the most noteworthy aspect of Tragic Ceremony (recently released to DVD by Dark Sky films) is the participation of Camille Keaton. The great niece of silent film star Buster Keaton, Camille appeared in a handful of Italian films in the early 1970s. Eventually she became best known for starring in the grisly U.S. made rape/revenge film Day of the Woman which is now known under the re-release title I Spit On Your Grave.
Four young people are spending several carefree days sailing and camping. Bill (Tony Isbert) is the only one in the group from a rich family, and his friends Fred (Giovanni Petrucci) and Joe (Maximo Valverde) have no problem taking advantage of Bill's wealth, even going so far as to conning him out of money on a rigged bet. Bill has eyes for Jane (Keaton) who may be involved with Joe (this is never made clear). Bill gives her a string of pearls he had bought for his mother who turned them down after hearing about the curse that supposedly comes with them.
On the return leg of their journey, Bill's car runs out of gas in the middle of a downpour and our heroes seek refuge at a remote mansion. Lord and Lady Alexander are hospitable enough, but they are entertaining guests and leave the four travelers to fend for themselves until the storm passes. The men eat, smoke, and listen to Fred mindlessly strumming on his guitar to the point where both Joe and the audience are ready to cram the thing down his throat. Jane, meanwhile, heads off to take a bath, but soon finds herself inexplicably drawn to the section of the mansion where Lord and Lady Alexander are hosting a satanic ritual. Just as Jane is about to become the sacrifice du jour, her friends intervene and for no reason I can fathom, the satanists begin killing one another. The film then shifts from potentially interesting to dish water dull, as our four characters flee the mansion and go into hiding for fear of being implicated in the deaths.
With Riccardo Freda directing, I had high hopes for this one. Freda had previously helmed one of my all time favorite Italian horror films, The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, and the early castle scenes in Tragic Ceremony echo some of that other film's gothic atmosphere. Unfortunately, the characters are vapid, and with the exception of the sacrifice scene the story drags along with very little happening. The gothic elements gave me hope, but soon the film trades storm shrouded castles and spooky imagery for men who spend way too much time on their hair, with shirts unbuttoned to the navel and multiple chains dangling in a forest primeval of chest hair. Plot points, like Bill's mother's secret lover never seem to go anywhere and people do things that just don't make any sense. The ending is downright baffling, with a doctor explaining what has just happened, though there's no way he himself could know these things.
The film boasts some impressive gore effects by Oscar winner Carlo Rambaldi, including a shot of a satanist's head being split down the middle with a sword. The effect is so convincing that, at first, I couldn't quite figure out how it was done. Sadly, the effect is spoiled when the shot is used repeatedly in flashback and it becomes obvious that it's a prosthetic head, although a very well-made one.
The disk is in Italian with optional English subtitles. It's interesting to note that Keaton is delivering all her dialogue in English and being dubbed into Italian. I don't believe this film was ever released theatrically here in the States and an English voice track may not exist. Extras are sparse, consisting of a theatrical trailer and a very interesting interview with Keaton, recalling her film work in Italy.