*Also known under the giallo-esque word salad title "Estratto dagli archivi segreti della polizia di una capitale europea" which translates as "From the Secret Police Files of a European Capital," even though the European Country in question is clearly identified as England and the Police Force is named as Scotland Yard.
Four friends--two hippie dudes (Fred and Joe), their pretty hippie gal-pal (Jane, played by Ms. Keaton), and a wealthy young man with counterculture pretensions (Bill)--go off for a weekend of boating on the English seashore. Rich kid Bill, whose relationship with his mother doesn't so much "border on the Oedipal" as it "shares an apartment with and occasionally drunkenly makes out with the Oedipal," gives Jane a pearl necklace** that his mother was reluctant to accept, due no doubt to Bill's recounting of the necklace's hideous and deadly demonic curse. Tensions are immediately apparent in the group as Joe and Bill compete for Jane's attention, and by the time their dune buggy runs out of gas during a nocturnal ramble, things have gone full-tilt bozo into passive aggressive territory (these are Brits we're talking about here). After the meager portion of fuel they've accepted from a suspicious gas station attendant runs out, the skies open up, rain pours in, and the group takes shelter in a stately (to make no mention of convenient) mansion.
**NOT LIKE THAT.
Up to this point, things are merely "uncomfortable and awkward," with no sense of "tragedy" on the horizon. Once the lady of the house shows up to get her unexpected guests settled, her leering manner towards Jane starts the plot chugging along a distinctly more familiar horror movie path. Separating Jane from her companions and outfitting her in a sheer white gown, it looks as though junk's going to get all types of lesbonic and perhaps even vampirical. Before I was able to get too excited over the potential for naughty encounters, it turns out that Lady Alexander has ID'ed Jane as potential sacrifice material, and spooks the young lady. Or... we assume Jane is spooked, because Keaton displays an off-putting lack of affect*** throughout her performance.
***Not to be confused with a sexy, Teutonic lack of affect.
The side-trip into potential lady-love land bears no fruit, and marks the point at which despair set in for me. Bill, Joe and Fred seem equally despondent, choosing to spend their time in light gossip and a round of cards. Meanwhile, Jane wanders the halls of the estate with glazed-over eyes and a candelabra. Now, I love the "wandering by candlelight" thing as much as the next devotee of traditional horror films, but this sequence seems to drag on forever. There's a glimpse of potential awesomeness to come as meanwhile-meanwhile, elsewhere in the building, a group of creepy be-caped cultists are making with the Satan-worship.
At this point, I'm 40 minutes into the movie, and trying to figure out what on earth is going to consume the last half of the film. I mean, how much candelabra wandering can a single movie contain? Well, this is where things go all kinds of weird, and where "Tragic Ceremony" could have become a really cool movie. Jane wanders her way into the ritual and is placed on the altar, doubtless looking as delicious to the Dark Forces Present as a Thanksgiving turkey just prior to being carved. Sadly for those Dark Forces, Bill, Joe and Fred burst in and save Jane from her gruesome fate, setting off a scene of madness among the cultists. But what now? We've only spent 53 minutes of film, and that sure as hell felt like the climax.
Scarred by this unexpected foray into bloody mayhem, the group heads back to Bill's familial hunting lodge to collect their thoughts. After seeing news footage of the chaos at the Alexander Estate, the group realizes that they will be blamed for what the authorities believe to be a Manson-style mass murder. Those aforementioned Dark Forces seem to be following them, however, with predictably horrible results that come into play far before the police can track them down. What follows is a stalk-and-slash body-count film tacked onto a gothic occult film, which is a really neat idea in concept that leaves one disappointed in the execution.
This is an oddly-structured movie, reaching what feels like its climax a little over half of the way through and failing to achieve that level of shock in its final act. Oddly enough, this is one of the key criticisms I have of Ms. Keaton's significantly more well-known rape-revenge film "I Spit on Your Grave." At no point does the "revenge" portion of that film match the hideous impact of her violation. Similarly, "Tragic Ceremony" is never more jaw-dropping than during the break-up of the Satanic ritual--unless one counts Jess Franco regular Paul Muller's abrupt and bizarre explanation of the events of the film that feels tacked on in the last seconds. But that's the *bad* kind of jaw-dropping.
There's a lot of potential here, but the lackluster performances and long periods of nothin'-doin' detract from what could have been a dreamlike fusion of traditional and modern horror tropes. Ms. Keaton sleepwalks her way through the movie, and while her pout is fetching, its appeal grows thin when one wonders if her face has gotten stuck that way. As to the male leads, Tony Isbert is reasonably good as maybe-incestuous, definitely-wimpy Bill, while Maximo Valverde swaggers convincingly as Joe and Giovanni Petrucci's guitar-strumming Fred comes off a little bit like George Eastman's smaller, more neurotic sibling. Alas, no player has the kind of screen presence necessary to sustain this kind of film, and while Luciana Paluzzi's Lady Alexander brought a much-appreciated air of predatory sexuality to the proceedings, her appearances were all too brief. Genre vets Luigi Pistilli and Paul Muller, who have comported themselves in a most pleasingly creepy manner in such films as "Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key" and "Eugenie de Sade," respectively, are entirely wasted here.
Stylistically, there are assuredly some high points. I will say without reservation that the dummy death sequence is incredible, and truly does make this movie worth slogging through. The effects during that montage are convincingly squishy and the cartoon violence is a treat for fans of ridiculously explicit films. The Satanic ritual scenes bear all the stamps of early 70s occult filmmaking--fish eye lenses, backlit gowns, and crazyfaces are all in effect. Sadly, all this good stuff accounts for maybe 15 minutes of total screen time in a movie otherwise characterized by uncomfortable verbal exchanges and waiting. Lots and lots of waiting. Aesthetically, the movie hears a resemblance to the horror films of frequent Paul Naschy collaborator Leon Klimovsky, but without the charisma of an actor like Naschy to propel things along, the story is sort of mushy and difficult to care about. For my psychotronic fish eye lens dollar, I'll take "Vengeance of the Zombies" instead of "Tragic Ceremony."