I have to confess that I have problems watching most older horror movies. Especially ones involving teenagers. It’s like all the suspense buildup gets lost under the avalanche of “Oh my god, did you really just say that?” and “ARE YOU SERIOUSLY GOING TO GO OUT IN PUBLIC LOOKING LIKE THAT?” (Though, in fairness, I say that at an awful lot of horror movies, particularly ones filmed during the 80s.)
So I wasn’t actually going to review Ring of Terror, since it literally only becomes interesting in the last five minutes of an hour-long movie. The other 55 minutes consists of tiresome fraternity guys doing tiresome fraternity things and not receiving so much as an ax to the forehead for it. Then, with something like a minute and 45 seconds to go, the movie managed to charm me by introducing a trope not seen anywhere near often enough in this world:
Death by spring-loaded cat.
Lewis Moffitt (George E. Mather) is a fraternity pledge and premed student at some incredibly low-rent college where students have to cool their heels waiting for unidentified cadavers to turn up in the morgue before they can witness an autopsy. Much is made of Lewis’ fearlessness in the first part of the movie, until we discover that he’s having nightmares in which he flails around in bed begging someone not to turn out the light. (We discover this in a sort of creepy scene involving his roommate standing over his bed at four in the morning and staring at him a lot.)
Moffitt doesn’t know where the nightmares come from at first, until an acquaintance of his dies and a rather traumatic experience at the wake brings back memories.
The wake is in a bizarrely empty funeral home, in a room lit solely by one candle. No, I do not know why. But the candle goes out, causing Lewis to freak out and remember his grandfather’s death. Apparently Grandpa was laid out in the living room (tradition, I know, but EW EW EW UNSANITARY), which freaked Wee Lewis out a bit. When he asked for his bedroom light to be left on, his mother told him that if he didn’t quit whining his grandfather would rise from the dead and give him a whupping. Wee Lewis, correctly interpreting this as “Zombie Grandpa will eat your brains and pull your guts out of your body right in front of you,” was understandably a bit upset.
Cut to a frat party, where the pledges (Lewis included) are going through one last hazing task before being accepted. The tasks involve edgy, hardcore things like having water dumped on them.
Lewis’ task, however, consists of breaking into the cemetery where the autopsy cadaver was stashed and stealing a ring off his finger. Lewis is freaked out by this, but manfully pushes on, because he doesn’t want people calling him a weenie.
So Lewis, sweating in a glycerin-overloaded way not seen since Richard Burton sweat for America in Exorcist II, pulls out the coffin and reaches in for the ring. But wait! There’s a cat yowling from somewhere! And the leaves are rustling! It’s all very scary.
“YOWWWWLLL!” says the cat.
“WTFBBQ!” says Lewis, clearly afraid that the cat has come to eat his eyeballs and drag him through the mirror to join an evil dwarf army.
As he stands up to look around, the dead guy’s hand, which appears to be a little stiff still, snags his coat. Lewis turns around, sees the corpse’s hand grabbing him, and, well…
Clearly not quite as fearless as he pretended to be. Oh, well.
So what’s the verdict? One screeching cat out of five. It’s an hour-long movie that’s 45 minutes too long. But hey, death by spring-loaded cat.