Deadly Games (1982)

FEBRUARY 18, 2022


If 1981 is the golden age of slasher movies, then 1982 is the "weird" era, as there were a lot of movies like Deadly Games that were marketed as slashers but often don't really feel like them in the slightest. If one were to describe the film in the most general way possible - a masked killer is offing women in a small California town - then yeah, it'd fit right alongside Halloween or whatever. But I'd guess only about 10 minutes or so of the entire movie (which is 95 minutes long) involve such elements, and the rest just focuses on the would-be victims, most of whom aren't even concerned with the killer.

In their defense, the opening kill (a pretty great sequence on its own) is chalked up as a suicide since the woman went out her window and it looked like a jump to the cops. But since we know it wasn't, this is one of those things where a plot point needs to be believable to the audience as well as its characters in order to have the correct effect, because it's hard to keep remembering, over and over, that as far as everyone in the movie is concerned, there's nothing to worry about. Not that it matters much, because even after a second victim is killed - from the same friend group no less - most of the others don't seem overly concerned about it. And then there's a long stretch before anyone else is attacked, so even the audience might forget what kind of movie they were being sold on by then.

Instead it's more of a soap opera, as these women (six of them in total) are friends but also have little issue with sleeping with one another's husbands. Even our heroine, Keegan (whose sister was the opening victim) is fine with openly carrying on with a married cop, who is also banging one of the other women anyway. And when one guy is caught with another's wife, his apology is about as sorrowful as one might be if they mistakenly took the last beer in the fridge or something. It's almost kind of charming in its way...

...especially because the film seems to be a minor influence on Scream. In that film, we learn that Sidney's mother's transgressions (and that it was an "open secret") were actually a big part of the plot, but here such behaviors are not only shrugged off, but seemingly expected of one another. That said, the Scream DNA is undeniable at times, as both not only have the opening kill with creepy phone calls, but it even has the same "the heroine goes to *make* a call for help only to be startled by the phone ringing again" gag, not to mention the victim's early playing along with her mystery stranger. And there are not only mentions of horror movies, but Psycho in particular, with Keegan being warned not to use the shower and her saying that there aren't any Norman Bates around. Also (spoiler, I guess), there are two killers, though it's not as overt about it.

So basically, going in expecting a typical slasher will do it no favors, but if you want a soapy bit of '80s melodrama with some mild thriller elements, it should amuse you just fine. Jo Ann Harris is a pretty charming Final Girl (well, Final Woman - everyone is in their early 30s, another thing that keeps its slasher status questionable), talking to herself and being silly with her new fella, plus it's simply amusing to have one who is not concerned about potentially being murdered until the movie is almost over (imagine Annie as the heroine of Halloween and you'd be in the right ballpark). And the men are fun to just hang out with as well; Dick Butkus shows up for a few scenes as a guy who has resigned himself to being cuckolded, feeling he didn't have any better options, and the great Steve Railsback plays the most obvious candidate for the killer, a Vietnam vet who is good friends with the cop guy.

(SPOILERS) Those two, who also have a maybe-homosexual love for each other (kind of like Doc and Mo in Terror Train) play this strange board game that is seemingly based on the Universal Monsters, but we also see the killer playing it, which deflates the mystery far too early, though I guess "it's actually both of them!" counts as some kind of twist. The reveal of one of them is so casual I almost started wondering if I had missed an earlier reveal, though rewatching with the historian commentary proved I didn't (though there is a shot of the killer in his mask that leaves very little doubt if you're familiar enough with the actors' faces, not hard since most of the male characters disappear by the halfway point anyway). But the point is: I want that game! I wish this movie was successful, then I'm sure someone would have made a replica by now.

The only two extras of note are an interview with one of the actresses (who later married the director) and with the FX guy, which must have been a pretty easy gig since almost no one dies with any sort of wound, the killer usually just strangles them or buries them alive or whatever. It's no surprise he spends a good chunk of his time talking about other things he worked on (including The Office); I literally wondered "WHAT effects?" when I saw the listing in the bonus features menu. The actress is sadly one of the least memorable characters in the movie, though it's not her fault - her death scene didn't make the cut, so her character just disappears pretty early with no explanation (she also refused to return to the set to play her corpse in the obligatory "find the dead friends" sequence). She's fun to listen to (real Jamie Lee energy), but don't be surprised if you are momentarily confused as to which character she played.

I do enjoy watching these obscuros from the era; I've long since resigned myself to believing that none of them are going to be particularly great (or else I would have heard of them before, if only from other fans begging for something to replace their worn out VHS), but there's a certain charm in seeing how filmmakers were attempting to escape from the standard slasher template. Arrow put out another one in the same vein not too long ago (Death Screams), and Vinegar had Whodunit? (aka Island of Terror), all of which wouldn't be the first, second, or even 20th slasher movies I'd recommend to someone looking for a crash course, but definitely help defend the subgenre against criticisms that they're all the same. Also, even if this lacked those occasional highlights, I STILL might recommend watching this one if only for the baffling/amazing freeze frame ending, which involves what I THINK is supposed to be one of the film's primary characters, but it's not clear because it seems they're using a stuntman, and yet freezing on his face anyway. Bless their hearts.

What say you?

P.S. Confusingly enough, Colleen Camp appears for a bit in this (and looking as lovely as ever), and right now one of the other outlets is heavily pushing their release of the very similarly titled Death Game, which stars... Colleen Camp. So don't get em mixed up if you're blind buying!


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