DEADLY GAMES (Intervision- UK pre-cert video cover)
2 star
Cheese Rating: 25% Dairlea Lite!

directed by: Scott Mansfield
starring: Sam Groom, Steve Railsback, Dick Butkus, Jo Ann Harris, Denise Galik, Jere Lea Rea

(back of video blurb):

WARNING!: this is one of those blurbs that throws in everything bar the kitchen sink- and not all of it is correct! Never-the-less it does contain some major spoilers. Read at your peril!

       "After receiving anonymous phone calls from a heavy-breathing stranger, linda (ALEXANDRA MORGAN) falls to her death from a window after fighting off the masked intruder. Roger (SAM GROOM- star of T.V.'s popular series Police Surgeon) is the cop assigned to investigate the case. Was it an accident, suicide or murder? He meets reporter Keegan (JO ANN HARRIS), who turns out to be Linda's sister. They are mutually attracted, and Keegan decides to stay in town where she soon makes the acquaintance of Linda's group of girl friends. Roger, a Vietnam veteran, has a buddy,Billy Owens (STEVE RAILSBACK) who is hanging onto life by a thread. Keegan learns that Roger is married , and in today's world the heroine has to save herself. Billy is obsessed by old horror movies frequently screening them at midnight sessions, then engaging in a board game of Frankenstein and Dracula with Roger. In the coming weeks, each of Linda's girl friends meet with gruesome deaths. One is strangled. Another, although a strong swimmer, is found dead in her pool with wire cutting into her legs. A third girl is savavgely attacked in a deserted parking lot, but the masked assailant is scared off by the arrival of two security guards. Meanwhile, Keegan is becoming increasingly attracted to Roger. She is stalked by a masked phantom while taking a shower, but is saved by Roger's arrival. Another of Linda's friends, Chris, is pursued by the phantom to a cemetry where she falls into an open grave and is buried alive. Roger invites Keegan to attend one of Billy's late-night movie shows. She loses her way in the darkened corridors of the spooky movie theatre. Reunited with Roger and Billy, the trio sit on the deserted stage playing the board game in which the characters are winners and losers. But soon Roger is dead. "You killed him, Keegan" breathes the phantom. "He was my life..." For the hunter and the hunted, Keegan's nightmare is not over until their "DEADLY GAMES" are played out to a horrifying conclusion."

choice dialogue:

"Wow, murder!... Things are really picking up round here!"

slash with panache?

       Yet another perfect example of a movie made by a director with a secret agenda- by which I mean, a thriller which grudgingly embraces the (then) in vogue the deadly game...slasher movie trappings. Pretty early on in DEADLY GAMES it is clear that the director (Scott Mansfield), wanted to make a film which was very different to the other slice Ďní dicers of the early 80ís (whilst throwing in a few generic HALLOWEEN (1978) set pieces and visual gags to keep the audience- and backers, happy). What isnít so clear is exactly what kind of movie Mansfield actually wanted to make...

       Jo Ann Harris plays Keegan, a wisecracking music journalist who returns to her home town in the aftermath of her sisters death (which unbeknownst to her Billy (Steve Railsback) watches the action unfold...was actually murder). She hooks up with old friends, who she hasnít seen for ages; and is pretty soon hanging around with the group of women who had also been friends with her sister. A local cop- Roger (Sam Groom), begins to suspect that Keeganís sisterís death wasnít accidental; a view which begins to seem credible as someone dressed in black, their face hidden behind a balaclava, begins to stalk Ďní slash their way through the group of women. Whilst the panic mounts Keegan takes solace in a burgeoning romance with Roger and A striking image in DEADLY GAMES...slowly becomes reacquainted with Rogerís friend Billy (Steve Railsback)- the Vietnam vet who knew Keegan when they were children, a loner who hides himself away in a seemingly abandoned and gloomy cinema where he watches old black and white horror movies. Keegan is fascinated by the bizarre board game Roger and Billy play, which takes its inspiration from the classic Universal monsters. It quickly transpires that the killer also has access to this game and it is somehow intrinsically linked to the rash of murders that is plaguing the small town...

       Mansfieldís film is unsettling in a number of ways. The continuos shift of dramatic shades from melodrama to horror, and even to Ďfeel goodí romance, makes sure the audience never exactly knows what will be coming next. That is a Alone, with only a phone for company- a scene reminiscent of both HALLOWEEN (1978) and WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979)...mixed blessing. On one hand it keeps the audience on their toes, but on the other, it also prevents much suspense being generated. Iíve already mentioned it doesnít look like Mansfield wanted to make a Ďslasherí movie (and often looks like he would rather not even be making a thriller!), and many of those elements seem to have been placed purely as a means to an end- the opening sequence where Keeganís sister is terrorised by the killer is a particularly clumsy mish-mash of HALLOWEEN (1978) and WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979). Paradoxically though it is this schizophrenic nature which helps generate some real oddball thrills- just after the particularly noxious romance She'll soon awaken to see the message written above...sequence (which comes complete with, what I suppose is par for the course, a diabolically bland ballad- the lyrics were in fact courtesy of the Ďmulti-talentedí Mr. Mansfield!), one of the characters does something completely unexpected which completely contradicts everything the previous 20 minutes has been setting up! As a further illustration- the nightmarish scene where a previously unconscious victim comes to, in a dug grave, above her, written in chalk on the gravestone- "Here lies Chris Howlett who fell asleep Jan 25 1980". And where the killer buries her alive under shovelís full of dirt, contradicts sharply with the homely pace of the soap opera melodrama that proceeded it.

       Mansfield manages to squeeze almost universally good, naturalistic performances out of his cast, although the eternally perky Keegan ("I gotta take a shower...and no, I donít look like Janet leigh!"), jars a bit with her self effacing sub Woody Allen buffoonery. And although sustaining a level of suspense isnít his The three main characters watch a film together...strong point (he doesnít even exploit that old "Behind YOU!" stalwart- the killer hidden in the back seat of the car, it lasts like all of 10 seconds!), the terror scenes are helped enormously by a very creepy minimalist score and a particularly spooky sounding killer- (yeah, I know, the whole heavy breathing thing has been done to death but, somehow, here it imbues the killer with an added menacing edge). There is also a bit of fun to be had with the affectionate referencing of horror movies both old (the film Keegan watches in the theatre, sandwiched between Roger and Billy, is THE MONSTER WALKS (1932)), and contemporary ( Keegan at one point muses, "...the world is just not the same. Today the heroine has to save herself!"). And Mansfield also manages to weave in subtle and intriguing subtexts concerning adultery and homosexuality, which would be all the more interesting if the effect they had on the emerging story was more logical.

       To cap off the patchwork of dramatic styles and shades that went into DEADLY GAMES, Mansfield finishes his film with perhaps one of the most US video cover for DEADLY GAMESstark, downbeat and disturbingly abrupt denouements to a slasher movie from this time. One that is at complete odds with much that has proceeded it- incidentally, itís an ending I liked it a lot.

       There is some pretty good stuff on offer here and although being thrown off balance can only be a good thing, itís just a shame that the sum of the parts donít add up to a really satisfying whole.

       DEADLY GAMES was made in 1980 but, precisely because of itís oddball nature- it probably struggled to find an audience, it wasnít released until 1982 (which explains why the IMDB has it listed under that year).

BODYCOUNT 5  bodycount!   female:4 / male:1

       1) Female falls/is pushed through window to her death
       2) Female drowned by killer
       3) Female strangled
       4) Female buried alive
       5) Male shot dead