Color, 1982, 95 mins. 13 secs.
Directed by Scott Mansfield
Starring Alexandra Morgan, Jo Ann Harris, Sam Groom, Saul Sindell, Steve Railsback, Denise Galik, June Lockhart, Dick Butkus, Colleen Camp, Alexandra Lawrence
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
Something about the initial wave of slasher movies brought together truly weird collections of cast members, resulting in random indie horror films like Sweet Sixteen whose casting director seemed to be throwing darts at a wall of head shots. Up there with the strangest of them is Deadly Games, a slasher and giallo-tinged thriller that somehow manages to corral Steve Railsback, June Lockhart, Colleen Camp, and none other than Dick Butkus in the story of a small town terrorized by a woman-stalking serial killer with a penchant for monster board games. Widely released on VHS by Monterey Home Video in the early '80s but never really talked up by anyone, the film quickly sank into obscurity until its revival from Arrow Video on Blu-ray in 2022. As with Arrow's other deluxe presentations of overlooked slashers, it's an offbeat deep cut that may not be the best place to start for newbies but does offer plenty of curious rewards for the more seasoned connoisseur.
Coming home late one night, Linda (Alexandra Lawrence) is terrorized by a sinister caller on the phone who then infiltrates her house and sends her flying out a window onto a tree outside. The authorities can't decide if it was a deliberate suicide, and her sister, Clarissa (Morgan), comes to town (for reasons never really specified) only to spark a romance with the investigating cop, Roger (Groom). Meanwhile Roger is friends with the town misfit, movie theater owner and board game enthusiast, Billy (Railsback), and Clarissa mingles with the women in town who all seemed to have mixed feelings about the late Linda. There's plenty of local drama going around, too, including swingers cookout parties and gossip aplenty. Soon the maniac is picking off more of the residents late at night, which leaves the wisecracking Clarissa sifting through clues to figure out who the black-gloved culprit might actually be.
Shot in 1980 as Who Fell Asleep but left on the shelf due to the glut of slasher films at the time, Deadly Games takes a schizophrenic approach to its story with lots of quirky character drama alternating with some pretty unsettling (albeit not terribly gory) murder scenes involving a swimming pool, an open grave and so on. At times it feels like a made-for-TV film of the era, but then you get a dash of nudity or some other sordid detail that disorients everything all over again. This kind of whiplash approach isn't exactly unique (see The Town That Dreaded Sundown for one particularly famous example), but if you like your slashers swirled up with a lot of other different flavors, it's more than enough to kill a slow evening. You also have to give it props for the insane freeze-frame ending, which might be the most memorable thing about the whole film.
Anyone who suffered through the impenetrably murky VHS version of this film will be amazed at how nice it looks here thanks to the 2K restoration from the recently uncovered original camera negative. Apart from a coarse-looking patch near the end at the 89-minute mark, the presentation is pretty immaculate with the original grain left intact and colors far more vibrant than ever before. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono English track also sounds great and features optional English SDH subtitles. The slasher scholars from The Hysteria Continues are back here with another fun commentary that mixes their usual podcast banter with plenty of info about the film including its earlier origins, the state of the slasher film over the ensuing two years, the backgrounds of the cast, and the conventions being honored and turned upside down here. In "Sooty’s a Sh*t" (24m15s), actress Jere Rae-Mansfield covers the unusual audition process for the film, her affinity for playing death scenes, the origin of the original scripted title, the original intention to have the story revolved around Monopoly, and the issue she had with one of the major locations. Then in "Practical Magic" (21m39s), camera-shy special effects and stunt coordinator John Eggett cheerfully recalls his extensive work on the big pool scene, his break into filmmaking on Gas Pump Girls while working as a produce truck driver, and various other memories from the shoot. Also included are the original trailer, separate galleries for 32 promotional images and 64 behind-the-scenes shots, and a BD-Rom PDF of the original screenplay.
Reviewed on March 9, 2021