Deadly Games

DEADLY GAMES (1982) – not to be confused with the much better DEADLY GAMES (1989) a.k.a. DIAL CODE SANTA CLAUS – is a slasher movie that I guess was very rare on video until now. I never came across it during my Slasher Searches, but now Arrow put it out on a nice blu-ray.

This is hardly one of the greats, but you know me, I’m a scholar, and I like seeing all the different variations and permutations of the formula. This one is interesting in that it takes place in a little bit more of a world of adults than most of them. And it’s not one of those crude regional movies – for the most part the production values and acting are slick and professional. And Steve Railsback is in it! If Steve Railsback is in it it’s a real movie.

The deadly games begin when Linda Lawrence (Alexandra Morgan, THE HAPPY HOOKER GOES HOLLYWOOD) is alone in her fancy hillside house and gets creepy phone calls from a strange man (calling from a phone booth improbably located in sight of her isolated home). She’s scared, then convinces herself she’s fine. She talks to a boyfriend on the phone and tells him, “No, I don’t look like Janet Leigh” before getting in the shower. Always the PSYCHO shower scene references in these things. Anyway, a guy in a ski mask attacks her and she falls out the window.

The next day, police detective Roger Lane (Sam Groom, DEADLY EYES) is on the scene. He tries to shoo away a woman named Keegan (Jo Ann Harris, THE BEGUILED, Cat Ballou in a TV movie version, voice of Tina on Goober and the Ghost Chasers), because she strangely admits to being a reporter before explaining that she’s there because she’s the sister of the deceased. Once she explains that they sit down in the house, he seems to think it was a suicide or accident, she muses about not knowing her sister very well, the whole thing is bizarrely light and flirtatious.

She stays in the house, and while she’s in town runs into a group of her old high school friends, including Sooty (Jere Rae Mansfield, DONOVAN’S KID), who’s married to Officer Roger! Keegan hangs out with them and sits in the grass to watch their boyfriends and husbands be way too competitive and get way too dirty in a game of flag football in the park.

She asks about a dude on the sidelines with a scar on his face and mirror sunglasses, and why he’s not playing. He’s Billy Owens, played by Railsback (following THE STUNT MAN, preceding TURKEY SHOOT and TRICK OR TREATS) in full weirdo mode. The women are creeped out by him, but Roger is very protective of him because they were in ‘Nam together. We see Billy alone in the big, sparsely attended theater where he works as a projectionist, acting creepy and chain smoking, which we’ve also seen the killer do. It seems like it should be called The Red Herring Theatre.

More of these women will be killed, of course. The title comes from a Dracula and Frankenstein themed board game that we see the killers’ leather-gloved hands playing preceding each murder. It’s unclear to me what the connection is and it’s oddly crappier than the rest of the movie because the game is very home made looking – crude drawings and clearly colored in with pencil. It made me nervous because they have these lit matches and cigarettes around, and this is clearly the only copy of the game that exists!

One of the interviews on the disc seems to indicate that they wanted to use Monopoly and had to make up a fake game at the last minute, but then the end credits have a copyright for it and act like it’s a real game they were planning to sell. (I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that nobody wanted a copy. It looks like a school project, man. Come on.)

What makes the movie a little tiring, but also what’s kind of different about it, is the very amorphous structure of the mystery story and the oddness of all the characters and their conversations. Right in the middle they have a wild pool party where we learn that Roger – who up until this point has seemed like a handsome leading man type – is having an affair with Randy (Colleen Camp, GAME OF DEATH, POLICE ACADEMY 2 & 4, D.A.R.Y.L., SPEED 2) and is furious that she’s making out with somebody else. Later she’s alone in the pool and the ski mask guy sadistically murders her. Hmm.

We also see Roger being abusive to his wife, and it’s strange because this early in the movie it doesn’t feel like a reveal or a twist, it’s just kind of casual. But now we have a mystery of which one of these horribly damaged Vietnam vets who seem like the murderer are the murderer (or is it a trick?). Keegan goes on a date with Roger (jesus christ, this guy) where they go to the movie theater, which is closed and empty. Billy comes down with beer and sits with them. I like scenes in old movie theaters, though this one is cheapened by how obvious it is about never actually projecting anything, just cutting to clipes from the movie they’re supposedly watching. To really underline the likelihood that one of these guys is the killer, the three of them end up playing that shitty board game together. So we know they have access to a copy.

Keegan is a very unusual Final Girl – a smart ass, always trying to be witty and make light of everything, also nervous and self-deprecating. At first I kind of liked her, but I think most would agree with my eventual verdict that she’s A Little Much. But she really seems like she would be the eccentric friend of the main character who gets killed early and not the main character, so that’s kind of interesting.

This is not the fun type of slasher movie, but the murders are fairly well executed scare sequences. The opening scene has that quality of SCREAM, that it’s an empty house at night, you can see the darkness out the windows, you have that feeling that there’s no one anywhere nearby to see what’s going on or to call to for help. And there’s a variety to the scare scenes: the house, a parking garage, a chase through some woods to a cemetery, the movie theater (where for some reason there’s a storage room full of old mannequins).

If you would like to know the SPOILER ending, we learn that Roger tried to scare Linda as one of those fun jokes you do, but she accidentally fell out the window and died, and he got off on it, so he did the other murders too. Keegan shoots him and then Billy tries to kill her for revenge. He swings on a rope to get her, that was pretty funny. I didn’t love this movie, but it was definitely something I hadn’t quite seen before.

The cast also includes June Lockhart (Lassie, Lost in Space) as Keegan’s estranged mother and NFL legend Dick Butkus (!) as one of the group of friends. It’s pretty funny to see him at the pool party talking about everybody’s sordid relationships. He’s not bad!

According to Wikipedia, DEADLY GAMES played on Showtime and was only released in St. Louis and on a drive-in triple bill in Kansas City. Despite that obscurity, rookie writer/director Scott Mansfield was able to follow it up with some kind of sketch comedy movie called IMPS* [the asterisk is part of the title, not a promise of some wiseass thing I’m gonna say below] starring Linda Blair. Then in the ‘90s and early aughts he made literary documentaries and shorts about the works of Edgar Allan Poe, O. Henry and William Shakespeare. He must not have had his heart in the slasher movie game, but at least he made one of them, and it’s better than some people have made.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 22nd, 2022 at 7:02 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

16 Responses to “Deadly Games”

  1. If Butkus isn’t lined up at MLB and laying out the opposition with bone-shattering tackles during the flag football game, then I don’t even know what this movie is doing.

    More seriously, I’m always happy to see a Railsback movie, so I’m going to have to track this down at some point. The guy made some good movies, and some really bad ones, but there was always something weirdly interesting about his characters.

  2. Hey Vern, this is off topic, but I just started listening to a podcast called Downlowd: The Rise and Fall of Harry Knowles and Ain’t It Cool News, and you get name checked as one of their contributors in the first episode. Just wondered if you are aware/participating, since there are interviews with lots of writers from the site. Keep up the good work!

  3. Thank you Dobe. I have been listening but did not participate. Apparently that guy did interview me for his college radio station when Seagalogy came out, but I don’t really remember it. Some of my online friends are very down on the podcast for being too positive about the whole Ain’t It Cool world without having gotten into detail about his harassment/crimes yet, but I haven’t had many strong objections yet (pending how it does deal with all that). I think it captures what seemed exciting at that time while addressing many insidious aspects of it, including stuff I didn’t know about.

    Obviously I’m too close to it though – some of the positive stuff that rubs people the wrong way is about people I sort of know or a world I was at least tangentially part of, so I’m gonna feel different about it. The whole thing is bringing up lots of memories and feelings that I might try to address in an upcoming piece.

  4. I kind of felt the same way. I’d like to read that.

  5. Is it weird that I never saw you as an official AICN contributer, like everybody else seems to remember? To me, you always seemed like a reader, who just happened to have his reviews regularly featured, because they were so good. I mean, you didn’t even have your own comic picture at the end of each review, like Moriarty, Quint and Co had.

    Also I would love to read your more detailed thoughts on that, but please don’t feel like you have to defend yourself over your participation in AICN. You boarded the ship when it was the hot place to be, and left it before there even was an iceberg in sight.

  6. Hi Vern and friends,

    I apologize for going off topic a bit: I did not read the review above; I did see just above me CJ mentioned the AICN days. I have read Vern since then. I am one of the original monthly Patreon backers, and I continue to back this websight with a few dollars every month.

    I am grateful for the community here, and even when I have gone silent for years, I am comforted by the fact that things keep developing here because of you all. It would be lovely if we ever got the chance to meet in person in this life, if not, well, I accept that.

    I am writing today to simply ask for good vibes to be sent from you all to me. I am going through a mental health crisis. I am receiving the support I need. I am seeing a mental health professional. Conscious modes of communication are improving; those I love are responding with concern and care. I feel great about it, not anxious or afraid. I am simply asking for support from every avenue I can think of, to the extent that it makes sense, so I am also asking here. No need to leave a comment here about this comment, but if you do, perhaps I will read it someday, and that would be fun. I hope ya’ll have a good time talking about DEADLY GAMES and whatever review follows this one, enjoying whatever random shit pops up in a respectful way. We are good at that here, together.

    Maybe someday the right time will arrive for a few folks here to talk in a Zoom room about movie tastes, experiences here on this websight, and a bit about our personal lives. I don’t know.



  7. Hey Vern, this is off topic, but I just started listening to a podcast called Downlowd: The Rise and Fall of Harry Knowles and Ain’t It Cool News

    Sorta off-off topic. But is there anywhere that has a transcript of this (and possibly other podcasts)?

    Not just for the hearing impaired, but for people like me who want to get the story without the canned ‘sad piano’ during the plaintive sections. And (more importantly) without having to listen to the host very poorly read his own copy for hours on end. Just publish the copy!

    This is what kept me away from podcasts back when they being actually played on iPods, and it’s just gotten so much worse.

  8. Agreed, there’s no obligation whatsoever, but as a fan who first encountered Vern’s writing on that site, and having followed AICN closely at the time, I think there would be interest in your perspective.

  9. I actually would pay a subscription fee for written transcripts of podcasts.

  10. Jojo that depends on the podcast…I listen to a ton of them and not one sounds like that. I don’t care for those either.

  11. Jek – Until just now my stupid spam filter put your post in moderation. Now that I fixed that the good vibes should come pouring in. I think it’s a great idea for people here to meet up and/or Zoom. I hope it happens. Please know that you are loved not only in your daily life but all across the world through these wires. Thank you for being here with us all these years and for checking in just now. We look forward to many more years with you.

  12. Stay strong, Jek! Mental health problems of any kind are no fun (sadly I know these things way too good) and the best advice I can give you is to surround yourself with as little toxicity as possible. Even stop watching the news for a while. It won’t magically cure you, but definitely will make you feel stress at times. (Like I stopped reading comments on news websites years ago and I didn’t realize what a negative impact that had on my life until I started to ignore them!)

    RE: Meeting up on Zoom, I remember once (Probably 2012, because my memory tells me that TRANSFORMERS 3 didn’t win the VFX award then) having an Oscar watch with a few people from here and Twitter over at Google+ (I miss that site…), that involved webcams and microphones. Was a fun night, despite the shitty time in my part of the world and I wouldn’t mind doing something like that again.

  13. *will make you feel LESS stressed at times, obviously.

  14. Live strong, Jek! And get well! Mental health is real health, and we all do well to take it seriously.

    I have no idea if this is a well known story among the Porkinscenti, but here’s the author Jasper Fforde recounting a memory of William Hootkins, with whom he worked on Steven Norrigton’s DEATH MACHINE:

    I think I’ve said elsewhere that I have a great fondness for Hootkins, and America/Canadian actors like him and Shane Rimmer and Ed Bishop who lived and worked in the UK when I was a kid, and consequently turned up in everything that needed a Yank.

  15. Jek, as a dude who’s had more than one public breakdown, you got all the sympthy and support in the world from me. Do what you gotta do. Take your time. You know what you need and don’t let anybody tell you different.

  16. Just listened to your I interview on the Downlowd podcast. I thought you were very thoughtful and I learned about your experience I didn’t expect. Thanks for engaging publicly.

    And I hope Jek’s doing well, too.

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