DEATH GAME (1977) – Also released under the title The Seducers, this horror movie/ psychological thriller was filmed in 1974 but not released until 1977 due to assorted legal entanglements. Sondra Locke and cult queen Colleen Camp starred with Seymour Cassell in this thoroughly bizarre exploitation movie.
Death Game was remade decades later as Knock Knock starring Keanu Reeves. The 1970s original may have been a trippy exploitation flick which spotlighted titillation and violence but so was the Eli Roth remake. And the original actually feels more honest and less cringe because it lacks the corporate cinematic feel of the Keanu Reeves movie, despite Locke co-producing and Camp making a cameo appearance.
After the oft-invoked nonsense about the film being based on a true story Death Game begins.
Two predatory young women, Agatha Jackson (Sondra Locke) and Donna (Colleen Camp) insinuate themselves into the home of 40 year old George Manning (Seymour Cassell) on a rainy night when his wife and family are out of town. After seducing him they refuse to leave and behave in increasingly menacing and psychotic ways, subjecting him to physical and psychological abuse.
In a way, Death Game is like the women’s answer to ugly 1970s flicks like I Spit On Your Grave and so many others in which disgusting male predators inflict abuse on female victims. George Manning is bound and gagged, beaten, battered, sploshed and worse as his ordeal goes on.
After their initial threesome, the bisexual ladies often tease but always deny any further thrills for Manning, adding to the cat and mouse tension of the situation. When the ladies kill a cat, murder a grocery delivery boy and sentence George to death following a mock trial, his fate seems sealed.
The behind-the-scenes stories about the ineptitude of director Peter S Traynor are legion and it remains a wonder that the movie was ever finished and released. Adding to Death Game‘s cult appeal is the way that THE Sissy Spacek and THE Bill Paxton worked as set dressers on the production.
(Let’s all get it out of our systems – “Death Game over, man! Death Game over!”)
The opening scene, in which George Manning plays croquet with his loving wife Karen (Beth Brickell), has such poor sound synch that it seems like a Doris Wishman film. Locke and Camp are actually a bit impressive, however. They switch from sweet and teasing to vicious and sadistic in a blink, often triggered by small things that remind them of past molestations … even from their fathers.
And THAT brings us to the opening song of Death Game – Good Old Dad – which is repeated over and over throughout the film. The song’s seemingly innocent lyrics successfully conjure up an eerie, disturbing atmosphere with the potential double meaning in the female singer’s reference to their father bathing them and “spanking my bottom.” When the lyrics refer to Dad being “the one who made me what I am today” the potentially sinister meaning is unmistakable despite the surface sentimentalism.
Ironically, the song is very catchy, and you may well find yourself humming it to yourself long after you watch this movie.
Death Game is remembered largely for its surreal, meta final few minutes. I would refrain from spoiling it, except that those final minutes can easily be found at multiple sites around the web.
After combining home invasion movies with Whatever Happened to Baby Jane tormenting of the helpless, the film ends with the costumed and garishly made-up Agatha and Donna leaving their victim’s ransacked home.
They giggle and skip along as Good Old Dad plays yet again. THIS time, however, the song is cut short as an SPCA van (Remember the murdered cat?) runs into the ladies, apparently killing them. This gimmick ending reminded me of the finale of Drive-In Massacre with its cheap shock value.
Death Game is a true oddity. If you are interested in watching JUST the bizarre, out of nowhere ending, it’s out there. But be warned – in that footage you won’t get to hear the entirety of Good Old Dad. That song was written just for this movie but I swear it would fit into a stage musical. Weird.
For just the song click HERE.