When I was growing up I had the poster for Deadly Games up on my wall. I loved the artwork but never got a chance to see the actual film. Now, all these later I’m finally getting my chance to watch it thanks to Arrow Video. And the first thing that I noticed, even before the film started, was the cast.
It included June Lockhart from Lassie and the original Lost in Space, American football legend Dick Butkus, Colleen Camp whose credits include Ebony, Ivory and Jade, Death Game, Valley Girl, and Bruce Lee’s last film Game of Death. Most surprising of all was second-billed Steve Railsback who made this two years after The Stunt Man, but before Lifeforce, Plaguers, and Turkey Shoot. Why it took so long for someone to resurrect it just for that is a bigger mystery than the killer’s identity.
Writer/director Scott Mansfield starts the film off with a strange sequence. Linda (Alexandra Morgan, The First Nudie Musical, Spellbinder) returns home one night and walks through her house, out the back door, and takes off her shirt and bra. As if that isn’t odd enough when the phone rings she puts her shirt back on to go inside and answer it. This being a slasher she soon ends up dead, but not before talking to Bobby (Steve Railsback).
If that sounds a bit much even by 1982 standards Deadly Games was shot in 1980 under the title Who Fell Asleep. So it was probably written sometime in the 70s. Which would also explain dialogue like “That would be boring. Like having sex lying down all the time.”
And there is plenty of dialogue like that because after Linda’s murder Deadly Games turns into a small-town drama with a side order of romance for longer than it should before the killer strikes again. Some of it is funny, some of it is dull, and there’s a huge dose of expository dialogue during the sequence where the ladies all gossip while the men play football in the park.
Once the killings start again, around the forty-minute mark, Deadly Games gets interesting but it’s never really scary or bloody. Despite the nastiness of some of the murders, one is buried alive, another is slowly drowned in a swimming pool, It actually feels more like a mystery as Roger and Keegan, who happens to be a reporter, tries to figure out the killer’s identity, than a horror film.
It may well have been filmed as one before being sold as a slasher to cash in on Halloween, Friday the 13th, etc. Stripped of its nudity and raunchy dialogue, Deadly Games could almost pass as a made-for-TV film, an entry in the long-running anthology The NBC Mystery Movie. Not that Deadly Games is a great mystery either. The board game we see in the trailer barely figures into the plot and there are really only two people who could be the killer. I found it pretty easy to guess which one and I don’t think anyone else will find it difficult either.
It eventually all comes down to a confusing finale and a frustrating freeze-frame non-ending. It almost seems to be suggesting that there may be something more than we suspected going on. But that, like the final characters’ fates, is left unresolved.
I was left with seriously mixed feelings about Deadly Games. It never seems to be sure of what kind of a film it wants to be and changes tones with an annoying frequency. Despite that, it is entertaining most of the time and has a cast filled with famous and familiar faces. It’s also nice to see a film where men still had hair on their chests and women didn’t have silicone in theirs.
Deadly Games will debut on Arrow’s streaming service on January 7th. A limited-edition Blu-Ray is scheduled for release on February 21st, 2022, you can check their website for details on cost and special features.