J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Phoenix ’17: Game of Death

It is sort of like Hungry Hungry Hippos, but it craves human deaths instead of marbles—twenty-four of them, to be precise. If players start slacking off, the game will claim one of them, Scanners style. Things will most definitely get bloody in Sébastien Landry & Laurence “Baz” Morais’s Game of Death (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Phoenix Film Festival.

Whenever someone notices a mysterious looking retro board game they never knew they had lurking in the corner of their home, do yourself a favor and don’t play. The rules are vague, but this group of entitled suburban horndogs and party-girls will quickly figure it out. Basically, it is kill or be killed, until the digital counter finally clicks down to zero.

Naturally, some players adapt more readily than others. Somewhat logically, the socially awkward Tom takes to the game almost immediately, whereas their coke dealer Tyler is the most reluctant to kill. Frankly, aside from those two, the soulless teen meat for the grinder largely runs together, but fortunately the blood splattering gets pretty impressive.

If the gist of Game of Death (not to be confused with the ill-fated Bruce Lee vehicle) sounds familiar than perhaps you read a similarly themed story in The Saturday Evening Post or Readers’ Digest. There are also scores of exploitation movies that put their casts in kill-or-be-killed situations, including but not limited to Battle Royale, 31, Raze, and Paintball. However, it is probably the best of the pseudo-sub-genre since Kill ‘Em All, because Landry & Morais never bring us down by putting likable, undeserving characters in ultra-Hunger Games positions (granted, there are some innocent victims, but this is a horror movie after all). Instead, after fifteen minutes, we’re pretty okay with the prospect of the primary cast meeting violent ends, one by one.

Game is not as cleverly nostalgic as Beyond the Gate, but the old school solid-state design of the game itself looks spot-on. The retro animated interludes are also pretty cool. However, the real appeal of the film is its shamelessly over-the-top comedic gore. It clocks in under seventy-five minutes, but regular midnight movie patrons will still feel they got their money’s worth. Recommended for fans of horror in the vein of EC Comics and general unconstrained mayhem, Game of Death screens this Friday (4/7) and the following Wednesday (4/12) as part of this year's Phoenix Film Festival.

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