Blu-ray Release: February 22, 2022
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono
Subtitles: English SDH
Run Time: 97:59
Director: Scott Mansfield
A masked maniac with a penchant for a horror-themed board game is playing his own twisted game with the women of a small American town. Each time the dice is rolled, another victim meets a grisly end. Returning home to mourn the death of her murdered sister, Keegan (Jo Ann Harris) befriends local cop Roger and oddball cinema projectionist Billy (Steve Railsback), but soon finds herself in the killer’s sights. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
While what we now know as the slasher formula was established by 1981, not everyone making slasher movies was aware or even interested in the trend. Some filmmakers approached the material the same way they’d approach a psychological thriller or cop procedural and others were forced to add horror scenes by studios and producers that were hungry for a Halloween (1978) or Friday the 13th (1980) return on their investment. Writer/director Scott Mansfield’s underseen Deadly Games (aka: The Eliminator and Who Fell Asleep, shot in 1979/80, but shelved until 1982) – not to be confused with René Manzor’s Deadly Games (French: 3615 code Père Noël, 1989) or Peter S. Traynor’s Death Game (1977) – is a good example of this. Mansfield appears to have wanted to make a horror film from the beginning, but stalk ‘n slash scenes weren’t his key reason for writing and directing Deadly Games. It is, first and foremost, a dramatic murder mystery built around a woman’s return to her hometown and re-acquaintance with her teenhood friends. Despite occasionally awkward tonal shifts, it tends to succeed on this level, thanks to a better than average cast for an exploitation release (tough/cool guy Steve Railsback is uniquely miscast as an asthmatic, disabled misfit) and Mansfield’s ear for natural dialogue. The mystery itself isn’t very compelling, but it so rarely is.
Above its dramatic ambitions, Deadly Games is a consistently stylish film, one that owes as much of a debt to the greatest Italian gialli from the decade prior as it does to slasher prototypes, like Halloween. Besides the killer’s black leather gloves and collection of point-of-view shots, Mansfield borrows imagery from Dario Argento’s Deep Red (Italian: Profondo Rosso, 1975), in particular the close-ups of the game board, which resemble similar images of the childlike charms collected by that film’s mysterious murderer. Deadly Games tends to match the average genre quotient for sex and nudity (despite its characters’ maturity, compared to the horny teens of the Friday the 13th movies), but its kills are basically bloodless, which, I suppose, may turn off the same viewers that would be annoyed by the long stretches of characters flirting, going on cute dates, and idly chatting. Personally, I found the pool murder and climax plenty atmospheric (if not abrupt) and, frankly, future Simpsons’ voice actress Jo Ann Harris to be such a charming lead that I probably would’ve enjoyed Deadly Games as a straight rom-com, shorn of its horror movie trappings.
Deadly Games is – or I guess was – an extremely rare film to find on home video. It had at least one Stateside VHS release from Monterey Home Video, but I never saw it in a video store and every bootleg I could find swimming around the internet is built from a German tape. Needless to say, there is no DVD version available in any country. Arrow’s Blu-ray debut features a new 2K restoration of the “recently-unearthed” original camera negative. The 1.85:1, 1080p transfer is almost shockingly good, considering the film’s age, rarity, and, um, ‘unearthedness,’ and is limited only by the inconsistencies of the original material. R. Michael Stringer’s moody photography is one of the film’s biggest highlights, but for every five beautifully rendered, deep, dark shots, there is another where the delicate lighting schemes make things particularly grainy. Still, there really isn’t any notable digital noise/snow piled on top of the grain, so I assume that this is an accurate portrayal of the footage. Details are tight without oversharpening haloes, the colors are natural in daylight, and consistently cool during nighttime images.
Deadly Games is presented in its original mono and DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. The track is clean and clear where it counts, but does have its share of squeezed moments. Since the codec is uncompressed, my guess is that the original material had fuzz problems and the noise reduction software pressed the quieter sequences a bit too much. So long as there’s more than just basic dialogue going on, the track sounds great and elements are neatly layered. Former Afterschool Special composer and pop songwriter Hod David Schudson (Maxwell’s “Pretty Wings” is among his credits) and orchestrator/composer Richard Thompson’s score mixes a slightly old-fashioned ‘60s thriller sound with disco breaks and post-Carpenter synth compositions. Schudson’s influence leads to a surprising number of original songs, some sung by 1983 Star Search winner Monica Pege.
Commentary with The Hysteria Continues – Podcasters Justin Kerswell (also author of The Teenage Slasher Movie Book [Companion House, 2018]), Joseph Henson, Erik Threlfall, and Nathan Johnson have a fun time appreciating and poking fun at the film. They discuss all the things that make Deadly Games unique among the early ‘80s slashers, coincidental and intended inspirations, its production/release history, swinging/wife-swapping in ‘70s cinema (which they note is not common for slashers), and the odd script inconsistencies.
Sooty’s a Sh*t (24:15, HD) – Actress Jere Rae-Mansfield gives a solid account of the making of the film and not only from a performer’s point-of-view, though she, of course, spends most of the interview talking about her bigger career, auditioning for the part, costume hijinks, and working with the rest of the cast.
Practical Magic (21:39, HD) – Special effects and stunt coordinator John Eggett chats about stumbling into the film industry, the films he worked on, his job on Deadly Games, playing the killer during stunts (the final shot did not go well), and how he and his crew pulled off various gags.
Original screenplay under the title Who Fell Asleep
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.