Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Film Review: Death Game

I remember watching this nasty seldom seen women's lib gone bad flick whilst blasted on LSD back in '89 or '90 and being totally freaked out. It's psychedelic journey into male degradation, female madness, murder, and total anarchy was perfect for my warped and deviant sensibilities at the time. Well, kids, these days I'm straight edge to the (hard)core, and 1977s "Death Game" (aka "The Seducers" and "Mr. Manning's Weekend") STILL freaks me out. The simple story of generic family man George Manning tormented by two teenage maniacs in a surreal home invasion from hell is psychosexual drama at its finest.

The film opens with a bizarre upbeat song about "Dear Old Dad" set to a backdrop of a little kid's drawings of a happy home, with Mom and Dad, Spot and the proverbial Picket Fence. We are then introduced to the Mannings, an affluent, happily married couple living in San Francisco whose son is off visiting Grandma. It's George the architect's 40th birthday, but the celebration is cut short when Granny calls to say that the kid has come down with appendicitis and is headed for emergency surgery. Mrs. Manning packs up and leaves, but George stays home (for reasons unknown) for a lonely 40th. Little does he know what chaos the night will bring...

George (the great character actor Seymour Cassel, looking like a total 70s porn star) is chillin' in his fab living room, listening to ethnicky jazz on his 5 grand stereo, smoking butts and drinking scotch, when the doorbell rings. It's a torrential rainstorm out and 2 nubile blondes are at the door looking to use the telephone as they are lost. Agatha (Sondra Locke, 29 playing 17) is clearly in charge as she barges into the house, furtively casing the joint while simultaneously charming the vulnerable guy. Following her somewhat timidly is the voluptuous, wide-eyed Donna (Colleen Camp, 22 playing 15), who is in obvious awe of George's wealth and possessions. Within minutes, the girls have taken over the house, playing with the stereo, messing with the humongous fishtank, and chowing down on some food. The chivalrous George says they can go upstairs to dry off while waiting for their ride (which of course never comes). When they don't come down after some time, he heads up and finds them in flagrante delecto in le hot tub. A cheesy threesome scene ensues, all soft-focus and sensual (Camp's breasts are much in display), with some light lesbian action; George has just had the stereotypical male fantasy, and he's going to pay for it.

The next morning George offers them a lift to the nearest bus station, but they won't leave so easily. They dress in his wife's clothes and fix breakfast. The first sign that all is not right is that when the girls eat, they act like pigs, shoving food in their faces, not using utensils, and whipping maple syrup and ketchup all over the place. When George takes them to task, Agatha ferociously accuses him of raping them and says they are minors and he must pay. To make matters worse, the child-like Donna professes that she is "in love" with George and that they should be together "forever". Though he manages to eventually get them to a bus station, when George finally arrives home that night (in the pouring rain again), there they are, lying in wait, ready for some estrogen laced revenge.

What follows is 35 minutes of sheer anarchy. The girls subdue George with some well placed blows to the head, and while he is tied up they utterly trash his upper class existence. This part of the film is handled very bizarrely by director Peter S. Traynor, with heavy use of darkness, shadows, and quick cuts. Agatha dresses as a vaudevillian performer, and Donna wears nothing but Mrs. Manning's nightgown (the sight of the bosomy Colleen Camp bouncing up and down on the king sized bed had me in LSD terrors for days). They also put on garish clown makeup as they smash the stereo, wreck statues, tear up expensive clothing, and beat the crap out of the helpless George. The contrast between the two female characters is excellent, as one moment George is harangued with a feminist diatribe from Agatha, only to be followed up by the obvious Oedipal sexual advances of the girlish Donna. In one grotesque sequence, the girls dump TONS of sticky, wet, and sloppy food all over the bound man as he writhes and cries for help. It is disturbing to say the least. Oh yeah, they also manage to bludgeon a grocery delivery boy to death when he arrives and hears George's screams for help. They stuff his body into the gigantic fish tank while George looks on in horror, his once cozy life in shambles.

The final macabre scene is George's "trial", presided over by Judge Agatha, for the crimes of statutory rape, corruption of minors, and other imagined perversities. The scene is relentless as George begs for his life, to no avail. The sentence can only be death. Agatha raises a meat cleaver above George's head as the salivating Donna looks on, and....

I won't give away the ending (for once) because it is so random, so out of nowhere, and so absurd, that you have to see it for yourselves. Some people have said that it's ridiculous, but I think it is in keeping with the anarchic message of the film. Sometimes an ordered life needs chaos to bring it redemption, yet that chaos is still subject to some kind of bizarre karma in the end. "Death Game" is an unpleasant film, "torture porn" in reverse (before it even existed), but it has a serious message and is well done. And for those of you who have seen the ending, remember to look both ways before crossing the street.