Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 10, 2022)
Steve Railsback seems best known for his portrayal of Charles Manson in 1976’s Helter Skelter. He returns as part of the cast for 1982’s horror tale Deadly Games.
Linda Lawrence (Alexandra Morgan) dies mysteriously. Some suspect suicide, but others believe a murderer may lurk.
Estranged stepsister Keegan Lawrence (Jo Ann Harris) returns to town after this event. She gets involved in the investigation, all while she reintegrates with the town she abandoned.
The early 80s acted as a “golden age” for slasher movies. We got umpteen variations on these themes for a few years until the genre eventually collapsed under the weight of so many entries.
Given how many horror flicks in this vein we got back then, it becomes more difficult for any to stand out from the crowd. This raises the bar for Games, as it needs to find something different to maintain our attention 40 years after its release.
On one hand, Games does veer down unusual paths for the genre. Unfortunately, all of these fail miserably.
Games starts on a moderately promising note, as we get some gratuitous – but appealing – nudity and then the initial murder. While nothing about the opening sequence dazzles, it sets us up for some decent suspense.
And then… kablooey. After Games primes us to get a tense horror tale, the story ventures into an odd mix of comedy and melodrama.
When we first meet Keegan, she appears weirdly unaffected by her stepsister’s death. Sure, Games establishes that the pair weren’t especially close, but as she trades witty banter with local cop Roger Lane (Sam Groom), the movie’s tone comes across as bizarre and awkward.
Matters don’t improve from there. As Keegan reacquaints herself with folks she used to know, Games goes all soap opera on us. We learn about various relationship shenanigans and other personal issues among the townsfolk.
This tends to feel like the filler it is, and one wonders when the filmmakers will remember they promised a horror movie. Too much of Games dallies with this mix of sitcom and “adult drama”, as the movie barely bothers to attempt thrills.
Occasionally we get another kill, and Games strives to set up the usual red herrings/suspects. It seems out of touch with reality, though, especially in regard to the Keegan/Roger relationship.
After their “meet cute” – at the site of her stepsister’s murder! – Keegan and Roger flirt endlessly, and in insane ways. Roger has a habit of breaking into Keegan’s house, hiding in the shadows and startling her.
Intensely inappropriate as this is, Keegan never reacts as though she sees anything out of the ordinary. In the crazed, warped world of Games, this is what passes for romance.
Bizarre as all this seems, I could live with the detachment from the real world if Games went anywhere. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, it comes chock full of filler, and it struggles badly to occupy even its brief 95-minute running time.
This leads to endless, superfluous sequences like one in which the local men play football in the park. While it offers a smidgen of character information, it runs far too long for its narrative value.
And then we get a “date” between Keegan and Roger at the movie house, one that also involves local oddball Billy Owens (Railsback). It also delivers some minor nuggets of worth, but it expands far too much energy to get there.
I can’t overstate how many strange decisions occur during this supposed horror flick. Firmly into the third act – just when the tension should ramp up – we find ourselves in an endless montage during which Keegan and Roger romp and act like they’re in the middle of a standard rom-com.
We even find musical accompaniment from a Streisand-alike song called “Lost In Love Again”! Perhaps the filmmakers figured these tonal deviations from the standard horror tale would give the (very rare) violent scenes more impact, but they thought wrong, as the movie’s mostly light tone just feels perplexing and problematic.
Even the actual “horror scenes” seem misguided. (Spoiler alert!)
In one of these, the intended victim ends up on an exceedingly large “grave”. The killer does nothing other than slowly shovel dirt on her while she screams.
The woman doesn’t attempt to flee – she just allows herself to get buried alive in a situation where she easily could’ve at least attempted to leave. If this isn’t the dumbest murder scene in horror movie history, what is?
None of the actors ever seem to be on the same page. Harris plays Keegan like she believes she’s in a screwball comedy from the 1930s, while Groom feels like every handsome, generic stud from 1980s “nighttime dramas” like Dynasty.
Railsback appears stuck in “Manson mode”, as he creates a pretty standard Creepy Loner with Billy. At least Railsback brings some dark energy to the part – and he alone seems to understand that he exists in a thriller.
Unfortunately, no one else involved – either in front of or behind the camera – appeared to realize that. Deadly Games offers one of the least compelling and most tepid attempts at a horror flick I’ve ever seen.