Shot in roughly 2 weeks in 1974, Death Game’s production was doomed from the start. The original director was fired at the last second, and producer Peter S. Traynor took over. His complete lack of anything resembling a clue caused the entire cast to basically stop speaking to him. Colleen Camp and (post Oscar nomination, pre Clint Eastwood) Sondra Locke only bothered to inform him that they preferred he stay the fuck out of the way of day to day filming. Male lead Seymour Cassel quit the shoot after nearly decking his ersatz “director”. While all of Cassel’s scenes were completed before he left, he refused to come in to rerecord some lines, causing his entire performance to have to be dubbed over in post.
Production was then halted by a federal investigation into Peter Traynor’s financing sources, delaying the release of the film by over two years. When Death Game finally saw the light of day in 1977, it promptly flopped in a six month theatrical run. Retitled as The Seducers, the movie had some modest success on the home video market before becoming a common add on to those $5 50 movie box sets that sit by the checkout line at big box retailers.
In honor of the upcoming Grindhouse Releasing restoration, let’s take a look at what will soon be (incorrectly) hailed as a lost grindhouse classic, and you too can be one of the cool kids who liked this movie better when it sucked:
All you need to know about the credits sequence is that this print was ripped from VHS (hence the title) and that it is a full 4:45 of a woman with a faux fishwife accent singing about “dear old dad” who “taught both table manners and the birds and bees”. I wondered what in the fuck those two things had to do with each other, made a mildly off color eating reference, then began praying for my own death or the end of the song, whichever occurred first.
This porn ‘stache having gent is George, our somewhat hairy hero. The film’s events take place on his birthday, which he spent playing cinema’s first ever game of strip croquet with his wife, before she traveled out of town to get his son some needed surgery. He has a nice chat with his son on the phone, telling him how great he thinks it is that he wants to bring his newly removed appendix to school.
Just as he is about to settle in by the fire with a drink, these two bits of ridden hard and put away wet come knocking, and ask to use his phone. Because he’s the sort of guy who thinks a human organ is great for show and tell, he lets the women in.
The brunette is Donna, and the blonde introduces herself as Jackson. George agrees to let them stay until a friend comes to pick them up, and offers them hot cocoa and fresh towels to dry off, warm up, and allow more subtle peeks of skin for him to low key leer at. While Jackson nips off to use what she inexplicably refers to as the “catbox”, George acts like a first class out of touch doofus around Donna, trying to impress her with some elevator music he claims his kids gave him.
When the girls become transfixed by such amazing amenities as running water, they decide to have a skinny dip in the hot tub. When George discovers them cavorting about, he puts up some token resistance before joining them for a threesome. I’m sure his strip croquet partner will be less than thrilled with George’s sudden fondness for water polo. In the meantime, we get a 5 minute montage of head, shoulders, knees, and man ass. The music is so utterly redolent of 70’s porn, I had my speakers tested for syphilis. We also get a lot of weird B roll landscape and sunrise shots mixed in, for those cheap weed and consciousness raising vibes.
Morning comes, and so does the regret, but the girls are all smiles and offers of breakfast. They refuse to leave and are clearly both less cute and more crazy by daylight. However, it is their messy eating habits rather than the several obvious screws loose that causes George to scream at Donna and Jackson to get dressed and GTFO. The chords of the “Dear Old Dad” theme start up again. I wear a matching hangdog expression to the still above. Instead of anything relevant to the plot, we get a 30 second close up of ketchup slowly dribbling from the bottle, while discordant noise stacks up on the soundtrack. I am not kidding about this.
In a rare moment of clarity, someone in the editing bay realized that was ungodly boring, and we get this instead:
Disco strings swell in the background as Jackson deep throats a banana. Donna smashes out random notes on the piano, and the pair inform George they won’t be leaving, after all. Jackson claims to be 17, and Donna only 15. They have no qualms at all letting George be shuttled off as a sex offender if he tries to make them go.
Sondra Locke was 30 years old, and Colleen Camp was 21 years old in 1974. It’s obvious to anyone who isn’t an idiot that both of these ladies are clearly of legal age. However, George has proven to be exactly that, and panics at the threat. His response is to offer them a ride anywhere they want, and soon we are on another boring b roll filled field trip. The threat of another refrain of “Dear Old Dad” is cueing up on the soundtrack.
Thinking he’s left his bad life decisions behind in San Francisco, George has another cozy telephone chat with his wife, which is of no consequence other than the fact that his family is coming home the next afternoon.
Back at home after a long day of lowering the bar, George gets knocked out and bound to his own bed by Jackson and Donna, who while rather poor at basic life skills like bathing and using forks, can at least plan a successful fake out. Now that they’ve got him where they want him, the girls….jump on the bed. They put on make up, and play dress up in George’s wife’s clothing, showing some likely to be distributor mandated nudity. They cackle. A lot. “Dear Old Dad” plays yet AGAIN on the soundtrack.
They beat George up a bit for not looking particularly terrified, and Donna makes a sad speech about being molested, and that George is her new daddy now because he was so nice to her. We are now halfway through the movie and it’s the first legitimately disturbing thing either of the pair have managed.
Because all less stupid things must come to an end, the girls drag George down the hall and coat him with all of the food in the house. They cackle. Boy do they ever cackle. They cackle so much I feel like I’m back in primary school conjugating verbs. I cackle. She cackles. They cackle. We cackle. I will cackle. She will cackle. We will cackle. They will cackle. Assume cackling happens anytime the female leads are on screen for more than 3 seconds.
Realizing they have no more stolen food to actually eat, Donna orders groceries, and George makes his first non moronic decision of the film. The second the delivery man rings the doorbell, he starts screaming for help.
To keep him from snitching, Jackson and Donna drown the poor delivery guy in the oversized fishtank. We are now over an hour into a movie originally titled Death Game, and the first (and thus far only) death is barely visible behind a green gel filter. This game sucks.
There’s a long, sleep inducing sequence of a mock “trial” the girls subject George to. All it really is the same threats of rape allegations, breaking stuff and cackling as the previous hour of the movie, but with a green gel filter to make the lighting spooky this time. For real(ly dumb), I’m serious(ly amazed this movie is still going).
The “verdict” is guilty. Shocking, really. Sentence is death at dawn. George tries to escape a second time, and gets another blow to the head for his trouble. Whimsical music plays as the girls booze and eat, making weird pseudo sex faces at each other while they munch on apples and bagels.
George is left to his concussed daydreams of the simpler times of family life and strip croquet. “Dreams” might be a bit strong of a word. It’s basically his wife’s weird sex noises from the beginning of the film on the soundtrack while the camera stays focused on ceiling eaves. Saves the $50 it would cost to bring back the actress.
After even more shriek, smash and cackle (which was totally what was lacking in this film), dawn finally arrives. Jackson picks up a cleaver, but brings it down on the pillow behind George rather than his actual neck.
As a broken George sobs, the girls finally leave, satisfied with the life ruining results of their not quite death game. They skip down the street for yet another full 4:45 minute reprise of “Dear Old Dad”, and I once again start praying for death, before recalling I’m a lifelong atheist.
An “SPCA” truck comes barreling around the corner……
….and kills old Cackle and Squeak so violently, they become photo negatives. Apparently, the Deus ex machina does answer prayers. Roll credits.