Sunday, September 18, 2011

DEADLY GAMES (1982) - a kinda slasher that co-stars super manly man Dick Butkus as a subversive veil for homoerotic subtext

In order to honor another football season freshly begun, here is a review of a movie that costars hall of fame linebacker Dick Butkus.

“He was an animal…and every time he hit you he tried to put you in the cemetery, not the hospital”
-Deacon Jones

Although Deacon was referring to the great Chicago Bears middle linebacker Dick Butkus, he may as well have been talking about Jason Voorhees. Although this might resemble similar hyperbole used by football announcers (“he destroyed that guy!”), one gets the feeling opposing players actually believed the hype when it came to facing Butkus. The proof, in one case, is in the proverbial pudding.

October 24th, 1971. Tiger Stadium. The Lions were trailing the Bears late into the fourth quarter and were driving. With Butkus fast approaching, wide receiver Chuck Hughes went over the middle of the field as the quarterback unfurled a pass. Chuck fell limp just as the football fell incomplete. The poor bastard suffered a heart attack, and Dick was standing over him as he died. It is standard hyperbole to say that a receiver “fears for his life” going over the middle with a crazed linebacker ready to take him out. I guess his heart couldn’t stand the hype.

Of course, this has nothing to do with anything, except to say that the director casts Dick against type as the sex object coffee shop chef, and even has him playing football (in a Dick Butkus jersey) while the girls reference the homosexual qualities inherent in the game. This shows a subversive slant to the material, which really comes to fruition once the titty twister ending is concluded.

This is really the story of Clarissa Jane Louise “Keegan” Lawrence (wait ‘till she gets married and adds some hyphenated names to that monstrosity). She’s a perky, witty rock journalist who heads back to her hometown after her sister mysteriously dies, and thereby relives her adolescence. Of course, sis was killed by a heavy breathing asshole, thrown out of a window after a classic cat and mouse charade and well appreciated breast exposure. However, the pork officer numbskulls think she committed suicide, but Keegan has her doubts, and intends to use her investigative skills (normally utilized to procure ribald orgy stories from heroin addicted rock twits) to find the mad slasher responsible for this incorrigibly assisted window leap.

We meet Keegan’s former girlfriends and soon-to-be victims at Butkus’ coffee shop, and are introduced to our main suspect, the local crazy Vietnam vet (played by Steve Railsback), who apparently lives in an old theater and watches horror movies when he’s not playing a Universal monster version of Chutes and Ladders. Also, the lead piggy on the case is an old Vietnam buddy of Railsback. Keegan develops a relationship with the cop, investigative and otherwise. You know, screwing one of the red herrings may not be a smart move. Railsback becomes the third wheel in a fevered, nearly romantic montage which includes: going for a walk in the park, playing on the swings, throwing a football around, playing that creepy board game, and indulging in that movie date staple The Monster Walks, all to the tune of a poor man’s Dionne Warwick (that is, if a man might hypothetically listen to Dionne Warwick).

All the while, we interrupt this foolishness with some solid stalk sequences (hampered a bit by bad lighting) where-in one or the other gook stompers are presented as the possible perp. In one particularly ruthless murder, a girl is buried alive in a fresh grave dug in like five seconds, her tombstone reading “Here lies Chris Howlett, who fell asleep Jan 25, 1980”, conveying the cold, clinical finality of a dirt nap. "Who fell asleep?" is also the film’s alternate title, but, unfortunately, the movie was never reviewed by Gene Shalit under said title. The body of the review undoubtedly would have read "I sure did!”. I guessed we all missed out on another overly concise, three-word descent into repressed mustachioed terseness.


In the aforementioned titty twister, Keegan is stalked in the theater by both psycho vets, stumbling through a room of mannequins and props before being presumably killed by a rope swinging Railsback in front of a movie screen. The twist here is that the revealed killer (the cop) and the red herring (Railsback) are both responsible, having been in malicious cahoots the entire time. Of course, I’m inferring some of this, but such is life with a vague, under lit, freeze frame ending. I suppose the video manufacturers realized the ending may be a bit unsatisfying to many viewers, so they included three extremely satisfying trailers. One for the incredible Dynamite Chicken, another for the irrepressible Tubes and one of their concerts, and the third for a mysteriously-unknown-to-me-prior Alfie sequel with Alan Price and Joan Collins. If that doesn’t catch your fancy, you can stare at the amazing box cover, which shows the iron fist of god tossing spiked dice at a pool of screaming blood, which has absolutely nothing to do with the film, but looks like a Dio album cover, and therefore gets a pass.

Here we have two impotent males, unable to secure a female relationship or completely cross-over into raging homosexuality, stuck in a netherworld of fantasies, played out through horror films/board games and some ass-slapping football contests (and not to mention plugging Vietcong commies). Keegan’s demise becomes part of their misogynistic fantasies, completely eschewing the “logical” motive. Instead, the film plummets into the depressing depths of pure, unadulterated hatred of women for its own sake (a refreshing change of pace from the usual “hey, the killer has a motive for murdering women" excuse). This is assuming I successfully applied my vast knowledge of repressive psychology to…oh wait…never mind. Forget I said anything. It's probably all bullshit anyway. Boy, I'm excited for football season. I can't wait to watch those guys throw the ball around and tackle each other and roll around and stuff. It's gonna be fucking great.

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