When we think of slasher movies we often imagine masked killers chasing lusty teens, often after said teen has done some drugs or engaged in some kind of sexual activity. It’s become so baked into the genre that when I began watching Deadly Games I was very surprised when it turned out to be a very different kind of film; one that felt like more of a Giallo style thriller than a slasher movie.
The film begins with a young woman alone at home in the dark of night, feeling like someone is watching her from the shadows. After receiving a creepy telephone call someone breaks into the house, and she ends up being thrown through a window, falling down a steep cliff to her death. The following day the woman’s sister, Keegan (Jo Ann Harris), returns to town. Despite having moved away a while ago, and not really liking her sister, Keegan feels like it’s her duty to come home and try to spend some time with her family.
She also begins to reconnect with some old friends, including Roger Lane (Sam Groom), who’s married to one of her friends and is the cop investigating the murder. As Keegan begins to settle back into her old life she learns that many of her friends have fairly open marriages, and it seems like most of the people in town are sleeping with each other; thus, she doesn’t feel too bad when she and Roger begin to grow closer. But when another murder happens it becomes clear that there’s a serial killer at work.
Deadly Games feels pretty different from a lot of 80’s slasher films, a lot more mature in certain ways. The cast is older, with the main characters all being in their late twenties or thirties, there’s a lot less of an emphasis on gore and imaginative kills, and more of the run time is given over to the relationships between the characters than any actual killing. After the first murder, which happens within the opening scene, the next doesn’t happen until half way through the film.
Instead, Deadly Games focuses on the people, and we follow Keegan as she returns to a life she left behind and begins to try to navigate the intricate lives she finds once back. Characters tend to feel rather dubious at best, with most of the people we meet cheating on their partners, lying, and sneaking around in some way. It’s hinted at that some of the dalliances that happen are done so with the consent of their married partners, but definitely not all of them. If anything, the film feels more like a soap opera than a slasher at times, and the fact that a number of TV and soap stars appear definitely help with that impression.
But the film is a slasher, and there are killings that happen. Whilst most of them are fairly tame, and the killings aren’t the most creative part of the film, the fact that it kept me guessing about who the killer was through most of it was the more entertaining aspect. The two main suspects are pretty well crafted, with Roger being a big contender, as well as Billy (Steve Railsback), an injured Vietnam veteran being set out to be a possible murderer. Both actors play their parts well, and I found myself going back and forth over who it could be more than once. The mystery at the heart of the film was easily the best part, and what I think pushed it more into the thriller genre than horror for me.
As well as presenting the movie in a newly restores 2K restoration from the original camera negative, quite easily the best looking the film has ever been, the new release from Arrow Video comes with a full length audio commentary by The Hysteria Continues, a podcast that specialises in slasher movies. Alongside this there’s a new interview with actor Jere Rae-Mansfield, and special effects and stunt coordinator John Eggett. There’s also an image gallery, with never before seen behind the scenes photos, and the original trailer. And if you access the BB-ROM content you can check out the original script, which includes a number of scenes that were cut from the film.
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Deadly Games is an odd movie, one that feels like it’s mislabelled as a slasher, but makes for a pretty good thriller. With some good performances from the cast, and an interesting take on small town American life, it very much feels like the kind of film you wouldn’t get today, and anyone interested in cinema history will find a lot to enjoy here.
Deadly Games is out on Blu-ray on 21st February from Arrow Video.