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Death Game (Grindhouse Releasing) Blu-ray Review

    Ian Jane

  • Death Game (Grindhouse Releasing) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Grindhouse Releasing
    Released on: November 15th, 2022.
    Director: Peter Traynor
    Cast: Seymour Cassel, Sondra Locke, Colleen Camp
    Year: 1977
    Purchase From Amazon

    Death Game – Movie Review:

    "This motion picture is based on a true story. It should serve to remind us that fate allows no man to insulate himself against the evil which pervades our society."

    Death Game opens on October 10th, 1975 in San Francisco, California, which just so happens to be the fortieth birthday of a man named George Manning (Seymour Cassel). When the film opens, he’s celebrating it with a quiet game of croquet with his wife, Karen (Beth Brickell), their white cat looking on from the sidelines. Shortly after they decide to head upstairs and fool around, the phone rings. It’s Karen’s mother and their son, who is visiting with his sister, has taken ill. She rushes out the door and hops in the car to go tend to their son, leaving George alone.

    That night, during a torrential downpour, the doorbell rings. George opens it and is surprised to find two very pretty – and very wet – young women on his stoop: Agatha Jackson (Sondra Locke) and her friend Donna (Colleen Camp). They tell him that they’re lost, and ask to come in to use his phone. He obliges, clearly intrigued, and soon enough they’re enjoying his fancy stereo system and some hot chocolate while they dry off and wait for a friend of theirs to swing by and pick them up. One things leads to another, and George while he protests at first, he soon gives in to their feminine charms and winds up having a three-way with the two young women in his hot tub.

    He wakes up the next morning, surprised that they’re not only still in the house, but making breakfast. He politely insists that they be on their way but Agatha starts to get pretty aggressive with him, even while Karen insists that she’s in love with him and remains the more flirtatious of the pair. When George threatens to call the police, Agatha tells him that he’d better not – because they’re both underage and more than happy to tell the cops that he did what he did, which would likely see him brought up on statutory rape charges….

    Death Game is a really well-made thriller thanks in no small part to some intriguing plot twists, strong production values and some really strong acting from the three principal performers. Peter Traynor’s direction keeps things interesting, with the tension ramping up quite nicely in the film’s second half, tying together elements of horror and eroticism into what turns out to be a pretty fascinating power struggle between George and his two opponents. Given that the vast majority of the film plays out inside George’s, admittedly very nice, California home, it’s important that the locations work as well as they do. We know from the very start that he’s a man of wealth and while we don’t know much about his two blonde foes, they seem to come from less than perfect backgrounds, making this as much a battle of the haves and the have-nots as it is a battle of the sexes. There’s also the generational gap that comes into play, as George is literally old enough to be a father to either of these girls.

    Seymour Cassel, who did loads of film and TV work over his career such as The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie and Convoy, is perfectly cast as George. We have an idea of what he’s in for a soon as the two girls appear on screen but he seems a little oblivious, at least at first, even if by modern standards a middle-aged man inviting two young women into your home without any accompaniment would seem to be a recipe for trouble. As they become more aggressive with him and things start to shift into strange, twisted directions, his performance sees George’s alpha male status quickly denigrate into something weaker very effectively. Colleen Camp, as the more innocent seeming of the two, is also very good here. She plays her part with a lot of perky, quirky energy and has great chemistry with a scene-stealing Locke. As Agatha, Locke is as sinister as she is sexy, and she does a great job of bringing an extremely manipulative character to vibrant life.

    Death Game – Blu-ray Review:

    Taken from a new 4k restoration of the original 35mm negative, Death Game looks great on a 50GB Blu-ray disc in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 2.39.1 widescreen. There’s plenty of detail noticeable throughout the presentation and lots of depth here as well. The colors look fantastic, especially once the green and red lighting filters kick in during the movie’s second half, while skin tones look lifelike and accurate throughout. We get strong shadow detail and nice, deep black levels here as well. While the image retains the expected amount of film grain, which can be heavier in some scenes than others, the picture is, overall, very clean and shows virtually no actual print damage at all. The transfer is devoid of any noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifacts and it generally looks excellent from start to finish.

    Audio chores are handled by a 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono mix in the film’s native English. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. Again, the quality is strong. The score and the music used in the movie has nice depth and range while the dialogue is always clean, clear and easy to follow. There are no problems with any hiss or any distortion and the levels are properly balanced throughout. The sound effects have some decent punch to them as well. No problems to note here, the movie sounds very strong.

    Extras are spread across the two discs in this set as follows:

    Disc One:

    Extras on the first disc start off with an audio commentary from Colleen Camp and Eli Roth, who remade the film as Knock Knock starring Keanu Reeves in 2015. These two have a really good chemistry on the track and both are in good spirits. They talk about the warning that precedes the movie proper and the true story elements, before then going on to talk about where Camp's career was at the time that the movie was made and how she landed the part, the film's scattered release history, how Clint Eastwood saw the film before his relationship with Sandra Locke turned into what it would become, what Traynor was like as a director, the realism that was in the scenes and what was improvised versus what was rehearsed, how she got along with Locke and Cassel, what it was like filming the sex scene, the film's screwy release history, what her parents thought about the movie when they saw it and lots more. This is a fine talk. Roth knows the film well and Camp has a really sharp memory and seems keen on sharing her experiences from the shoot.

    A second commentary features producer Larry Spiegel and cinematographer/editor David Worth. They talk about the complications of getting certain shots done right, such as the opening scene with The Golden Gate Bridge, how hard the film was to see, the different camera tricks used in the movie, how Worth wound up getting the gig on the shoot and how he took the part because of the casting, where Speigel's car was used in the film, working with Traynor on the picture, having to bring the film in on a short schedule, the lighting that was used and the lenses that were needed, Worth's having to strip down and get into the Jacuzzi to shoot the sex scene, the quality of acting that they got out of the three leads in the movie and more. There's a few spots where they go quiet and a few spots where they narrate what's happening on screen but the technical information in here, mostly from Worth, about his experiences shooting certain scenes is quite interesting.

    There's also a theatrical trailer for the feature included here as well.

    Not enough? A second bonus feature film is also included here in the form of Little Miss Innocence, which makes a great companion piece to Death Game. This movie, directed by Chris Warfield in 1972, begins when a music mogul named Rick Engels (John Alderman) stops his car on the side of the highway to pick up Carol (Sandy Dempsey) and Judy (Judy Medford), two foxy young ladies in need of a ride to Hollywood. He drops them off unaware that they found his address info while poking around in his stuff and later that night they show up at his door expecting to be put up. The night goes well for Rick as he winds up in bed with one and then the other but the next day, after returning from work, he finds that the girls have gotten too comfortable in his place and have turned it into a bit of a flophouse.

    Rick, understandably, objects to his but he's obviously very perceptible to their feminine charms and the girls seem to have a knack for making him see things their way. Eventually, however, Rick has had enough. He goes to give them the boot but then they let it slide that Judy is only sixteen and as Rick did the dirty deed with her, they'll rat him out and he'll wind up hauled in on rape charges! Not sure what else to do, Rick lets them continue to crash and he continues to provide for them in more way than one. Time passes and Judy starts to think they should soften up and take it easy on the old guy but Rick's starting to get fed up while Carol's mean streak is only now just starting to show how intense it really is.

    With none other than Ray Dennis Steckler credited with the camera work on this one and George 'Buck' Flower the assistant director, this is a weird mix of sexploitation, comedy and quirky melodrama that throws in plenty of skin and goofy line readings. John Alderman is fun to watch as the male lead in the film and he suits the part well. He's a bit lecherous at first, as you'd expect given that he's an older guy picking up two young ladies, but as the tables start to turn on him his performance becomes more interesting than what it started as. He gets nervous, understandably, and he plays the part well.

    Of course, most will want to check this out not for Alderman but for Judy Medford and, probably more specifically, for Sandy Dempsey. Both ladies are in fine form here and do decent work. Dempsey plays the bitch character well Medford the supposedly more innocent type just as well. It's not a fancy or flashy film but it's got some cool music and plenty of odd details throughout that keep your eyes darting about.

    Little Miss Innocence is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.85.1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 2.0 English language audio, there are no subtitles. Picture quality is quite strong, the image is clean and nicely detailed and the audio is also of good quality.

    There's also a pretty fun Easter Egg easily found off the main menu that, when enabled, plays a seventeen minute film called Cast Care that Traynor directed in 1985 starring Ricardo Montalbon and featuring a lot of wacky break dancing!

    Disc Two:
    One disc two, we start off with the Interviews section where things begin with Ruthless - The Peter Traynor Story, which runs an hour and fifty minutes. Hosted by Eli Roth, this sprawling piece allows Traynor, who passed away in 2019 four weeks after this interview was recorded, to go over pretty much every minute detail of his career. He talks about how he got into the industry, making his directorial feature debut with Death Game, his work as a producer in the exploitation movie arena of the seventies, his personal life and his upbringing in Boston, and what he's done with his time outside of the film industry as well. It's a very thorough and comprehensive look at the career of a man who led quite an interesting life and has a lot of stories to tell.

    Colleen Camp - In The Moment is a sixty-one minute featurette with Roth again interviewing Camp. They talk about the early days of her career, how she landed the role in Death Game, getting along well with her co-stars, Traynor's directing style, shooting some of the more intense and complicated scenes in the movie, problems that arose due to the movie's odd financial backing and a fair bit more.

    Sondra Locke - Death Game Telephone Interview is a fifteen minute recording of a phone call wherein Locke, who passed away in 2018, talks about how she met Clint Eastwood and the personal and professional relationships that came of that, making Death Game and her thoughts on the script versus how the movie turned out once finished and how she got along with Camp and Cassel. This audio interview plays out over a series of stills and behind the scenes pictures from the movie, the interview was conducted by Mike White of The Projection Booth podcast.

    If more Lock is what you’re after, you can also listen to the complete recording of White’s interview sessions with the actress. In this forty-four minute piece she goes into quite a bit more detail about her work in the film industry both in front of and behind the camera, working with Eastwood and other projects that she’s had a hand in over the years.

    Game Changers - Larry Spiegel & David Worth is a forty-five minute featurette in which the producer and cinematographer of Death Game, at one point joined by a really cute dog, talk about how they came to meet and eventually work with each other and with Traynor, what brought them together to work on Death Game, the importance that the film had on Worth's then fledgling career and issues that arose between Traynor and his leading man on this film.

    A Tale Of Two Scripts - By Michael Ronald Ross is a forty-four minute interview with one of the credited writers on the film about the two very different versions of the script that were written for the movie. He notes how the original version was written in 1971, then how and why it was redone in 1974, the influence of the Manson cult on the later version of the movie, and how he feels about the way that Traynor delivered the story in the final version of the movie.

    The disc also includes quite a few still galleries showing off production stills, Peter Traynor, various promotional materials for the movie, VHS release art and cover art.

    Lastly, we get trailers for a batch of Grindhouse Releasing properties (Hollywood 90028, Scum Of The Earth, Love Is Deep Inside, Ice House, Family Enforcer, Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox, Massacre Mafia Style, Gone With The Pope, The Beyond, Cat In The Brain, An American Hippie In Israel, Corruption, The Swimmer, The Big Gundown, I Drink Your Blood, Captive Females, The Tough Ones and Impulse), some Blu-ray production credits and a few more fun Easter Eggs including a five minute promo for Lincoln-Mercury's new leasing program with narration from Sir Laurence Olivier, a second industrial/medical film that runs eleven minutes once again hosted by Montalban (both directed by Traynor), a quick snipped with Ross talking about how he found out about Knock Knock and some racy modelling photos that Camp did in the early part of her career.

    Grindhouse has also done an excellent job with the packaging for this release. In addition to a full color insert book containing a detailed essay on the movie by David Szulkin titled ‘Death Game, Replayed’ that goes into its interesting history, the two discs sit inside a sturdy clear Blu-ray keepcase that contains some nice reversible cover sleeve art and fits nicely inside an embossed side-loading slipcover.

    Death Game - The Final Word:

    Grindhouse Releasing's Blu-ray release of the Death Game is an excellent presentation of an excellent film. The transfer is fantastic and the disc is loaded with some really solid extras, including a high definition presentation of a complete second feature! As to Death Game itself, it’s a very well-made, tense and unique picture that benefits from some superb acting and stylish direction and photography. Highly recommended!

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