Cinematic Void January Giallo 2023: Deadly Games (1982)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Cinematic Void will be playing this American giallo on Saturday, January 14 at 9:30 PM at the Sie Film Center in Denver, CO with CV’s Jim Branscome in person (tickets here). For more information, visit Cinematic Void. There’s also a great blu ray of this movie from Arrow that you can get from MVD.

Deadly Games may have been sold as a slasher, but it’s more of a murder mystery. Sure, the killings are pretty intense — a long drowning, burying a victim alive — but it’s maybe even less a murder mystery and more a late 70s, early 80s small town romantic drama where lots of people swing and one of them — either a cop or Vietname vet — is a masked killer.

It’s interesting how little this movie cares about fitting into any neat and clean box.

Clarissa Jane Louise “Keegan” Lawrence (Jo Anne Harris) is a rock journalist back home after the death of her sister, a murder that she’s out to solve. After all, her sister didn’t jump out of a window like that, right? She had to have been thrown.

Dick Butkis, the Chicago Bears linebacker legend that had such a long career after that as a kid I just thought he was an actor, owns a coffee shop in town. That’s where a lot of the exposition happens, like how strange Billy Owens (Steve Railsback) is, a Vietnam soldier not back home all in one mental piece who is obsessed with monster movies and his horror-themed game of Chutes and Ladders and oh yeah, he also lives in an old movie theater and sounds like someone I’d go out of my way to be friends with. That said, it’s set up that he has to be the masked killer. Certainly the killer can’t be Sheriff Roger Lane (Sam Groom), because he’s nice and plays on the swings and romances Keegan.

Director and writer Scott Mansfield seems out to make a movie that makes you believe it’s a slasher and then pulls the rug out from under you with an ending that completely predates Scream — without spoilers, but man, that does feel like a spoiler.

The board hame in this is Universal monsters inspired and I love that Roger and Billy have been playing it for decades, as well as the killer somehow knowing way too much about it. I can only wish I still had friends ready to play a board game that often.

Coleen Camp and June Lockhart are in this as well, so my casting brain was quite impressed by who Mansfield got to be in this movie.

It’s not perfect, it’s probably too long and too talky, but I enjoyed the laid back vibe of Deadly Games. The last ten minutes are worth the time that it takes to get there and I was pretty surprised by the leap that the film makes.

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