Death Game (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Oct 13, 2022
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Death Game (Blu-ray Review)

Director

Peter Traynor

Release Date(s)

1977 (November 15, 2022)

Studio(s)

Levitt-Pickman Film Corporation (Grindhouse Releasing)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: A+

Death Game (Blu-ray)

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Review

Released in 1977, Death Game (also known on home video as The Seducers) is one of those sometimes forgotten exploitation films that was re-discovered over the years, thanks in part to its 2015 remake, Knock Knock. It had a troubled production, going through a number of revisions before landing in front of the cameras, which was only the beginning of its problems. Today, many view it from different angles, some believing it to be a feminist attack on male fantasies and atrocities against women, others as a sexploitation romp with over the top performances. In truth, both facets are present in the final product, but which way viewers take it is totally subjective.

George (Seymour Cassel) is a loving husband and father. While his wife and son are away, George stays behind for an important business meeting. In the middle of a stormy night on his 40th birthday, two young women, Jackson (Sondra Locke) and Donna (Colleen Camp), show up on his doorstep, soaking wet and asking for directions. Unable to help them, he invites them in to dry off, eventually leading to a sexual tryst between all three of them. In the morning, it becomes clear that these women don’t want to leave, and they begin tormenting and torturing George, eventually revealing that they’re both underage and that they’ll serve as his personal judge, jury, and executioner.

What’s most interesting about Death Game is that it’s not straight exploitation. There’s a cynical through line pervading the film’s narrative, thanks in no small part to the music and score, which is often lighthearted and going against what’s happening in any given scene. Sondra Locke’s and Colleen Camp’s performances are very subdued until they go completely cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, dialing it up to eleven and never coming back down. Locke, in particular, wasn’t happy with the final result, partly because she didn’t get along with director Peter Traynor, but also because she wanted the film to be more of a straight-ahead thriller. The film also ran into financial difficulties during post-production and was eventually aided by MGM to help complete and distribute it. Upon release, it wasn’t received well by critics, many of whom failed to overlook its offbeat, even sardonic nature, as well as its potential feministic qualities.

In many ways, Jackson and Donna are the protagonists, but it’s not as simple as that. They’re damaged people lashing out in overt and calculated ways, but at the same time, they’re also the antagonists, and could possibly get their comeuppance in the end. Meanwhile, George is a loving family man, but he’s also guilty of cheating on his wife at the first opportunity that arises. Jackson and Donna deserve their vengeance against George, whom in their minds represents all men, but they’re also psychotic. Audiences tend to not appreciate moral gray areas, and in the case of Death Game, everybody’s at fault and everybody’s the victim. Indeed, term papers could be written about Jackson and Donna, but that’s not for an audience to decide. What we have to come to terms with is whether Death Game is effective entertainment or not, and it is, but perhaps in an unconventional and unintended way. Certain sequences feel a little long in the tooth, particularly the hot tub three-way that comically goes on far longer than it needs to, and the final shot of the film feels out of step with everything that comes before it (particularly if you’re viewing Jackson and Donna as victims), but what’s to be enjoyed is a pair of wildly manic performances from two actresses who weren’t entirely happy with the final result.

Death Game was shot by director of photography David Worth on 35 mm film with Panavision Panaflex cameras and Panavision lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 2.39:1. Grindhouse Releasing brings the film to Blu-ray for the first time with a 4K restoration of the original camera negative. Prior to this release, Death Game had been available for years in less than stellar presentations on VHS and DVD, some under the title The Seducers. As with the majority of presentations by Grindhouse Releasing, they’ve rescued the film, presenting it in its original widescreen aspect ratio for the first time, and it’s a stunner. Grain is resolved beautifully with the finer nuances in the frame coming through without fault. The bitrate is healthy, hovering comfortably in the 35 to 40 Mbps range, possibly spiking beyond that. An occasional line runs through the frame, but the majority of the presentation is clean and stable. Excellent contrast allows for deep shadows and high levels of detail in brighter scenes, while the color palette pops with effective uses of green and red. It’s very film-like, and the only way to improve it would be to release it on 4K Ultra HD with high dynamic range. Otherwise, it’s a near perfect picture.

Audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. Although it’s understandably narrow because of its source, it’s clean and provides clear dialogue exchanges and great support for score and music, as well as sound effects.

Death Game on Blu-ray sits in a clear amaray case alongside a second Blu-ray of extras, as well as a 24-page booklet featuring the essay Death Game, Replayed by David Szulkin, and a chapter listing. The insert is reversible, featuring new artwork on one side and the original theatrical artwork on the other. Everything is housed in an embossed slipcase featuring similar new artwork. The following extras are included on each disc:

DISC ONE (FILM)

  • Audio Commentary with Coleen Camp and Eli Roth
  • Audio Commentary with Larry Spiegel and David Worth
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:41)
  • Little Miss Innocence (HD – 72:09)
  • Easter Egg (SD – 17:22)

This release begins with an audio commentary featuring Colleen Camp and filmmaker Eli Roth, who worked together on the 2015’s Knock Knock. They have a fun back and forth banter with each other as Roth asks her questions about her career and her work in the film (interrupting her often, which bugged me a bit). Camp occasionally gets distracted with some of the details and becomes very emotional talking about Sondra Locke, and Eli spends much of the time keeping everything on track. It’s a surprisingly down-to-earth, and often frank discussion of the film. Next is a commentary with co-writer Larry Spiegel and cinematographer David Worth. The two men watch the film together, having not seen it in many years, commenting on it as it goes along. Their approach is more reactionary and they tend to dip in and out, with someone off mic occasionally asking them questions, but they provide many personal and production-based details.

Included as a bonus is the 1973 film Little Miss Innocence aka Teenage Innocence, which was previously released on DVD by Vinegar Syndrome. Released several years prior to Death Game, it features a very similar plot, with the difference being that the male lead is single and the two women want to literally screw him to death. With cinematography by Ray Dennis Steckler and set decoration of George “Buck” Flower, it’s a more lighthearted affair than Death Game, though it does have some serious passages in its latter half. It appears to be from a recent HD transfer, and features a decent-looking picture with good color and contrast. Detail is a bit soft, grain fluctuates a bit, and there’s a mild bit of leftover damage, but detail is strong and the overall aesthetic is film-like. The audio is included in English 2.0 mono Dolby Digital with optional subtitles in English. Other than the pops and clicks in the audio from some possibly explicit footage that was excised at some point, there are no real problems with the audio quality.

The Easter egg on this disc can be found by pressing up when Special Features is highlighted, revealing Ricardo Montalban’s head. Clicking it will take you to the USC Medical Center short film Cast Care from 1985, which was directed by Peter Traynor and hosted by Ricardo Montalban.

DISC TWO (EXTRAS)

  • Interviews:
    • Ruthless: The Peter Traynor Story (HD – 109:39)
    • Colleen Camp in the Moment (HD – 60:35)
    • Sondra Locke: Death Game Telephone Interview (HD – 14:42)
    • Sondra Locke: Complete Telephone Interview (SD – 44:07)
    • Game Changers: Larry Spiegel & David Worth (HD – 44:49)
    • A Tale of Two Scripts by Michael Ronald Ross (HD – 44:10)
  • Still Galleries:
    • Production Stills (HD – 27 in all)
    • Peter Traynor (HD – 25 in all)
    • Promotional Materials (HD – 23 in all)
    • VHS Releases (HD – 9 in all)
    • Cover Art (HD – 43 in all)
  • Grindhouse Releasing Prevues:
    • Hollywood 90028 Trailer (HD – 1:39)
    • Scum of the Earth Trailer (HD – 2:11)
    • Love Is Deep Inside (aka The Ice House, The Passion Pit) Trailer (HD – 1:34)
    • The Ice House (aka Love Is Deep Inside, The Passion Pit) Trailer (HD – 2:39)
    • Family Enforcer Trailer (HD – 1:47)
    • Cannibal Holocaust Trailer (HD – 1:25)
    • Cannibal Ferox Trailer (HD – 2:45)
    • Massacre Mafia Style (aka The Executioner, Like Father, Like Son) Trailer (HD – 2:18)
    • Gone with the Pope Trailer (HD – 2:00)
    • Pieces Trailer (HD – :32)
    • The Beyond Trailer (HD – 3:26)
    • Cat in the Brain Trailer (HD – 1:57)
    • An American Hippie in Israel Trailer (HD – 3:01)
    • Corruption Trailer (HD – 2:05)
    • The Swimmer Trailer (HD – 2:42)
    • The Big Gundown Trailer (HD – 2:12)
    • I Drink Your Blood Trailer (HD – 2:49)
    • Captive Female Trailer(HD – 2:10)
    • The Tough Ones Trailer (HD – 3:29)
    • Impulse Trailer (HD – 1:19)
  • Easter Egg #1 (SD – 5:25)
  • Easter Egg #2 (Upscaled SD – 11:04)
  • Easter Egg #3 (HD – 1:40)
  • Easter Egg #4 (HD – 5 in all)
  • Easter Egg #5 (HD – 2:32)

Ruthless is a nearly 2-hour featurette with director Peter Traynor, hosted by Eli Roth. It’s a casual interview as Roth asks Traynor questions about himself, his career, and the films he was involved in. Larry Spiegel and David Worth occasionally pop in to fill in the blanks, but the bulk of the piece is Traynor and Roth. There’s not much visually going on it as it’s basically two men on a couch talking to each other, but the conversation is invaluable as it’s an open and honest discussion. In Colleen Camp in the Moment, Roth returns to interview the actress, covering a lot of the same ground as their audio commentary, but also getting into deep discussions about her career and other films that she’s made. The two Sondra Locke audio interviews are derived from the same source, both of which were conducted by Mike White of The Projection Booth podcast. Since Sondra Locke is no longer with us, hearing her feelings about her experiences making the film, as well as the rest of her career, is wonderful. Game Changers interviews Larry Spiegel and David Worth, which is a much more lively chat than their commentary, but provides much more detail about them and their careers. A Tale of Two Scripts interviews screenwriter Michael Ronald Ross about his original script and the Jo Heims script, and what was actually used in the final film. Next is a series of still galleries totaling 127 images (132 if you count one of the Easter eggs), as well as a slew of trailers for other Grindhouse Releasing DVD and Blu-ray releases.

The first Easter egg on this disc can be found by pressing right when Interviews is highlighted, revealing the Lincoln-Mercury logo. Clicking it will take you to a brief Lincoln-Mercury promotional film featuring footage of Buster Keaton, narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier. The second Easter egg can be found by pressing left when Ruthless: The Peter Traynor Story is highlighted, revealing Ricardo Montalban’s head. Clicking it will take you to the USC Medical Center short film Why Stitches Are Necessary, directed by Peter Traynor and hosted by Ricardo Montalban. The third Easter egg can be found by pressing right when A Tale of Two Scripts by Michael Ronald Ross is highlighted, revealing the logo for the film Knock Knock. Clicking it will take you to an outtake from the interview with Michael Ronald Ross. The fourth Easter egg can be found by pressing left when VHS Releases is highlighted, revealing the words “Super Muff”. Clicking them will take you to an additional still gallery featuring 5 photos of Colleen Camp’s modeling work. The fifth and final Easter egg can be found either by pressing left when Ice House or pressing right when Blu-ray Production Credits are highlighted, revealing the logo for The Passion Pit. Clicking it will play a trailer for the film.

Another outstanding release by Grindhouse Releasing, Death Game is certain to find a whole new audience of fans who will appreciate it for its many facets. And with a new 4K restoration, as well as a mountain of extras to sort through, this Blu-ray release is ground zero for an expanded cult following.

- Tim Salmons

(You can follow Tim on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook. And be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel here.)

 

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