The 1970s was perhaps the best decade for horror flicks and suspense thrillers. There’s always going to be a discussion of Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist, Dawn of the Dead, and others. However, there were many hidden gems underneath the surface, and I really have to say that late director Peter Traynor’s delightfully unhinged and truly unpredictable 1977 Death Game (aka The Seducers) just may be the crown jewel of them all, especially in the exploitation department.
The late, great Seymour Cassel plays wealthy businessman and family man George Manning whose wife Beth (Beth Brickell) is away because of a family emergency. One rainy night, two beautiful young women named Jackson and Donna (Sondra Locke and Colleen Camp) show up at his door claiming to need a drive home from a friend. He agrees to let them in (foolish idea). They seem innocent at first, but after an unexpected menage a trois (which George actually engages), they reveal themselves to be absolute nightmares. They hold George captive in his home, trash the place, play sexual and violent games with him, and eventually threaten to kill him. In this case, the game is definitely not for child’s play.
Despite the unoriginal plot (which may or may not be a true story), this is a highly unique and very troubling cinematic experience. But not without a few shortcomings. Why would George automatically open his door so late at night? Who are Jackson and Donna really? Why would they instantly show up to George’s home? Why did George allow them in? Why would George have sex with both of them if he’s a happily married man?! I think these questions (and others) reveal the true nature of men and the constant abuse of women, and the women’s revenge of men’s infamous treatment of them. George is a man who succumbs to his masculine desires, and both Jackson and Donna are women who call him on it, in their own twisted way.
There are no good or bad guys. These characters are people who operate of their own terms and sometimes are victims of them. You actually feel both revulsion and sympathy for all of them. George is just a man who loves his family. However, he gives in to temptation when his palace is invaded, so he kind of had it coming. Jackson and Donna are dangerous, deadly, and sadistic, but they are also victims of men (Jackson’s father was an absentee, while Donna’s stepfather was a molester).
The film feels all too real, and there are moments where Traynor loses control of his actors (this adds to the realism). Apparently, there were some behind-the-scenes drama where Cassel was drugged out and Camp got a little too into her Donna role. That was the 70s for you.
The three actors: Locke, Camp, and Cassel are incredibly down for anything. Their performances feel risky, daring, and totally their own. They are very believable, despite Cassel being distractingly dubbed throughout.
This strange, but well shot/photographed film is obviously not for everyone, but if you’re wanting something far from normal filmmaking and incredibly interesting, then I definitely recommend it. You can see how it inspired so many home invasion thrillers, including Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997), and Eli Roth’s own 2015 remake Knock Knock. In terms of overlooked films, Death Game should not be one of them.
The stacked 2-disc Blu-ray from the great folks at Grindhouse Releasing is marvelous! One disc one, there are two commentaries: one with Camp and Roth; the other with producer Larry Spiegel and cinematographer/editor David Worth. There is also a trailer, and a feature film, Little Miss Innocence (1973), which shares many similarities to Death Game.
Disc two has an exclusive 2019 feature-long interview, conducted by Roth as Traynor talks about his life career and legacy; an exclusive program with Camp, also conducted by Roth; exclusive audio interview with Locke (who unfortunately passed away in 2018); complete interview with Locke; Spiegel and Worth interview; exclusive program with writer Michael Ronald Ross discussing two different scripts; still galleries; Grindhouse Releasing Previews– a collection of trailers and films already available from the catalog; and several Easter eggs.
The Death Game Deluxe 2-Disc Blu-ray set is currently available at GrindhouseReleasing.com.