Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Hubrisween 2016 :: F is for Fatal Games (1984)

With an establishing shot and a subtitle we go as our latest film welcomes us to the Falcon Academy of Athletics. What follows is a nickel tour through the grounds, gyms, pool, and track and field area, where we meet the institution’s staff and best athletes as they take first place in several spirited competitions ranging from swimming, to gymnastics, to varied yardage dashes, to the javelin, with each winner qualifying to compete at nationals where they will vie for a spot on the next Olympics team -- all under the pulsing beat of a Frank Stallone-ish power ballad about the madness of winning over all. Now get your scorecards out as we meet our future murder victims -- sorry, future Olympic hopefuls: gymnasts Annie Rivers, Sue Allen Baines, and Frank Agee; swimmers Lynn Fox and Nancy Wilson; sprinter Phil Dandridge; and throwing the javelin, Joe Ward.

Sufficiently stoked, these seven winners are invited to a banquet sponsored by Tiger Pharmaceuticals, one of Falcon Academy’s biggest financial backers. But no one is really paying attention to the keynote speaker, who blathers on and on about beating those damned Commies at their own game on the Olympic field of battle, as a few innocent shenanigans quickly escalates into a full-blown food fight, officially bringing these festivities to an end. 

Later that night, after a rousing round of find your own underoos, Frank (O'Leary) and Lynn (Roberts) meet up with Phil (Masterson) and Annie (Banashek) to head into town for a celebratory drink. The couples invite Nancy (Prophet) to tag along but she declines, opting to hit the weight-room after hours instead. But she barely gets three reps in before the air is split by a guided missile as a javelin zips out of the darkness and impales the girl onto the nearest wall. And then, from out of the shadows steps the hooded killer, face obscured, decked out in a black tracksuit, who quickly unpins the (oddly bloodless) corpse and drags it away, destination unknown...

An Olympic themed Slasher movie? Yes, Mary Lou Retton, we can have such things. Kind of a messy mash-up of Gymkata (1985) and Graduation Day (1981), Fatal Games (1984) was essentially director Michael Elliot and co-scriptwriter Rafael Bunuel’s only screen credit. And judging by the mess and mounting stoopidity I just watched that really isn’t too much of a surprise. To put it more diplomatically: don’t bring any logic into this one because you’ll only get your feelings hurt if you try. Now, I love slasher movies, and I actually prefer the whodunits over the howtheydunits. And there is a mystery to unravel here but it is executed so incompetently thanks to a thin script that keeps contradicting itself, which is then made worse when the sports gimmick wears itself out in the first reel, making the infernal padding-out of the run-time between kills both interminable and excruciating.

Now, there are a few twists here and there to add a little more red dye to the herring. I like the X-factor that Falcon Academy has embraced the use of experimental steroids to get an edge on the competition and keep up with the Russians, making both ‘roid rage a likely contributing factor to these killings and therefore, making everyone getting dosed a possible suspect. Under the watchful eye and hypodermic needle of Dr. Jordine (Elliot), he’s stimulated metabolisms and stunted sexual characteristics. He also quickly plows over any and all concerns and protests of his nurse, Diane Paine (Kirkland), who fears he only sees his patients as guinea pigs, and who has noticed a marked increase in detrimental side-effects as these treatments are accelerated.

And when another student, Sue Allen (Bennett), mysteriously disappears under dubious circumstances (-- that being an extended, and I mean EXTENDED, stalk and chase scene through the darkened halls in her nethers which also ends with her being impaled by a javelin), Jordine quickly panics and goes into cover-up mode, denying everything or insisting both missing girls have just left of their own accord.

Other suspects include head coach, Jack Webber (Mankiewicz), who, despite a friendly face, is still THAT bitter over missing out on the Olympics back in ‘64 and secretly can’t stand his proteges. And then there’s Belinda Drew (Williams), the women’s swim coach, who is having a clandestine lesbian affair with another student swimmer, whose only chance of making nationals is if Lynn magically “drops dead.” And of all the athletes, Joe (Love), aside from being an expert with the javelin, shows the most aggressive behavior, making him the prime suspect. At least he was until he, too, gets run through by a ridiculously impossible shot for length and accuracy with a pointed stick by the real killer.

OK, then. Even the worst or most asinine of slasher movies can find at least some redemption in the creativity and the execution of the kills. Here, though, with the killer permanently stuck on the operandi of his modus, all we get is wire-guided javelins and bloodless kills -- a cheap and convenient contrivance, as the killer keeps hiding the bodies and leaves no trace evidence to sow even more confusion for all involved. 

Thankfully, the viewer’s patience is somewhat rewarded when Lynn is killed while swimming laps in the pool, which features some spiffy underwater cinematography that leaves the killer stationary at the bottom of the pool while the victim unwittingly keeps swimming into range above. Again, how the killer drained and refilled the pool with clean water after was beyond both me and the film. Oh, wait, that’s right. These victims don’t bleed. Maybe the javelin had magic cauterizing properties? That’s me shrugging right now. But even if every single kill was on the level of Savani or Bottin I’m not sure even that would compensate for the logic of a film that shows all seven athletes qualifying for nationals in the opening montage and then spends the next hour showing them training and competing to qualify AGAIN.

And once his girlfriend disappears without a word or trace, making it a total of four students who just "ran off", Frank is the only one who thinks something suspicious is going on, even going so far as to suspect they’re all dead. Now, Frank was injured at some point, breaking his leg on an errant dismount. And now on crutches, he calls Phil and says to meet him at the Academy to help search the lockers of those who “dropped out.” And being on crutches, this slows him down quite a bit but, fear not, the camera is bound and determined to follow and show his every, freaking, step, as he breaks in and noses around the school, which eventually leads him to the basement, where he uncovers the bodies. Unfortunately, the killer is onto him, but even with only one good leg, the chase to finish him off is stretched to the limit of credulity.

Meanwhile, Phil also called Annie and filled her in on Frank’s plan. Annie beats Phil to the school -- or did she? -- he typed ominously. Anyhoo, she soon finds Frank’s body and the hooded killer in short order, leading to ah-NOTHER extended chase sequence until Annie is hit but not fatally. Here, the killer finally switches weapons, taking up a shot-put to finish killing her only Phil manages to blunder in and scare the killer off. 

Thus, with his girlfriend hemorrhaging out, Phil lets the killer go, scoops her up, and rushes her to the nurse's office. Nurse Paine is there, but is obscured by a privacy curtain. She tells Phil to put Annie on the gurney and she’ll be right out. This he does, knocking over a stack of papers in the process as the camera sneaks away and takes a peak on the other side of that curtain, revealing Diane dressed in the hood and black suit. She quickly skins her way out of it, and then orders Phil to go and call an ambulance while she starts dressing Annie’s wounds. Told to roll on her side, Annie sees the scattered papers on the floor, including the front page of a paper showing Diane was once a disgraced Olympian javelin thrower, who had to forfeit her gold medal when she was caught cheating -- the cheating being she used to be a man and had a sex-change operation to be more like dear old mom, also a former Olympian, with whom Diane had a lot of obsessive issues with.

All of this sort of came out earlier, when Annie was overcome by cramps, which Diane recognized as one of those detrimental side-effects of Jordine’s drug regimen, and whose maternal treatment to comfort Annie through them was just one in a long line of lecherous advances that were a little too touchy-feely if you know what I mean, making her patient very uncomfortable. I know, I know, who gives a shit, right? Right.

So. Annie sees this paper, and Diane sees that Annie has seen the paper, and she somehow connects this to Diane being the killer all along, triggering one, last, extended, is it over yet, please be over, no, really, just end already, and, hey! Where the hell did Phil disappear to anyways?, which ends on top of a scaffolding in the gym and the revelation that Diane can also teleport, apparently -- that or she managed to exit the gym, climb to the roof and crash through a skylight in about three seconds flat, as their struggle ends with Diane plummeting to her death, impaled on a statue of winged victory, which was to be awarded to the top athlete of the year.

Believe it or not, I remember enjoying the hell out of Fatal Games when first encountered several years ago, lumps and all, but this second viewing was kind of a slog, especially the middle section that gets bogged down in some melodramatic subplots and unending training montages and several sad attempts at Hitchcockian near misses while the killer tried to police the bodies and is nearly discovered. Still, it’s not the worst slasher movie I’ve seen by a long shot but you gotta dig to find something nice to say. And dig ah-lot.

There is a metric-ton of nudity for those inclined to such things; and a lot of equal opportunity nudity, too, as the film has lots to show for the ladies as well -- either that or it was stealth directed by David DeCoteau. (And according to the credits, Linnea Quigley is in there somewhere but I failed to spot her.) I think Shuki Levy’s score was shooting for John Carpenter but it sounds like he just got his finger stuck between a couple of keys on his Casio most of the time, and the Moog settings appear to be on modulated fart noises. The execution of the wire-guided javelins come off without any major gaffes as they find their targets but it can’t quite negate all the scenes of the killer running around with one of those flimsy things resting on her shoulder. I thought the killer’s signature look was kinda cool but can you imagine trying to sneak around or getting through a door with one of those things?

Despite the implausibility of the cover-up of the missing students, especially when you consider Jordine was given a photo of the team with the dead members X’d out, this does spare us from the usual incompetent police investigation that tend to plague these things. Also, what kind of Academy is this exactly? There is talk of classes, failing grades, and retrieving books but we meet a grand total of zero teachers and observe no class time. Again with the shrugging. And that whackadoodle beans 'n' franks transgender twist at the climax salvages things considerably though it came out of nowhere and makes little sense when it comes to motivation or any homicidal tendencies, which boiled down to if the killer didn’t get a medal then no one will.

And I could go on and on about the phallic nature of the javelin as the weapon of choice, but the filmmakers kind of gave the game away already in the first reel during that food fight, when a huge sausage slips its bun and winds up in Diane’s lap. And it’s that kind of subtlety that both sums up Fatal Games perfectly and severs its Achilles tendon, leaving it to limp around in its own mediocre plot circle indefinitely. 

What is Hubrisween? This is Hubrisween. And now, Boils and Ghouls, be sure to follow this linkage to keep track of the whole conglomeration of reviews for Hubrisween right here. Or you can always follow we collective head of knuckle on Letterboxd. That's six down with 20 to go!

Fatal Games (1984) Impact Films :: Media Home Entertainment / EP: William Kroes / P: Christopher Mankiewicz, Rafael Buñuel / AP: Jonathon Braun / D: Michael Elliot / W: Rafael Buñuel, Michael Elliot, Christopher Mankiewicz / C: Alfred Taylor / E: Jonathon Braun / M: Shuki Levy / S: Sally Kirkland, Lynn Banashek, Sean Masterson, Michael O'Leary, Teal Roberts, Spice Williams-Crosby, Melissa Prophet, Angela Bennett, Nicholas Love, Lauretta Murphy, Michael Elliot, Christopher Mankiewicz

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