Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Deathrow Gameshow (1987)

What is the pitch for a show about death row inmates playing for their lives on a game show? What producer has the balls to say, "Hey, what if we take people who are going to die, and give them a chance on a game show to play for their freedom?". It takes care of the prison overpopulation, and it fills the populace's blood lust. It has become a sub-genre of its own over the past few decades with films like 'The Running Man', 'Gamer', 'The Condemned', and 'Death Race' (the remake). They're all action intensive movies, and although black humor comes through the violence; comedies they ain't.

'Deathrow Gameshow' was a title that I had seen in video stores when I was a kid. By the time I was into renting obscure titles many video stores were closing down, or moving to DVD. It's a film that I had been searching for many years to find, and finally got a copy on VHS. That's a lot of hype to see a film about people getting killed on TV, but that VHS cover was imprinted in my brain. I HAD to see this movie. To my surprise upon first viewing it was more a Comedy than a Horror. I mean, sure, a good amount of Cult movies have that over-the-top comedic appeal. 'Deathrow Gameshow' was more alike to the works of the Zucker Brothers with 'Airplane!' or 'The Naked Gun'. Well, it wasn't what I was expecting and that first view was kind of like meeting a long time pen-pal. You have all these great expectations through fantastic conversations, but then find out that they're really off the wall, bat-shit crazy and can only hang out for an hour or so before taking off, because they know they'll overstay their welcome.

America's most popular game show is 'Live or Die' hosted by the charismatic Chuck Toedan. The show is known for its high ratings, and higher moral objection (see what I did there?). Contestants sign a waiver before going on acknowledging that their death could come at any moment. Chuck gets death threats, bomb threats and even threats of sex from crazed fans. OK, that's not so bad but overall it's pretty outrageous.

While promoting 'Live or Die' on a local talk show, he is accosted by Gloria Sternvirgin who is the leader of a local female rights group. I didn't make up that name. They really named her that. Gloria talks about how it's wrong to kill people, but Chuck is quick to remind her that these "contestants" were going to die anyways. He's giving them a chance to live, and their families also receive great prizes if their loved ones die. The two exit the interview, and Gloria confronts Chuck about his horrible lifestyle. Then, suddenly, out of a cliche comes two armed hitmen coming to take his life. Chuck grabs Gloria into the car, and they're off taking out the assailants on their way.

A few years back a mob boss died after he had passed his challenge; The Dance of the Seven Boners. You see, if he got an erection a motion device would trigger his electrocution. Well, he survived the model but it turns out that Chuck's manly touch is what did the boss in. Ever since he's had numerous attempts on his life. Gloria is thought to be in cahoots with Chuck (as is the case with every budding romance in a Cult movie), and is made a target as well. Will these two bite the bullet, or will they make it through to the other side? Find out on 'Deathrow Gameshow'!

Like I said, I was expecting a Horror movie and got a Zucker sytle Comedy. I love stupid, silly movies but was not expecting this. I decided to give the film a second view. After all, the hunt for such a film must return a positive experience, right? Right? Well, yes and no. The film is still pretty bad, but there are spots that are pretty funny. Visual gags like "Slow Children", and the kids are moving slow through a sidewalk always cracks me up. Where the film fails in the comic department is the dialogue. One of the best parts of the early Zucker films is while they have amazing visual gags, they also can write dialogue that makes you really laugh. Most of the jokes here felt forced, and really fell flat.

With a premise like 'Deathrow Gameshow' you would expect some pretty interesting death scenes, but they're really run of the mill. Electrocutions are the most popular, and don't really do much in terms of shock a response out of the viewer. The only real original death is an old lady (case of mistaken identity) runs through an fire themed obstacle course holding two canisters of gasoline. I'd say spoiler alert, but I don't think anyone cares. She makes it to the end, but blows up by a shoddy table with two candles.

'Deathrow Gameshow' was a real bust. I was expecting greatness, and got amateurish buffoonery. The film uses its low budget to its best abilities, but really can't find its ground between Horror and Comedy. The actors read their lines, but I don't believe they are enjoying themselves. Perhaps it's the quest was better than the treasure, but a film like 'Deathrow Gameshow' should make me feel like a winner. Instead I feel like a guy playing on the couch at home.

'Deathrow Gameshow' is available on DVD from Brentwood Home Video, but is currently Out Of Print.

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