It’s a small town nestled in the hills of California; the girls who comprised the high school clique still lunch together and needle the waitress who didn’t marry into money as they did, there’s only one movie theatre where Billy Owens mainly shows old horror movies, and everybody knows everybody’s business, which is why it is so shocking when Linda Lawrence dies, falling backwards through her window onto the rocks below.
Her stepsister Keegan arriving in the wake of the tragedy, investigating officer Roger Lane dismisses her as a journalist but warms to her when she explains she was family, perhaps too much considering he is married to Sooty, one of the clique who along with Chrissy Howlett and Carol Bailey still haunt the town where the speculation over whether Linda’s death was an accident or murder is rendered moot by the second killing; someone is playing deadly games…
Released in 1982 and shot under the more enigmatic title Who Fell Asleep, seen scrawled in chalk on a makeshift tombstone late in the film, Deadly Games was written and directed by Scott Mansfield and stars Police Surgeon’s Sam Groom as Roger, Lifeforce’s Steve Railsback as Billy and Jo Ann Harris as Keegan with Lost in Space matriarch June Lockhart in a cameo as Keegan and Linda’s not-overly-griefstruck mother Marge; uncredited are the members of the crew who are visible twice in a single scene in Sooty’s bedroom mirror.
Making its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Arrow, in her accompanying interview the personable and entertaining Jere Rae Mansfield (Susan Theresa “Sooty” Lane) confirms that the film as shot and released were two very different products, many scenes developing the ensemble’s background and complexity cut in favour of more commercial aspects; thus it starts as a slasher before transforming into a drama when the reverse would have more impact and the conclusion is, to say the least, rushed and ambiguous.
An oddity from the outset, Deadly Games at times plays almost as a parody of the slasher genre in event and dialogue: upon receiving an obscene telephone call, Linda’s first impulse is to go outside and bare her breasts to the night, presumably to cleanse herself in the beams of moonlight; before contaminating the crime scene by flirting with the sister of the deceased Detective Lane comments he “saw a hooker in ‘Nam get killed like that,” while elsewhere the laidback reaction is “wow, murder, things are really picking up around here.”
Shot in Fresno and the impressive Warnor Theatre where reclusive asthmatic Billy lives, with diva Monica Francine Pagé doing her nasal Barbra Streisand best on Lost in Love Again the murder investigation becomes secondary to Keegan’s dates with Roger and Billy and the horror themed board game of the title, the lack of urgency not necessarily a challenge in that the list of suspects is quite small, but more curious than trying to bury someone alive when conscious and unrestrained is the commentary track which refers to the cast as “middle aged,” though perhaps an argument could be made based on the average life expectancy of the characters.