Horror Movie Review: The Game of Death (2000)
Throughout the past 40 years or so, one thing that movie fans could count on was that if Roger Corman had anything to do with a movie, then that flick was almost certainly a piece of trash. It was not always so. Back during the period, 1960–1965, Corman was responsible for a decent number of good films including several adaptations of stories by Edgar Allan Poe. Despite the fact that these movies were quite profitable, Corman’s interests turned away from doing the quality act towards the cheap and tawdry. This trend accelerated after he formed his own studio and produced a whole raft of flicks for the drive-in circuit. Things got even worse after he entered the TV production business, mainly catering to the utterly low-brow likes of the Sci-Fi Channel.
To be sure, there were a few shows here and there that were worth watching with a few diamonds in a haystack of drivel. One such diamond is the movie that is under consideration here, The Game of Death. Directed on location in Ireland by Rachel Samuels on a $2 Million budget, this movie is a throwback to Corman’s days as a quality filmmaker.
The Game of Death is a film version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story “The Suicide Club.” Stevenson’s short story has an unusual, not to mention, dark premise but is a bit too short for a feature length movie. However, producer Corman & director Samuels expanded Stevenson’s idea and took it to the limit. Jonathan Pryce is wonderfully cast as Mr. Bourne, the sinister mastermind behind a card game of death. It is not too much of a stretch to say that based on this movie alone, Pryce may very be the latter day version of Vincent Price, the consummate horror actor of his time.
The Game of Death follows a British war hero, Captain Henry Joyce (David Morrissey) in 1899 London whose wife died 6 months earlier, but he cannot face living any longer without her. However, he fears taking his own life since he is a bit of a coward.
One night, at a bar, Capt. Joyce confides his dilemma to an acquaintance who then tells Joyce that he is a “ruined man.” The acquaintance also tells the captain that he too is a ruined man and is a member of the Suicide Club that exists to allow its members to exit this life without the social stigma of suicide. Capt. Joyce accepts the fellow’s invitation to join the club and so they wind up at Mr. Bourne’s sumptuous mansion where the club holds its meetings.
Upon joining the club, Capt. Joyce is informed that, “the first rule of suicide club is that you don’t talk about suicide club.” The members are all members of the aristocracy. Only one of the members is a female. This is Sarah Wolverton (Catherine Siggins), attracts his attention since she strongly resembles Capt. Joyce’s late wife. Wolverton’s reason for suicide was that she married a lieutenant in the British Army who was a “commoner” as folks who were not in the nobility were styled in the Victorian Era. Her politically powerful father arranged for her husband to be sent to the Sudan on an expedition and the local commander sent him on what amounted to a suicide mission. Another, related, reason for her suicidal wishes was the fact that her mother died while in childbirth and her father never forgave Sarah for it with the result that he treated her like dirt from that point on.
The Game of Death is a throwback to Corman’s early1960’s inexpensive but excellent literary adaptations. This movie’s chief virtues are in the technical aspects, as was the case with Corman’s Poe films. This movie is wonderfully lit, the sound is crisp, the costume and production design nothing short of excellent. The acting in this film is superior to that in many big budget Hollywood productions. The script was especially good.
The general excellence of The Game of Death is such that it makes you wonder what if Roger Corman stuck to the quality act throughout his career. It is most highly recommended.