Apparently I go away and the wordpress editor gets super tiny. I can only see five lines! I feel claustrophobic. Anyway. Today, I got wind of that Eli Roth has directed a remake of Peter Traynor’s screeching 1977 home invasion flick Death Game. The remake is called Knock Knock (cute), and stars Keanu Reeves, Young Missus Roth, and another Cuban model.
I can’t really claim that this is a major affront to my sensibilities – Death Game is no great lost classic – in fact, in good conscience, I can only really recommend it to the most devoted of trash-hounds. But is anyone truly less suited for a good old, down-and-dirty 70’s exploitation remake than Eli Roth, who’s studied at the feet of the most ardent of genre nostalgia appropriators, Quentin Tarantino?
It’s true, I’m not an Eli Roth fan. I get that he’s a genuine film fan, but that does not a horror master make. (Remember the 80’s, when the title “Horror Master” meant something?) Roth has yet to prove himself capable of making a film of any real quality. Hostel is a reasonably titillating premise mired by poor craftsmanship and the inability to maintain atmosphere or tension. Cabin Fever is boring. Also, Roth comes off as an insufferable blowhard when he discusses Hostel in relation to Abu Ghraib – it’s that kind of self-referential egotism that threatens vintage exploitation pictures and all we love about them.
Although to be fair, I did have an extremely vivid dream once that I was married to Eli Roth and I remember we were quite happy. We lived in a really nice camper van with a kitchen table that was also an aquarium and I wore a lot of high-waisted pants and hair kerchiefs. However, I discussed my marriage with my dream-friends, who were all like, “Leah, you have to tell him how much you hate his movies. It isn’t fair.” And dream-me was more interested in keeping the peace. Symbolic? I don’t know, I may just have wanted to keep the aquarium table.
Anyway, Death Game sort of tries to advocate a higher purpose (family life good, crazy lesbian hippies, bad? Topical post-Charlie Manson stuff) but mostly it’s shrieking spectacle that opens with George (Seymour Cassel, who really doesn’t want to be in this movie so drastically that he couldn’t even be arsed to dub his own dialogue) playing romantic croquet with his wife on his birthday because he’s affluent and happily married. Then the wife gets called away, leaving George at home, alone, on his birthday. But not for long – soon enough Jackson (Sondra Locke) and Donna (Colleen Camp) show up at his door. They’re lost, they’re drenched from the rain, they just want to use his phone.
The girls are on their best behavior – they fawn all over George and his swell hi-fi, they flatter him, they end up making-out with each other in his jacuzzi tub. Here’s one of Death Game’s signature scenes – the super awkward threesome scene! I’m talking out of context close-ups and constant cross-fades. I’m talking 70’s porn music – heavy on the jazz flute. I’m talking Seymour Cassel’s Charles Bronson mustache. If you’re a dude of a certain age, I’d love your input – would this scene have been erotic in the 70’s, or is it actually supposed to be the beginning of George’s nightmare? Because it’s certainly the beginning of mine.
Death Game, in fact, would fit nicely in a Hot Girls Gone Wrong film festival – wherein moustachioed jackasses think they’re going to bang the hot girl but instead end up in a whole pack of trouble. I’d include Don’t Bother To Knock and probably a bunch of other films that I would name if I had more energy/less wine.
Come for the threesome, but stay for the torture. Here’s where Death Game really shines. It’s not a particularly well-made movie, and by the third time you hear the “Good Old Dad” song, you’re about ready to torture yourself, but Death Game is stuffed to the gills with genuinely off-kilter moments. Locke and Camp turn into shrieking hellions, demented little girls, parodies of the fantasy women they were at the beginning of the film. They hold a mock trial, paint their faces, they dump milk on the restrained George, the kill a grocery delivery boy, and then zero in on a surprisingly shocking ending (though not for the reasons you may think).
This is what we tend to lose in remakes – a present sense of chaos. More than likely, the violence will be streamlined, the intent of the girls will be clear-cut and purposeful, the film will have an agenda. Making a shameless piece of a trash cinema with some deeply weird moments? Ain’t no one got time for that anymore. You can’t go back from all that self awareness. There’s something charming and reassuring about the C-grade exploitation films of yesteryear. Remade and repackaged for the modern audience, we lose that low-budget honesty, and end up with a lot of middling, mean-spirited preaching.
I don’t know, I’ll probably go if I can be guaranteed roughly the same amount of jazz flute and that someone will dump a bag of flour on Keanu Reeves’ head.