Deathrow Gameshow (1987) Review by RevTerry

For a while there it seemed like reality TV was going to fully engulf the entire viewing schedule when it came to broadcast television. It was easy money I would assume. Nudging attention starved loose cannons in entertaining directions must be an easier task than say, writing a story worth watching for any reason. Although it seems to have quelled a bit as of late, the channels are filled with shows “observing” the day to day of “real” people. Whole channels once dedicated to PG sex-ed and general educational programs have become 24 hour hubs for fake swamp people and Alaskans. The 80's didn't really have that problem per say, but it did have inklings in the way things would go down, through the state of sports, sensationalist news, etc., as well as a good idea about how far someone would go for capital. The concept of entertainment being taken to extremes manifested in this time as several classic trash films that showed the era's current trends in media, game shows and competitive sports, being pushed to deadly limits. Maybe the most remembered of all, Roger Corman's Death Race 2000, based very loosely on a short science fiction story with similar subject matter which predicted a world in near ruins. Its people disillusioned but active spectators of cross country blood sports possibly motivated by population control. Another less mentioned entry, Deathrow Gameshow (1987) took the thought experiment down a different route.
After some spirited animated musical credits (think Ruthless People’s intro but about people playing for their lives instead of scheming for money) the movie starts with TV game show host Chuck Toedan escaping a mob of protesters outside of the TV studio. Chuck hosts a TV show called Live or Die, where death row inmates can compete for various prizes but usually end up getting fucked up and dead in some silly ass way. The show, which broadcasts the deaths live on television complete with cliché price is right roll outs and a house band, is extremely well watched but of course also catches the zealous moral wrath of a number of righteous crusaders. Along with the dividing politics of the program Chuck also has been marked for assassination by a very general mafia group for killing one of their patriarchs on the show. After a one sided debate on a talk show, he is confronted in the parking lot by one of his opposition's front-runners, the prudish Gloria Sternvirgin (, and yes Stern-Virgin). An attempt on his life is made during their argument and she is forced to flee with him in his car. The two have some adventures together where they bicker back and forth, there are some cool commercial segments,  style, and we all learn the errors of our ways. Oh and an old lady explodes.
Tone very casually goes from a Leslie Nielsen slapstick to a more confined comedy throughout the film. Although it shares the nihilistic notes of other trash-tastic jabs at society from that era along with their light outlooks on death, the culture depicted in the film is more bright and forward thinking in its corruption. Through the neon blurred lens of the 80's it chooses to focus on man's obsession in the spectral and blurred moral lines as opposed to the economic or more outward collapse. The slyness of the commentary varies, but sometimes it is subtle enough that the delayed reaction magnifies the chuckle a little. The writing and dialogue reminds me of early 90's late night sitcoms with a hint of RoboCop (1987). Characters are goofy clichés on par with the times and genre but it makes sure to take a moment to point that out about itself and never really takes itself very serious. The surreal moments and the loose grip with reality help move the dark comedy to almost a coke fueled vintage Loony Toon level. Although the satire loses its bite a little with the films out of character optimistic wrap up, it walks the line between commentary and dark comedy well enough. 
The film is directed by , whose breakthrough was the low budget gem A Polish Vampire  in Burbank, did some time on television and looks like he is still working today. He also brought us the random ass Curse of the Queerwolf, which is kind of a what-the-fuck kind of watch if you have an extra hour and some games on your phone.  plays our main character. His plastic features and fake smile work for the cheesy host and he got the part despite what I can only imagine was some heavy competition for roles in the douchey white guy department of the 80's.  does great with a role that works out to being pretty much a stereotypical ice queen to be melted. Everyone matches the motif well and seems to be utilized properly. 
There was no way(that I know of) that the writers of the 80's predict social media and the effect it would have on media. Almost on accident Deathrow Gameshow comes pretty close, showing a society polarized between extremes and obsessed with being the one in front of the lens. Better yet it's good stupid entertainment and I guarantee it's better than watching another show about some lady with too many cats or whatever the fuck is on right now.
1h 23min | 1987
Director: Mark Pirro
Writers: Alan Gries (additional material), Mark Pirro 


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