Gerald’s Game

The characters jokingly refer to it as “death by misadventure,” and what happens (or maybe, as it turns out, doesn’t even happen at all) to two cottage-goers on a romantic weekend getaway forms the basis of Gerald’s Game, a scary, ambitious and at times confusing effort from Mike Flanagan (Hush/Oculus).

Bruce Greenwood stars as titular Gerald (a square-jaw spitting image of one of those out-of-home Viagra commercials), a husband in a stale, on-the-rocks marriage who wants to introduce some light bondage to wife, Jessie (the omnipresent, IMDb credit-filler, Carla Gugino, incredibly effective here).

The setup is designed to be something very predictable…so viewers unfamiliar with the 1992 Stephen King suspense novel on which this was based, will find Gerald’s Game especially satisfying as it takes a turn so sharp, it might as well be a hot pursuit in a Live PD episode.

The setting is a lush weekend getaway in Alabama, with a sprawling seaside vacation home complete with a surly dog (yes, Cujo is referenced).

After some handcuff-assisted foreplay with Jessie, Gerald stiffens (not like that) and keels over from a heart attack leaving the missus chained to the bed like a half-Procrustes. What’s a gal to do, especially with a phone too far out of reach?

The rest of Gerald’s Game is all about that very scenario, a terrifying survivalist exercise replete with flashbacks, hallucinations and PTSD that is endlessly fascinating, and much more than the flimsily sketched out premise on Netflix would indicate. There’s even a phantasmagorical bogeyman (or is he very grounded in reality?)

With the ending, however, it sucks that Mike Flanagan seemed to wrap too literal a bow around what was a metaphorical gift of a film, leading to a wholly unsatisfying “this is how the pieces fit together, see!” climax.

Still, while not the best King adaptation, Gerald’s Game is up there (let’s say, Top 10ish). And even the difficult-to-please author had nice things to say. And he’s correct.

***3/4 (out of 5)

Nightmare Beach

With a motorcycle madman who retrofits his ride with an electrified trident to zap unlucky spring breakers, Nightmare Beach is indeed quite a nightmare — even if few of the kills take place amidst the sun and sand for budgetary reasons.

College students are going missing in fictional Manatee Beach, a city that’s also dealing with the scourge of the Demons biker gang, who wear patches identical to the yellow font used in the Lamberto Bava film of the same name.

The gang terrorizes the local hang-out, Nick’s bar, but this is in no way a call out to It’s a Wonderful Life. What is wonderful though, is this movie, a giallo / slasher pastiche that squeezes out silliness like sunscreen.

There’s a wet blanket college football star, Skip, who distinguished himself in the Rose Bowl by flinging interceptions like a blindfolded Baker Mayfield (or hell, a sighted one). Despite the surfeit of 80s beach babes, cheap booze and pelvic thrusting, Skip simply can’t get into the Spring Break spirit. His buddy Ronny does, chasing skirts like there’s no tomorrow, and eventually falling prey to the masked motorbike killer, who also garrotes his vics when his ride is double-parked.

Unfortunately for Manatee Beach, the only thing standing in the way of both the bikers and the antagonist, is the glowering toupeed presence of law enforcement, John Saxon in a role not dissimilar from his part in A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Suffice it to say, it’s up to the non-star quarterback to see what’s up and find out how to stop the worst thing to happen to the state of Florida since Ted Bundy (or maybe Ariana Grande).

There’s so much to like here. There’s the set piece nuttiness of Umberto Lenzi efforts like Nightmare City, a cochlea-pricking soundtrack of knock-off Sunset Strip metal, and naturally, a bevy of babes.

***1/2 (out of 5)

[check out the Really Awful Movies Podcast discussion of Nightmare Beach!]