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)

Touch of Death

Good-natured isn’t exactly the right word for a movie which features a chainsaw mutilation pre-credit roll, but Lucio Fulci’s Touch of Death is an easy-going, almost casual serial killer flick and a film which (probably for the best) doesn’t take itself too seriously.

As to whether Fulci himself took his work as seriously at the time of this production is a question unto itself, as the Godfather of Gutmunchers, who’d ridden high in the saddle for the much of the 80s, was starting to see his creative lights fade.

With release issues, Touch of Death (aka, Quando Alice ruppe lo specchio – when Alice broke the Mirror) languished in pre-production purgatory, finally seeing daylight at a time when Il Maestro’s creative decline matched horror’s Golden Era home-plate slide into the dreadful 90s (Touch of Death came out in 1988, along with the likes of Child’s Play, Waxwork, Night of the Demons and Killer Klowns from Outer Space, a great year all things considered before things took a turn for the worse)

Here, Lester Parson (played by sleaze/genre vet Brett Halsey) is a cannibal deviant divorcee who lives on a sprawling villa and feeds his vics to pigs. Parson suffers delusions that he’s been communicated with privately through radio dispatches, and spends his days wooing (and bedding) what in today’s politically correct times could still be referred to as “mature women.”

Halsey’s performance carries the day here, and it’s easy to believe disaffected society women would be charmed by the likes of Lester, who’s a dancing, sweet-talking, crustacean dinner-fashioning gallant.

Put into the context of Fulci’s other work, sure, there’s no contest: Touch of Death will never been up there (or as Fulci critics might have it, “down there”) with the likes of the incredible Zombi, City of the Living Dead or The Beyond). However, with touches of gallows humor, (including the protracted demise of an amateur opera diva), and some unintentional hilarity courtesy of TV journalism, Touch of Death brings the goods.

*** (out of 5)

[Check out our podcast discussion of Touch of Death]