"Donna and Jackie. Every Man's Fantasy. One Man's Nightmare"
Opening with a bit of grim hyperbole as a screen crawl reads "This motion picture is based on a true story. It should serve to remind us that fate allows no man to insulate himself against the evil which pervades our society" , this bizarre and unsettling slice of 70's psycho-sexual exploitation got a bit of press awhile back when in 2015 Eli Roth wrote and directed a remake titled KNOCK KNOCK starring Keanu Reeves.
Directed by Peter S. Traynor, DEATH GAME was released in 1977 and stars Sandra Locke (who was in the midst of her professional and personal relationship with Clint Eastwood at the time) and a no holds barred performance by the wonderful Colleen Camp (THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS and VALLEY GIRL) along with the still busy character actor Seymour Cassel (CONVOY) - and who sports a pretty impressive porn-stash here.
Floating around initially as a project in Eastwood's Malpaso production company (which probably explains the presence of Locke) it was picked up independent producer Larry Spiegel who along with director Traynor was also responsible for the mishmash train wreck that is 1977's EVIL TOWN. Written by one and done screenwriters Anthony Overman & Michael Ronald Ross (which might well be pseudonyms for Spiegel & Traynor), playing out like a plot straight out of a Penthouse letter gone horribly wrong its an intriguing piece of low budget film making that combines some unnerving sequences and an improvisational theatre performance.
Opening with a bizarre upbeat song called "Dear Old Dad", the ditty plays out over the main credits which are composed of a child's crayon drawings of home and family life, were introduced to George Manning (Cassel - and for some strange reason is dubbed here) who with his wife and child away from home is spending a quiet weekend alone immersed in his upper middle class San Francisco abode in all its dark paneling and shag carpeting 70's grooviness.
Locke and Camp playing respectively Agatha (although referred to as Jackie in the print ads and called by her last name Jackson frequently in the movie) and Donna are two rain soaked young hippie girls who in the pretext of getting lost on the way to a party show up at the doorstep of George. Initially letting the pair in to use his phone the two girls put forth an air of innocence at first, but there is something underlying creepy about the pair as Agatha forcefully barges into the house while the child-like & wide-eyed Donna follows in her wake. Sitting by the fire they begin messing with his tricked out hi-fi system and humongous aquarium and later retire upstairs to dry and wait "until their ride shows up".
After a bit George goes upstairs and finds them engaged in flagrante delicto in his hot tub. Hesitant at first he succumbs to the ol' male urging and jumps in to join them and by engaging in this ultimate male fantasy he sets himself up literately for a trip through hell in his own house. Thinking they've left during the night, the next morning he finds the two girls in the kitchen messily making breakfast while throwing food about, smearing syrup throughout the house and greedily wolfing their food down (sans utensils) like animals.
Becoming increasingly irritated at the pair, George sees his control of the situation rapidly eroding as he witnesses his middle class lifestyle being dragged down into madness when Agatha informs George of their underage status (17 & 15 !) and demand money in lieu of going to the police and Donna prances about claiming shes in love and wants to be with him forever. Finally getting them to the bus station, George arrives home and finds the pair encamped back at his home whereupon things get really bizarre as the tie him to his bed and torture him for the remainder of the weekend as they plaster the poor sap with food and various household products. Locke paints her face and prances about in his wife's clothes while Camp screams continuously "daddy" to him (which brings to mind all sorts of creepy things).
Through its 91 minute running time the film slowly descends more and more into chaos and nightmare with the climax going totally unhinged with a fractured disjointed sound scape and claustrophobic closeups as George is put on trial by the girls for his "sins". The plot while simple in its basic execution is fascinating as its told entirely through the lone males eyes. We get no back story on the the two women and they're only seen by George (and us) first as an object of his male fantasy and later as its ultimate nightmare when his middle class lifestyle & family life are destroyed by members of a rebellious younger generation (i.e. hippies) of which even the young and appearing innocent ones are to be feared.
Although letting his carnal instincts take over (however it can be believed that he was a dead duck as soon as he opened the front door), George is shown to be a caring loving family man as a brief montage in the beginning shows him clearly in love with his wife and later he has a tender conversation on the phone with his son.
Locke was 29 at the time and Camp 22 (playing 17 & 15 ) and in all her roles Locke brought a certain other worldly weirdness to her characters that could be alternately fascinating or sometimes irritating (or even downright unintentionally hilarious) and she uses all these attributes to her advantage here and I think this can easily be seen to be her finest role. With her spacey wide-eyed gaze she brings a real creepiness to her character (especially in the films climax when she paints her face), but its Camp who steals the show here.
A very natural actress who always brought a real earthiness to her roles, Camp (who happily is still very much active to this day both as an actress and producer) is truly frightening here going from innocence to full bore psychotic (much of her screaming duologue in the climax seems to be ad-libbed) and in spite of Locke coming across as the main protagonist, its Camp's Donna whose the most unnerving.
She was a favorite print ad model in the 70's (always seeming to wear a red bikini) and was one of the three playmates (Camp is "Mrs. May") in APOCALYPSE NOW. Colleen has a pretty amazing list of screen credits including (in addition to those listed above) THE GUMBALL RALLY, Bruce Lee's GAME OF DEATH and and a wonderfully touching performance paired with Frederic Forrest as Deborah Foreman's hippie parents in VALLEY GIRL.
Colleen Camp showing us why Doug Throley Headers are the best !