Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Vinegar Syndrome Review: Deathrow Gameshow (1987)

  Chuck Toedan Wants You ... To Die Laughing!”

Chuck Toedan (John McCafferty) is the host of the popular yet controversial game show Live or Die in which the contestants are death row inmates who get one last shot at fame, freedom and prizes for their families (there's an idea for you President Trump!). After beheading a good old fashioned family man, Chuck is greeted by a rowdy group of protestors outside of the studio, one of which being the beautiful leader of the Women Against Anything Men Are For (WAAMAF for short or what we call feminists nowadays) group; Gloria Sternvirgin (Robyn Blythe). Their paths cross again when they guests on a chat show debating moral value of Live or Die. Their debate bleeds out in to the parking lot until they are suddenly attacked by a couple of armed goons. Making a quick getaway, Toedan makes the realisation that they are grunts from mafia trying to seek revenge for the death of the head of the Pappalardo family, a previous contestant on his electrifying game show. This puts both his and Sternvirgin's lives in danger and he is posed the biggest moral question of all – should he continue with the show or get his well groomed behind out of the picture before it's rubbed out by someone else? Well, money talks so he carries on, but when Luigi Pappalardo (Beano) is sent to finish off the job, maybe that will convince him.
  As you can tell by the concept and some of the names used in the film, this is one of those camp and off-the-wall late 80's comedies. As with a lot of these low-budget horror comedies, the humour is there, but doesn't always work. Some of the character's names did give me a giggle and there is a genuinely funny gag involving a children's crossing and a great moment of fourth wall breaking (probably my favourite segment of the film). That being said, there are many crude jokes, innuendos and all round childish gags that did make my eyes roll. As much as that aspect did often frustrate me, this film never takes itself too seriously and you do get the impression that this was a fun shoot to be involved in. The story is fairly simple, but works and is well paced. Quite well written actually. The actors put in a decent effort and have great chemistry (thanks to the fact that nearly everyone involved has worked with each other multiple times up to that point.), but there are moments that do make you cringe slightly. In terms of production value, I think everyone did a solid job. Craig Bassuk's cinematography is solid with some really nicely staged shots. Tim Shoemaker's editing is equally solid, if not better. As well as that, there's some great stunt work, practical effects and a great score / soundtrack from Gregg Cross (the film's opening theme is great and worth a listen on its own!). All in all, it's a very solidly crafted and executed piece of low-budget comedy. It may not be my cup of tea, but I can definitely see why this has a cult following.
  For fans of the film, you are in for a treat with this release from Vinegar Syndrome. The film is scanned, restored & preserved in 2k from the 35mm original camera negative in a DVD & Blu-ray combo release. The film looks and sounds great, especially the vibrant colours used throughout. As well as that, there's an introduction to film by Mark Pirro as well as a commentary track with himself, Blythe & McCafferty which I found to be both insightful and full of great trivia. To compliment that, there's the 2015 Director's Cut of the film which has some quite questionable additions and tweaks (Pirro does refer to it as a Lucas-like remaster), a trailer, TV spot, image gallery and a director bio. The main special features on this disc are the making of documentary (includes information found in the commentary as well as other entertaining nuggets) and couple of Pirro's short films. These are Buns (1978) and The Spy Who Did it Better (1979). Buns follows a serial killer who murders anyone eating a hamburger and The Spy Who Did it Better is a nice parody (correct music cues and all) of the James Bond films. Both films have the same bizarreness and often bad taste that we find in Deathrow Gameshow and are great additions to this release. I actually think The Spy Who Did it Better is my favourite thing on this disc. All of these wonderful extras are topped off with reversible artwork. All in all, this is a must for hardcore fans of the film and those who like the campy side of 80's cinema. The film wasn't great, but it was by far a dull experience and I have to give credit where credit's due; it's great to see that Pirro is still very active in low-budget scene today. How many times can you say that!?
Deathrow Gameshow is available as a DVD / BluRay Combo from Vinegar Syndrome as well as being streamable on