I think I may have mentioned before that I tend to be a homebody/shut-in. What do I want with the chaos of the outdoors when I have a perfect nest constructed of books and DVDs? Due to my shame free affliction I have an affinity for films that take place in a limited setting. Most of these types of films are based on plays (think THE BAD SEED or BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE. Yeah, I dig EILEEN HECKART, what of it?) but that is not the case with the devoutly interior GAMES which is based on an original screenplay by GENE R. KEARNEY (Wow! The guy who directed both versions of SILENT SNOW, SECRET SNOW! I swear I’m just finding that out now!). The action in GAMES never escapes the swanky apartment of spoiled upscale art collecting New York socialites Paul and Jennifer Montgomery (JAMES CAAN & KATHERINE ROSS neither ever looking slicker) and that’s one of the films major appeals to me. Watching this movie is like being a silent ghost observer in someone’s home. The plot is secondary, as I find the movie acts like a cozy diorama that I find myself happy to loiter in, the Mongomerys are into pop art pinball & getting their drink on, my kinda peeps.
Secondary or not there is indeed a plot and in 1967, I’m sure it was one twisty mind fuck. Contemporary viewers may see the final gotcha coming but whatever. (What, you think you are a genius or something for outsmarting a movie? Cure something and then we’ll talk.) The Montgomerys know how to be awesome, they don’t have kids but they do have an elevator. They wear wigs and perform magic for their house guests and employ both an elderly maid and a butch deliveryman. One day Jennifer (ROSS) makes the rookie mistake of letting a cosmetics sales lady into her house named Lisa who is portrayed by SIMONE SIGNORET. Anyone who has ever seen DIABOLIQUE knows that this is not a good idea. Lisa grifts the crap out of Jennifer and soon she has moved herself in. Lisa is not amused by the couple’s multiple sources of entertainment and decides to kick things up a notch by playing “Angry Birds” with their psyches. Soon everybody is playing tricks on each other and screwing with each other’s heads. It’s a bit like a more mature, parlor room version of APRIL FOOL’S DAY. You never know who’s zooming whom except you kind of actually do. Even still, there are a couple of nail-biting suspense scenes and it’s hard to predict just how far things will go.
GAMES is running around in a thriller coat but the lining is so very horror. It was directed by the super fantastic CURTIS HARRINGTON who has graced the planet with such titles as NIGHT TIDE (1961), WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? (1971) WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO? (1972) and THE KILLING KIND (1973) among others. It’s got a casual pace but it’s never less than entertaining and like I suggested earlier, it delivers a swanky joint to hang out in. I don’t want to ruin the fun but let me assure you that the thunder-cracking climax is worth the wait. A certain everyday tone is established and then HARRINGTON takes off his gloves and goes in for the kill, wedging in a possible supernatural angle which leaves you second guessing your previous assumptions. The performances are all highly watchable: CAAN is smarmy, yet charming; ROSS is cloying, yet compassionate, and SIGNORET holds her cards rather nicely to her chest. You’ll likely notice DON STROUD from DEATH WEEKEND and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and there’s even a cameo by CAT PEOPLE’s KENT SMITH! I have no idea why this film is not more notorious than it is. C’mon look at that cast for crying out loud.
GAMES is currently available on Netflix Streaming so check it out while you can. It was never released on DVD and if you want to own the VHS, you’d better have a couple hundred dollars lying around. If it happens to be raining or you find yourself awake in the wee hours of the night, please double this recommendation. CURTIS HARRINGTON is a director who is far too undervalued and if you ask me, the stylish and twisty GAMES is one of his finest accomplishments. Go ahead, roll the dice, it’s your turn.