Fatal Games Blu-ray Review

Written by Robert Gold

Blu-ray released by Vinegar Syndrome

fatal games poster large

Directed by Michael Elliot
Written by Rafael Buñuel, Michael Elliot and Christopher Mankiewicz
1984, 88 minutes, Rated R
Released on January 30th, 2024

Sally Kirkland as Diane Paine
Lynn Banashek as Annie Rivers
Sean Masterson aa Phil Dandridge
Michael O’Leary as Frank Agee
Teal Roberts as Lynn Fox
Marcelyn Ann Williams as Coach Drew
Christopher Mankiewicz as Coach Webber

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The Falcon Academy of Athletes is home to the top Olympic hopefuls in a range of categories. Gymnasts, swimmers and runners are all in competition to reach nationals, but an unknown maniac armed with a javelin is out to kill more than their Olympic dreams. Annie Rivers navigates the pressures of athletic perfection with high grades while maintaining a relationship with her boyfriend Phil. Their friends Lynn and Frank are supportive, but are in a similar position. Dr. Jordine is a bit too comfortable dispensing steroids and other supplements while Nurse Diane is a source of stability and reassurance to the students. Who is the masked psychopath and why do they hate these athletes so much? Can Annie survive long enough to answer these questions or are her dreams doomed to fail?

Fatal Games (aka The Killing Touch) came just in time for the 1984 Olympics, but quickly disappeared to the ranks of the video store shelf and relative obscurity. Michael Elliot makes his first and only trip to the director’s chair, but surrounds himself with talented people. Working from a script he co-wrote with cinema royalty Rafael Buñuel (To Kill a Stranger), son of famed director Luis Buñuel (An Andalusian Dog, Belle de Jour), and Christopher Mankiewicz (producer, A Perfect Murder), cousin of director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve, Guys & Dolls), the most familiar slasher elements are assembled for what should be a successful formula.

Elliot manages to create a somewhat original storyline that fits easily within the popular subgenre and does a competent job as a director. The mystery of who is responsible for the murders is effective and some of the kill scenes are suspenseful. There are obvious influences on this picture, from the pantheon of slashers ranging from Graduation Day to Happy Birthday to Me. Elliot even appears in front of the camera as the steroid-prescribing Dr. Jordine, and is actually a decent actor. Co-writer/producer Christopher Mankiewicz plays Coach Webber, with lesser acting chops.

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Academy Award nominee Sally Kirkland (The Way We Were) stars as Nurse Diane, the only level-headed adult at the school. She is likeable enough in the role and genuinely seems to want what’s best for the student athletes. Lynn Banashek (Sam’s Son) plays Final Girl gymnast Annie Rivers, the most developed character, who balances school, sports and a relationship. Annie has a great scene with her father who wants her to improve her grades or consider leaving the school and sports all together. Sean Masterson (Wag the Dog) plays Annie’s boyfriend Phil, a decent enough guy who is an accomplished runner but tends to pressure her into moving in with him. The lovely Teal Roberts (Hardbodies) co-stars as Annie’s best friend Lynn, a champion swimmer. Michael O’Leary (Halloween Ends) plays Frank, Lynn’s boyfriend, who is equally tight with Phil and Annie.

By the time this picture was released in 1984, the traditional stalk-and-slash formula was growing stale and the release of A Nightmare on Elm Street that same year introduced the idea of “rubber reality”, which influenced the next wave of horror films. Fatal Games has its moments but is on the lower tier of slasher films. The Olympics angle is timely and fairly creative because of the potential victims in top physical form facing off against a masked killer. The picture saw most of its profits from the VHS era, but never appeared on disc until now. Sought after by gorehounds for years, the wait is finally over and, with lowered expectations, the film is enjoyable, but there are much better slashers to seek out.

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Video and Audio:

The recently-unearthed dupe negative has been restored in 4K and is presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Image quality is surprisingly strong and anyone used to watching this on murky VHS is in for quite the treat. Colors are vibrant and frequently pop while black levels are rock-solid and flesh tones appear natural throughout.

A DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix gets the job done with clean, clear dialogue and a nice blend of sound effects and music cues free from hiss, pops or other distortion. Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.

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Special Features:

Podcaster Bill Ackerman and author Amanda Reyes travel to the original filming location of the school gym to record their delightful audio commentary. They share interesting trivia about the director, producers, the cast and locations. Also included is an analysis of the script’s social commentary and where this title fits within the pantheon of slasher movies.

Lead actress Tracie Hellberg (formerly Lynn Banashek) discusses her time on set in the interview segment The Winning Touch (8 minutes). She talks about her experience with gymnastics, her reluctance to do nude scenes and she has kind words for her co-stars. She also shares memories of her favorite scenes.

In Going for the Gold (11 minutes), actor Sean Masterson remembers his audition and goes on to offer his thoughts on the film’s writer and director. His favorite and least favorite scenes are discussed as well as some fun thoughts of working with Sally Kirkland.

Actor Michael O’Leary looks back on the film in Death on the Staircase (10 minutes), covering a wide range of topics, including his stunt double, his death scene and his least favorite reaction shot. He goes on to remember the director, Sally Kirkland and the film’s video release.

Melissa Prophet reflects on being the first victim in the interview segment A Great Day at the Office (9 minutes). She details how her death scene was accomplished and the nudity as well as her memories of the director and Sally Kirkland.

It’s the Taking Part That Counts (6 minutes) finds actress Spice Williams-Crosby happy to discuss her character and other memories from the shoot.

Editor/associate producer Jonathon Braun has some great stories in Cutting Gym Class (9 minutes). He talks about the director, shooting the pool scenes, and reveals Linnea Quigley (Night of the Demons) was a nude body double for the lead actress.

A photo gallery plays as a slide show (5 minutes) containing archival artwork, behind-the-scenes images and promotional stills.

The original The Killing Touch title card (1 minute) offers a look at the alternate title.

The theatrical trailer is also included.

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Movie: Grade Cover
Video: Grade
Audio: Grade
Features: Grade
Overall: 3.5 Star Rating


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Robert Gold
Staff Reviewer
Robert's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
Other articles by this writer


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