FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Mar 26, 2006

Prepare to Qualify

Guess what, kids? I stayed alive! That's right, today I went to see the movie about a video game that can kill you in real life, and I've lived to tell about it.

A group of friends and gamers with cool, movie-character names like Hutch, Swink, Finn, Loomis, and October get worried when friends who die while playing the spooky underground game Stay Alive begin to die in the exact same fashion their pixelated counterparts die. With the help of the Information Superhighway, the kids learn about the legend of The Blood Countess, the woman on whom the game's storyline is based. She's resurrected when gamers read an on-screen incantation, you see, and she's pissed! It's a race against the clock as the kids try to stop The Blood Countess before it's...before it's....oh yeah, you know it's coming...before it's GAME OVER.

Judging from that cheeky little plot synopsis, you might think that I didn't enjoy Stay Alive, or that maybe it deserved a few of my many middle fingers stuck up at it. Not true! Not true at all. You see, laying heavy criticism down on a movie like this (or going into see it with high expectations to begin with, even) would be akin to going to McDonalds and then bitching when your Happy Meal burger ain't filet mignon, or being disappointed when The Spice Girls sing "I really really really wanna zigazig ah". In other words, it's junk food, it's pop music, it's a cheesy horror movie: go into the venture to have a good time and you'll most likely enjoy yourself. You might not tell your friends about it, your body might pay for it the next day, but hey- man cannot live on Proust or Fellini alone, am I right? Am I right, people? Can I get a hell yes!? You can even feel guilty about it if you want, but that seems like a waste of time to me. Lighten the fuck up and have fun!

And have fun I did, I must say. This movie had all the fat trimmed and was 90 minutes of pure videogaming horror action, right from the get-go. A game character dies almost immediately, flung off a second story balcony with a rope around his neck. Later that night, the dude playing the game starts to hear noises and see things in the dark. He's found the next morning-gasp!- hung from the second story balcony. And so on...and so on. The movie had a few nice little touches- some genuinely frightening bits that made me think "Man, I wish that genuinely frightening bit was in a better movie". There's more jump scares in Stay Alive than all 11 Friday the 13th movies combined. There's figures who move in that herky-jerky fashion that's been all the rage since The Ring. The effects are decent, although the demon figures (mostly freaky, homicidal children) look very CGIed...of course, they should, as they're crossing over from the video game into the real world. There's some blood spilled, but not much more gore than that (it's rated PG-13, after all). I found myself wanting to see much more than is shown.

The legend on which the fictional game is based, that of The Blood Countess, is absolutely real. Elizabeth Bathory was a Hungarian noblewoman who killed over 600 young women in the late- 16th/early-17th century. Under the delusion that it would keep her young, she would torture and kill the young women, then bathe in their blood. Initially murdering her servants and local peasant girls, Bathory eventually began to seek the blood of other nobles (it's much finer quality, you see). Soon thereafter, a party raided the castle and, when they saw the horrors within first-hand, put Elizabeth and her servants/accomplices on trial. The servants were burned at the stake while Elizabeth was walled up within her castle- some accounts have her walled into the torture chamber itself. Regardless, she died in 1614 after three years of imprisonment.

For the sake of the plot, there are some changes to the legend- for example, instead of living in Hungary, Stay Alive has The Blood Countess residing on a plantation in New Orleans where the film takes place. This makes it easy for the kids to track down the source of the evil through the magic of the internet. Turns out that the address of the game manufacturer is the plantation of death itself! Noooooooo! This is an OK plot contrivance, but it leads to the biggest point of contention I had with the movie- the only one I had, in fact, for I turned my brain off when I sat in my seat. This meant accepting the fact that eventually the movie's rules changed; you no longer had to be playing the game in order to die in the game...turn it off or hit pause and the game would play itself. Eh, I was fine with that. There was one big issue that just couldn't be ignored, however...

The kids arrive at the plantation and soon discover that it's the same house you traverse in the game. Neat! Eventually, they find a room where the game developer/maker obviously did all of his/her research into Elizabeth Bathory. There's books, photographs, drawings, an oversized brass magnifying glass- it's a work space. But this mystery designer is never met, never seen, never really mentioned once the kids confront Elizabeth herself. What gives? Did the ghost of The Blood Countess come up with the nifty idea of setting herself free by having an incantation read in a videogame? Did she learn code and a graphics program (hell, let's start from scratch-did she learn what a pencil is, then...) and get the game out there into the hands of hungry Nintendoheads? Seems awfully complicated. Stay Alive, you almost had me completely wrapped up in your ever-cheesy, ever-lovin' arms for an afternoon of fun. When you name-dropped Silent Hill 4 and Fatal Frame, I thought "Wow, the makers of Stay Alive sure know their horror games. That fills me with a warm, geeky glow!" But then to drop the ball like that...I just don't-

--hey! Wait! Maybe the game developer just wasn't home! Yeah, that's it! He or she was out buying groceries, and then he or she is gonna come home later and be all like "What the-? Why is my backyard on fire?" Problem solved! Wow, I feel better. I'm sorry I doubted you, Stay Alive. You're so good-n-cheesy, I should've squeezed you out of a can.


Anonymous said...

I was worried that you had not managed to stay alive. Glad to see you made it through OK. Wish me luck. I'm going to see it on Tuesday.

Clay McClane said...

Um... hello? How was Frankie Muniz? Awesome? Not awesome?

John Barleycorn said...

I tried to have fun with the picture, but honestly, I couldn't do it. I just couldn't. It was so, so bad. Especially at the end (spoiler warning) when the redhead stuns the Countess with a fucking Alienware laptop and then Muniz bursts in dressed as a shrubbery and then everything's fine. Wow, what crap. Actually, it is kind of funny, but I'm still embarrassed for having seen it.

And Frankie Muniz was pathetic in the movie. Really sad. He looked like he wanted to cry every time he was on screen. Looked like he wanted to call his agent and bitch, "Why did you make me do this? I want my mommy. Why are they cancelling Malcolm in the Middle? I wanna wanna wanna zigazig ah!"

... dressed as a shrubbery.

Stacie Ponder said...

Oh, Frankie. He tried, the poor thing, I will say that much. He had a pretty thankless role, you know, the uber-geek type, but he tried. He soldiered on, despite the fact that he had to wear a visor throughout the movie.

C'mon, Brennon, the laptop as defensive tool was priceless! I mean, they used roses for defense throughout, so how much sillier could it get?

Meh. I was obviously much more forgiving than you. It's obvious that the filmmakers know their videogames and the videogame culture, which is a plus. It added a smidge of authenticity to a movie that, without it, could've been unwatchably bad. As it is, I had a ton of fun with it, as I expected to. Would I watch it again? Probably not- unless it was on TV wicked late at night for free.

I certainly didn't hate it, I'm not ashamed to say I saw it, and while it's not a "good" movie, it wasn't so bad I got angry. And it did some some decent, genuinely scary/spooky stuff going on at times.

Sometimes you just have to open yourself up to these things and go along for the ride. If you can...stay alive, of course.

Chris Hopper said...

Honestly, I am really surprised it took so long to make a movie using this concept. The gamer population and age range is so large here that it is like shooting fish in a barrel. It really dosen't matter how good or bad the movie is it is going to make money. I am never going to see it, but I do understand it. I just wonder how many sequels it will spawn. My suggestion for a good videogame movie is Oshii's Avalon. There are bad acting moments, but this has become one of my favorite movies. While not a horror movie it follows a slow mysterious pace that is almost meditative.
And stacie... thanks for taking one for the team.
Glad you had fun.

John Barleycorn said...

As time passes, and I continue to think about Muniz dressed as a shrubbery, I think, perhaps, there is a chance for this film after all. There were a lot of ridiculous moments.

But mostly I'm stuck on Frankie's anti-performance. He looked so fucking uncomfortable and depressed ... I wanted to cry a little. I also wanted to beat him up like a neighborhood bully and make him run home to his momma with blood and dirt on his face. Frankie Muniz really boils my blood for some reason - I think it's because he's so damn ugly and so damn untalented.

Anyway, so I feel better about Stay Alive now. But didn't you think the "graphics" were decidedly last-generation? Now that we've got XBox360 and all that shit, shouldn't the graphics have been better?

And why couldn't the "video game creatures" be physical entities? If they're going to warp into our reality, why can't they have flesh? It would've been scarier, that's for certain.

Despite all the badness of Stay Alive, it makes me all the more excited to see Silent Hill. Now that looks like a good fuckin' movie!

warrenzone said...

I enjoyed it too, it sucked though.

Stacie Ponder said...

I think that's just poor Frankie's face. He always looks like he's sort of constipated and is about to cry because of his discomfort. Poor thing. And you're right...the "graphics" were worse than most games available now. Maybe they just wanted to make sure we knew what was 'real' and what was the game.

Warrenzone, that's a great review- you nailed it perfectly!!

Anonymous said...

Stacie, you didn't mention in your review what happened BEFORE the movie started. How we were sitting on a bench outside the theater talking and all of a sudden you took off running into a different theater because your supersonic horror hearing was activated by the opening lines of the Silent Hill trailer. I'm surprised you missed the opportunity to mention Silent Hill for the 5000th time!

As for Stay Alive, the entire movie I was waiting for blondie to turn out evil. I mean, the other kids were long-time friends and she appears out of nowhere, living in her van. Wouldn't it have been interesting if she had been the programmer?

Stacie Ponder said...

You're right, I didn't mention it. I guess I thought I'd let Stay Alive have its moment in the sun! Although the best part of Stay Alive was in fact seeing the SH trailer on the big screen in another theatre. God, I'm a tool.

I thought blondie was going to be evil, too! When she admitted her...random homelessness, I thought for sure she was going to say that her dad was the game programmer or something, and she was working for him, getting this evil game on the street and making sure kids play. Then she could've been all "My dad sucks! Let's take that bitch DOWN!" rather than some new kid who lives in a van. Guess they just wanted to avoid the "Who made the game, anyway?" question altogether!

Unknown said...

you're all haters! just have fun with'll enjoy it if you let it

Anonymous said...

So let me get this straight, there's a mass-murderer's-ghost-turned-narcissistic-video-game-designer and Frankie Muniz has to fight her off by dressing as a shrubbery? I don't know whether this sounds terrible or like genius.