Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Film Appreciation - Do You Wanna Play... Truth or Dare?!

Guest contributor Matt Hill goes in-depth on the 1986 cult classic Truth or Dare?: A Critical Madness for Film Appreciation.

The month was November, the year was 2004. I had only recently turned 13 years old, and months earlier, the Movie Gallery chain had decided that the VHS tapes just had to go – so they initiated the "VHS Blowout" sale in each store. This news was met with unbelievable enthusiasm by yours truly – for long had I walked the aisles which made up the "Horror" section, checking out the super cool box arts; unfortunately, my parents couldn't rent anything from that store due to a late fee – and I doubt they would have been too willing to rent that kind of stuff for me anyway. They had already tried to stop me from watching these films, but once a horror diehard... a horror diehard until the end. Either way, the internet was of course around, with sites like Amazon seemingly providing much greater ease in locating the harder to find titles of the horror library. Unfortunately, online shopping simply never really came into play too much for me at that point; so, I had to basically luck into finding a copy of whatever movie I wanted to see, or be forced to go without. This definitely made things frustrating, but there really wasn't anything to do about it. However, it especially sucked seeing a rental copy of a film that I had read about and become interested in, and not being able to rent it; being able to look at the cover, to pick it up and read the description on the back, but unable to take the tape out of the store with you.

This came to an end with the VHS Blowout, and I couldn’t have been happier, even though some of the titles that I had seen there previously were now missing. It allowed me to finally see films that I had been longing to view for ages: Jaws of Death, Daddy's Deadly Darling, The Forest, Don't Open Till Christmas, Slaughter High, etc. In some cases, the mystery behind the films was worth waiting to unravel; in others, I walked away finding myself extremely pissed off. However, I also began to notice films that I had not previously heard of, nor had I remembered seeing the boxes on the racks at that store, in Starkville, Mississippi. The shot-on-video documentary gorefest Splatter: Architects of Fear, for example. As I was perusing the aisles to uncover another shocker gem, clutching films like Street Trash and Prom Night III: The Last Kiss in my hands, I noticed an intriguing video box. Not quite sure what it was about the artwork – but it had me hooked. It was a dark box, with metallic ink, revealing a trail of shiny, trickling blood dripping from its titles and a razor blade in the bottom right corner. I read the title: Truth or Dare? – A Critical Madness. "Truth or dare?" I thought, "how’s that supposed to work with a horror movie?" In hindsight, it really should have been obvious, but at that point, I was fairly intrigued at the concept. I grabbed the video box, and the rental box behind it, and made my way toward the front counter to make my purchase.

I arrived home about 15 minutes later, with my purchases in hand. I laid them out on my bed, and looked at the boxes. Except for Prom Night III, for that one’s box had mysteriously disappeared from the shelf. Strangely enough, I had seen the box for Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil on the shelf as well – but the rental box containing the tape was nowhere to be found. I examined the Street Trash artwork and was floored at the very concept described on the back – I couldn’t wait to watch it! (It became an immediate favorite of mine, for those interested in that side of the story) Then, my eyes turned back to that Truth or Dare box. "Meet Mike Strauber. He plays truth or dare with everyone... even himself!" I then reached for the rental box, so I could place the tape into the cover and chuck the stock box. But then – my eyes noticed that something was wrong. In horror – I read the title on the side of the rental box: Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism. While I can’t remember what sentence exactly went through my head at that point, I’m fairly certain that it was along the lines of "Oh, god damn it!!!!!" I had bought the wrong damned movie! I should have checked at the video store... I did eventually go back to the Movie Gallery in town – but Truth or Dare was nowhere to be found. I was out three dollars with a movie that I didn’t intend to buy, and an amusing cover. Doesn’t get much more annoying than that. I did flip through the pages of Video and DVD Guide to see if there was a capsule review – there was indeed a review. Surprise, surprise, Mick and Marsha had branded it with the "turkey" rating. Of course – at that point – that didn’t amount to a whole lot with me. I did notice that, in the review, it stated "and that is actually Tim Ritter directing under a pseudonym." However, in an ironic twist, it was to be that very book that set all of this craziness back into motion.

I had gotten the 2005 edition of Video and DVD Guide the following summer – was flipping through the pages when I noticed something strange: Screaming For Sanity: Truth Or Dare 3. "Wait a minute... couldn’t be..." I thought. Then I looked at the director credit. "Tim Ritter." And that was enough to make me pull out the old, dusty, empty VHS box of Truth or Dare for closer examination. "What was this movie? How did it get sequels? I’d never heard of any of these films..." I then read up about them further, when I eventually read other reviews of the original film. Sure, most were negative, but the events described in these reviews revealed that I had indeed been missing out on an '80s slasher masterpiece. Then I noticed that Tim Ritter had his own website, with a contact section as well. For some reason – I did write him, claiming that I was a fan of the series, not really expecting much to come of it. Well – I was certainly wrong about that, got a follow up email from him quickly after, and found that we practically shared the same brain. We continued to converse about the film, horror films in general, and heavy metal, and eventually formed a friendship. I ordered copies of the (then) two sequels, Wicked Games and Screaming For Sanity: Truth Or Dare 3 and ended up really loving them.

Time went on, but I still couldn’t seem to locate a copy of the original film. Eventually, Tim finally offered to send me a VHS tape to go along with my box, free of charge at that! I hesitated a bit, but accepted his offer. A week or so later, I got the package from him, and opened it. To my delight – he went ahead and put a copy of the DVD in place of a tape! And he threw in an autographed copy of his then latest movie, Reconciled Through The Christ as a bonus. That night, all the waiting and wonder came to an end: I finally got a chance to watch Truth Or Dare? – A Critical Madness. Unsurprisingly, I thought it was completely stellar, well worth the wait and it quickly became the all-time favorite that I was expecting it to be. It had an awesome script, crazy gore scenes, humorous sub-plots, and a completely zany lead performance by John Brace. Now, I imagine that I should go over the formalities of this review, with an epic walkthrough of the film, from beginning to end!

We are introduced to the movie with a shot of a couple in bed, having sex. Meanwhile, Mike Strauber is driving home from a tiring day at his job as an architect. He has a meeting in an hour, but he decides to bail on it and spend some quality time with his wife. Things have seemingly gotten back on the right track between them after a rough spot that ended with Mike having a nervous breakdown. He's finally gotten a pay raise, and some comforting words from his boss at that. He's also decided to let his lovely wife, Sharon, take up a job as a secretary for his best friend, Jerry, after a while of hesitation. Mike arrives at his home, and announces his arrival to his wife. However, Mike hears a strange sound coming from the bedroom. He creeps down the hallway, growing more suspicious at what could be going on, when he opens the bedroom door. To his horror, he discovers Jerry and Sharon making the beast with two backs. He shouts his displeasure at the treacherous event, and storms out, Sharon running after him. She catches up to him, and attempts to explain her misdoings by saying that "she found a new life", and that Mike should "Find some good friends and start living." Mike storms out of the door, barely containing his tears of rage. He drives around town, having flashbacks of the previous week, and begins to recollect all of the tell tale signs that he didn’t quite pay proper attention to: Sharon taking a phone call in a hushed tone, telling Mike that it was a "wrong number"; Sharon’s insistence on becoming Jerry's secretary; Sharon becoming displaced during a dinner conversation... and finally, the ultimate betrayal. He wanders around the beach for a while, throwing rocks into the sea, trying to drown out his anguish, but it simply isn't working. Mike then gets back into his car, pulls out a small handgun, and places it to his temple, ready to end it all. However, Sharon's voice and her final advice keeps calling to him and he just can’t pull the trigger.

Mike drives around a bit more until he discovers a busty hitchhiker on the road. He decides to pick her up, and the two inexplicably decide to go camping, despite having just met. Why let Sharon have all the fun? The two arrive at the campsite and set up their tent. That night, the two engage in a conversation. Mike then asks the beautiful lady what her name might be (you'd kind of figure they'd already be past that point by now...), and she declares "It's Sharon, and I love you Mike!" Mike doesn’t take this mocking very well and immediately goes into a diatribe about how his cheating wife "said some shit about changes, and it was over, like that!" The hitchhiker snaps him out of his rant by asking if he'd like to play a little game, to help soothe the tension. The game of truth or dare. After some slight hesitation, Mike agrees. The game starts out normally enough, the hitchhiker asking if he still loved his wife, Mike making sure that his guest is over 18, etc.

When it gets to the dare part, however, is when things start to get really nutty. First, the hitchhiker dares Mike to throw his wallet into the campfire. After accomplishing this task, Mike decides that he'd like a peek under his guest's blouse, she obliges (unfortunately, this is kept offscreen). After this, she turns around and dares Mike to rip out his eyeball with a corkscrew. Thinking that she can't be serious, Mike declines this offer and dares her to do it first. To his utter shock – she goes through with it, handing him her disembodied eye. The hitchhiker (who seems to have the power to immediately regenerate from her wounds as her eye immediately grows back) is quite displeased at his lack of cooperation, so she decides to punish him by daring him to chop his finger off. "Alright... alright... I will." After this is done, he shrieks in pain, and gritting his teeth he attempts to rope her into another mutilation dare. However, before he can speak, she doles out another gruesome dare, to cut his chest open. After this, he finally dares her to kiss him. As she leans forward to complete the dare, Mike realizes to his horror that his hitchhiker has transformed into the perfect image of his mother. Frothing at the mouth, whatever grip he once had seems to vanish entirely. The movie cuts to Mike shouting the conversation aloud to himself, revealing that the hitchhiker was all in his imagination. He screams that he refuses to kill his wife, that he still loves her, even though she cheated on him. However – he does take the ghoulish dare to rip his tongue out. Seconds later, the park ranger comes to chew him out for having a fire after 11 PM, when he finds the cut up, tongue-less mess that used to be Mike Strauber.

13 months later, and the Sunnyville Mental Institution is having some major financial crises, and Dr. Thorne finds himself forced to release a few patients back into civilization; one of these patients just so happens to be Mike Strauber (who has miraculously grown his finger and tongue back, by the way). Thorne and his... female associate (I forget her name) both agree that he has come out of the hysteria he inflicted upon himself a year earlier, he has been on his best behavior for his entire stay, and he’s even finally gotten his linguistic abilities back. Mike goes out to the parking lot to claim his car from the orderly, who proceeds to call him a "booger eatin' wacko." Has Mike really returned to sanity? Well, given that he has thrown his release papers out of the window and speeds off laughing maniacally, I'd guess not.

Jerry and Sharon have taken it upon themselves to get married, and are having a dandy ol' time at the house. Actually – Jerry seems to be quite the fucking tool, giving Sharon hell for not returning a hammer to the basement shop where it belongs. The phone suddenly rings – who could it be? Mike's calling Sharon from a pay phone a short distance away from their house – but doesn’t speak. And now that he knows that they’re home...

Sharon can't seem to figure out why she got such dead silence on the phone, so she attempts to have a little fun by pretending that it’s her secret lover on the phone – the 'whore' character aspect shining through yet again – when Jerry approaches her from behind and quickly snatches the phone out of her hand, only to hear the dial tone. While Sharon has a good laugh at his foolishness, Jerry doesn't seem to be amused. In fact, he seems to have quite a large stick up his ass about the small prank, and going on to say that if she did pull anything like that, he would have to kill her... Not only does this man forget how the movie started, his foreshadowing skills are also in the shitter, because Mike is now in the house!

Mike rounds the corner into the kitchen and grabs a cutting knife, ready to swoop in for the kill as Sharon prepares sliced vegetables for the dinner she is making. He’s about a second away from implanting stainless steel into the back of her spine when THUD THUD THUD! Jerry's banging away with the hammer at something in the basement, and Mike decides to pay him a little visit before moving onto the main course of Sharon.

Sharon's still busy chopping up vegetables while this terrible girl-fronted pop metal song plays on the radio ("Master!!! Master... Of the game!!! Oh master, master... Of the ga-e-ame!!!!" over and over. I looked in the credits – this band is called RAJ'. Fucking RAJ'. What the hell kind of band name is that?) when in comes Mike, right behind her once again, covered in blood. He's raising the knife up with tears in his eyes, ready to deliver the final blow to punish Sharon for inflicting such harm to his sanity, when... beep beep beep! The alarm on Mike's watch goes off! He stares up at the intruding device in disbelief, giving Sharon enough time to turn around slice him across the belly. Mike screams at his wound while Sharon flees to the basement, to discover Jerry's bloody corpse. Sharon returns to the kitchen to find a puddle of blood where Mike used to be, frightened for her life. She phones the cops while Mike heads outside and collapses in the street, losing energy from the loss of blood.

13 days later and Mike's back at the Sunnyville Mental Institution, placed in the holding cell while he's processed once again. Here, we see that Mike's reality has once again become distorted by his failure to eliminate his evil wife from existence. He spins around in circles with his wheelchair (really not sure why he doesn't just get up – he isn't paralyzed or strapped to the chair) until he sees new friends in their institutional robes appear out of thin air, a bald old man and "Warty Man", played by none other than Asbestos Felt of Ritter's later Killing Spree. Overjoyed to see that he has new company, he immediately starts up a new game of truth or dare. The old bald dude goes first, immediately picking the "dare" option. Mike dares him to slice his arm off – and it’s here that we see that the old man's not of the same breed as the hitchhiker from earlier, as he tends to scream and cry at his wounds instead of immediately healing. The old man is hacking away at his hand with the knife that Mike gave him, crying the entire time, while Mike doles out another dare for Warty. Mike absurdly pulls out a grenade and tells him, "I dare you... to put this in your mouth, and blow your head off!!!" Shrugging off the eventual loss of his head, Warty pulls the pin and places it in his mouth.

Mike turns back to the old guy, claiming that he dared him to cut his leg off. Uh... I don’t think that you did, Mike, but whatever you say... Mike again tries to persuade him to cut his leg off calmly, almost politely, when it's clear that he’s getting nowhere. Mike then shouts in rage "CUT YOUR LEG OFF!!!!!!" The old man, in the middle of chewing through his leg and shrieking like a prison bitch, has finally had enough, and demandingly shouts "You ain't done nuttin' yet! It's your turn, your turn, your turn!!!" Mike decides to play along with the elderly loony's wish (most likely because it might put a stop to his bitching) and accepts his dare: to rip his own face off. Mike then pulls out a knife... Wait, where the fuck did he get the knife?! Is the security that bad at Sunnyville? I know that he had another knife and a grenade to boot earlier, but those were in his head – this is an honest-to-fuck knife he's wielding. In any regard, Mike begins to slice at his face with the blade, while the old man continues to scream and Warty just sits there, waiting for his skull to burst. It’s about this time that the doctors and the guard arrive back at the holding cell, in complete horror at Mike's self-mutilation. Annoyed that they have disrupted his imaginary carnage-fest, Mike spins around in his wheelchair and screams at his intruders "WAIT!!!!" Mike wheels back around to focus on Warty's fate. Warty's head then explodes in a tremendous shower of blood, cranial innards and skull fragments. Actually, that's what was most likely scripted. What really happens, due to the person who edited the movie putting the effect in slow motion, is that Warty's neck explodes and his head flops over. Regardless, Mike is pleased, and spins around laughing, impressed with the vile handiwork self-inflicted on his face.

5 months later, Mike is now wearing a mask made of solid copper – well actually it's foam latex and it pulsates against his face whenever he breathes through his mouth, but... In the movie, it's 100% copper. Resembles something of the Quiet Riot mascot, actually. Awesome. Regardless – he's not taken the mask off nor has he spoken ever since he created it. Orderlies Dan Hess (played by Joel Wynkoop, the original Mike Strauber and Tim Ritter's right hand man in filmmaking) and his buddy Steve are sitting outside of Mike's cell, making sure that he doesn’t decide to break out and slaughter a group of innocent people including but not limited to a mother and her baby, a little leaguer, and a few folks waiting for a bus. Dan is trying to study his porno mag while Steve rambles on about what a disgusting freak that Mike is, much to Dan's annoyance. Dan, at his wit's end, instructs Steve to sit there and listen to his "jive ass music." (Dan is white, Steve is black... are you laughing hysterically yet?) Steve obliges Dan's demand, and we go back to Mike. He's just sitting in his cell, bored, trying to pass whatever time he has left in his room. He’s seemingly been non-violent and peaceful for the last few months. Well, this is about to come to a hideous end – because Wes the orderly decided it might be a funny idea to go and place a framed portrait of Sharon on Mike's bed. Ya know – for giggles. And hey, he can't hurt anyone (or himself) with that glass, can he? Mike predictably doesn't take this too well – in fact he throws the picture across the room and begins beating the shit out of the walls. This disrupts Dan's porno study once again, and he commands Steve to go check out the noise. By the way – if you've heard of the sequels to this movie and are interested in seeing and understanding them, you'd better pay attention to this very scene.

Steve arrives at Mike's cell and opens the door. Mike is crouching in wait, and springs at Steve; he throws him against the wall and jams the pencil in his pocket into left eye. Mike bolts out of his room, past Dan, who fails to apprehend him. The alarm sounds after Mike exits the asylum, where he encounters a guard who’s all too eager to put a stop to this nonsense (before the alarm even sounds, he's already drawn his gun and is leaping around corners). Mike runs into Officer Badass on the balcony, who suffers an embarrassing loss at the brief fist fight they encounter. With Mr. Badass having undoubtedly broken a few bones at the fall he's taken, Mike speeds toward an incoming car, kicking the man about to enter the vehicle out of the way, and in seconds he's off, cruising the town in the stolen car. By the way – the owner of this car must have been on the vengeful end of a drug deal gone wrong, because it’s miraculously filled with a wonderful arsenal of slaughter, including but not limited to: an AK-47, nunchucks, knives, a machete, a battle mace (!) and a chainsaw. Could the bloodbath that is about to begin be cancelling out another? We may never know. Or could it be that some people involved in the making of this movie were complete morons?

Either way – Mike is now free of the nuthouse and is out on the streets, ready to pay his wife yet another visit, and hoping that he doesn't screw things up this time. All's going smooth until a mother pushing her baby doesn't look to see if there’s a speeding car driven by a masked madman cruising through the line, and presto! They’re ground into meat under Mike's wheels of death. Mike steps out of the car with slight remorse of the accident, but then the wounded mother turns into Mike's own mother, screaming "Truth or dare, truth or dare Mike!!!" Mike's decided that he's had enough of this bullshit, and he backs over the corpses, speeding off to yet another detour of manslaughter.

Meanwhile, a car driven by a trio of drunk teenagers is cruising along when they make the horrible mistake of allowing their joint to blow out the window of their vehicle. At the same time, a couple in need of gas is busy screaming at each other and deciding whose fault it is. The man of the family steps out of the car, and politely asks the drunk driver (known from now on as Drunko) for directions to the nearest gas station. After a short but amusing verbal duel, the guy gets fed up and speeds off to look for the station on his own. At this point, Mike happens upon the drunken teens, and stares at them, seeing them as... people he apparently knew at one point. I have no clue, really. The lead drunk proclaims "You're weird, asshole, fuck you!" and throws a beer at his car. As the drunks re-enter their vehicle, Drunko decides to shove Mike off the road. His female cronies are not amused, and exit the car whilst screaming curses at him. Drunko isn’t too pleased with this results and screams "I'm gonna get you, asshole!" Mike and Drunko get into a road rage chase scene, trying to run each other off the road. After Mike succeeds in this task, Drunko gazes across the scene at Mike, with pure hatred. In one final stand, Drunko decides to ram Mike's car. As he speeds toward Mike... he somehow manages to hit another car, which explodes on impact and even shorts out the light pole in front of it. Mike drives to a better vantage point so he can admire his new victim. Drunko then leaps out of the car, covered from head to toe in flames. As his burning body collapses onto the road, Mike bursts through the sun roof of his car with his AK-47, and opens fire on Drunko's burning carcass. After a short cheer, Mike is once again off on his quest for gore and revenge.

We're now introduced to Detective Rosenberg, an elderly police officer who isn't too happy to be dealing with all this bullshit. After all – nothing quite fucks up a day like a local massacre, right? What he's really pissed over is his dumbass partner, Pournelle, a chubby cop wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Pournelle has a history of royally screwing things up, and today certainly will not be an exception: Pournelle enters the scene when he finds a wounded cop. Evidently Mike was in the area and stabbed the officer, while his colleagues fled (tax dollars at work!). Pournelle, using the best logical skills he can muster, decides that Mike must be in the old outhouse that's next to them. He warns Mike to come on out, to no avail. When this doesn't work, he shoots at the outhouse walls. Displeased at the lack of results, he then displays his true brilliance by grabbing a can of gasoline and dousing the outhouse, which he then sets ablaze. While Pournelle is over at the wounded cop's car, banging on the hood and shouting "Burn bastard buuuuurn!!! HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!" Rosenberg drives up to the scene. He is not amused, to say the least. The fire squad arrives at the scene (when the fire has pretty much extinguished itself, at that) and hoses down the burning remains of the outhouse. When the fire is completely gone, they dig through the wood and discover a charred body. Is it really Mike? Did the movie go out on such an anti-climactic note? Well, the coroner (who bears a striking resemblance to one Orville Redenbacher) analyzes the burned body – and nope, it ain't Mike. In fact, it's actually the town drunk. So let's take another look at Pournelle: he’s inhumanly stupid, a shitty cop, he's now a murderer, and he wears Hawaiian shirts. Ladies and gentlemen – welcome to the worst character in this movie.

Mike has now made decent progress on his grotesque trip home, when he spots yet another diversion: a little leaguer. He glances over at the kid – and has yet another distorted view – he sees the little leaguer as his former, child self. (Also of note – he had a flashback near the beginning of when he was a child, playing truth or dare games and slitting his wrists, and his younger self is played by none other than... AJ McLean of the Backstreet Boys. Some might call this movie a skeleton in AJ's closet – I see it more as an unfortunate cameo for this movie, having a Backstreet Boy tarnish it) Mike gives a nod, as if to say "You’re fuckin' deeeeeeeeead, kid!" and pulls over to the road beside the kid. Kid's just walking along, minding his own business, and is completely oblivious to the chainsaw wielding madman inches away from slicing him to pieces. That's right, folks, we are witnessing a drive-by chainsawing. The kid turns around at the last second, but before he can muster a scream, the blade tears through his face. Mike speeds away from the scene, leaving the twitching body of the kid spitting blood. Interestingly, this scene was scripted to have the kid's head being sawed completely in half while the body still walks, spurting blood, but... the FX man screwed up, so the kid just gets a severe slice on his face, presumably cutting through his skull and brain as well.

Mike's now on the home stretch and making excellent time (well – as excellent time as he can make on a random killing spree) when he glances over at some people waiting at a bus stop. He reverses to get a better look at them, seeing them as his doctors and guards. Mike steps out of the car, and brings his AK-47 with him. In mere seconds, all three of the travelers are riddled with bullets and collapse to the ground. What's even more interesting is how several cars pass by, and not one of 'em stops to lend a hand, or at least commit suicide by jumping the madman, allowing the trio to escape. People these days!

Back at the station, Rosenberg is analyzing the list of victims and the locations of where they were all killed, when he finally breaks the pattern that we've already had figured out since before the first victim was slaughtered: Mike is heading home to kill his wife. He phones Dr. Thorne, and arranges for him to meet him at Sharon's home before the damage can be completed.

It doesn't really matter, because while the police have been dicking off, Mike has now reached his destination: Sharon's house. Home sweet home. Mike steps out of the car, and it's revealed that he's knocked over the neighbor's garbage cans and spilled her trash all over the street. Neighbor lady doesn't appreciate his act of vandalism, and launches into an insane diatribe at Mike, talking about how all he cares are "costume parties, raping girls, sex sex sex!" All the while, she's too busy bitching and moaning to notice all of the spectacular weaponry that Mike is pulling out of the car. Finally, she smacks Mike on the shoulder, an act that prompts Mike to raise his battle mace in her direction as a warning. She keeps on, demanding that he apologize, and leave immediately, lest she call the cops. Mike retaliates by swatting her in the throat with the mace to end her vile noise. Meanwhile, Sharon is in the middle of a shower, while Rosenberg is hot on Mike's trail. Unfortunately, his journey is hindered by a drawbridge. Mike kicks off the slaughterfest soon to begin by pulling the strings on his chainsaw. The engine roars to life and the blades begin to carve as he saws through the door and makes his entrance, free of any interruption by police officers or even more annoying neighbors.

Mike steps inside and pulls out his machete, admiring the gleaming blade. Hearing the shower still going, he steps into the bathroom, raises his blade to attack, and rips open the shower curtain only to find... Dr. Thorne! Thorne blasts Mike in the chest a few times with a pistol, and Mike falls to the floor, weakened by his wounds. Thorne then places the gun down. He goes into the bedroom to check on Sharon, announcing that Mike is dead and she can now exit her closet. When he doesn’t get an answer, he opens the closet door... and Sharon's naked, toweled (damn!) corpse falls over, her throat slit! Ha! Dr. Thorne wasted his bullets, Mike had killed her already! Ha ha! Dr. Thorne, in shock, looks up and states "Oh... shit." Bang! Mike fires a bullet into Thorne’s head.

Meanwhile, Rosenberg is only now getting here and is displeased at the sights before him, knowing that both Sharon and Thorne are quite dead at this point. Rosenberg explores the home, when Mike pops out from a corner, clutching the wall for dear life, clearly dying from his loss of blood. "Wanna play truth or dare?" a voice in his head asks. Mike shakes his head violently, clearly not wanting the madness to continue. And hey, why bother? Wife is dead already. No reason for it. Rosenberg, however, is not having any of that, and he starts up another game with Mike, daring him to put the gun down. Mike's slowly in the process of releasing the weapon, until Pournelle crashes in, training his gun on Mike, screwing up the progress. Fortunately, Rosenberg is able to get the idiot out of there before he can make things even worse. Mike finally drops the gun, and the ambulance takes him away. Pournelle goes over to talk to Rosenberg, claiming a job well done by both of them. Rosenberg is appalled to hear of Pournelle even daring (heh heh) to include himself in this victory, and declares that he's on charges. The screen fades red and the end credits roll while a cheesy ballad sung by a church choir (!) plays. "He's got a critical madness, it's taking him away from me."

Now that the journey through the film is over, let's analyze the movie. Truth Or Dare is a ninety minute ride that simply doesn't let up until the end credits roll. The acting is of course going to be panned and mocked by most mainstream movie fans, but really, who cares? John Brace is simply awesome as Mike Strauber. He takes 'insanity' to unthinkable levels here. Nothing is ever small and insignificant with this guy – if there's an issue, he's there, screaming at the top of his lungs with complete hate. He starts the movie off normally enough, but once things get rolling, he simply doesn't let up. To put it this way – Silent Night Deadly Night 2's Eric Freeman couldn’t dream of going as over the top as John Brace. From the classic "Alllllllllright, I WILL!!!!"s, to "CUT YOUR LEG OFF!!!!", his performance is a complete hoot, and it's disappointing that he ceases to speak once the mask is over his face. Mary Fanaro does a fairly decent job as the wife, though she gets very little screen time, and two of her 4 scenes in the movie she's completely naked. Excellent. Raymond Carbone is definitely hilarious as the smartass Detective Rosenberg, delivering degrading comments to his idiot partner Pournelle for every time he screws up (which of course is every scene that Pournelle is in the movie), referring to him as "you shithead you" most of the time. The man is a more than decent actor, and plays the part very convincingly, given that he was in actuality a retired police officer. He went on to play Ben in Ritter's Killing Spree as well, before his untimely death. R.I.P. Carbone. I'd of course also be remiss if I didn't mention the impressive comedic genius displayed by Norm Rosenbaum as the bald psycho, who is more displeased than anybody to be playing truth or dare, screaming his head off for the entire time.

The movie is directed as well as it can be under the circumstances (don't worry, I'll be getting to that shortly) and the script is definitely awesome. The very idea of the proceedings in this movie are quite disturbing. After all, what other movie features self tongue removal, head explosions, and child mutilation? It's definitely a negative commentary on the budget cuts several sanitariums across the country were facing, and the subsequent decisions made to release unstable inmates back into the public in the mid 1980s.

There are some severe flaws contained in the movie though: namely the editing. The editing is pretty awful in a few areas. Flashbacks that are fixated on and repeat much more than necessary; un-needed shots accidentally left in; audio clipping; scenes vital to the story and scenes that were filmed and not included, etc. Some of the gore scenes also have zero chance of being effective because the editor either cut them way too quickly, or the worse case of the head explosion, with the slow motion. The movie was also edited on video, the film was never developed, so the movie doesn't really have a very good transfer. Unfortunately, the raw footage is long gone by now, so the version of Truth Or Dare that appeared on video in 1986 is pretty much all that we are going to get. Some people even mistake this for being a shot-on-video effort due to the presentation, which it is not.

The special effects are another thing that was screwed up. I won't dwell on it much here because this issue mainly comes into play later on in this article. However, the FX are clearly not at all what they were intended to be. An exploding head, in the Scanners vein, ended up looking more like a bizarre, auto-decapitation. The death of a little leaguer (as mentioned earlier) was originally intended to feature the kid's head being sliced in half; the kid now gets a scratch on his cheek. The head explosion actually did not look too bad when filmed, going by the making of footage, but due to it being placed in slow motion... It reveals the nature of the effect entirely too much. The worst thing about Truth Or Dare, however, has got to be the movie's production.

Truth Or Dare began life as a short anthology segment in Tim Ritter and Joel Wynkoop's previous shot-on-video film Twisted Illusions. This segment covered what we see in the feature film up until the 25 minute mark, climaxing with Mike Strauber hacking himself to pieces on his imaginary friend's command. Tim, Joel, and Al Nicolosi shopped the movie around to various video stores, when Tim suddenly got the idea to take the Truth Or Dare segment even further. It was always the most popular segment of the entire movie with those who had seen it, and Tim had always had something bigger in store for it. He finally sent the film out to a Chicago based company called VSI to try to get funding for the feature film.

As it turns out, luck was on his side. He and Al flew up to Chicago to meet with Geoff Miller of Peerless Films, who mainly distributed pornography. Geoff was looking to distribute original, low budget movies and figured horror to be the most attractive to market. Although the initial meeting was not very promising, Tim was persistent, and eventually got Geoff to read his script. Geoff's reaction was overwhelmingly positive and he phoned Tim to tell him the good news – the feature film was happening.

Tim originally wanted to film the movie on Beta SP video, with a budget of $60,000. However, the budget he ended up getting far exceeded this mark: over $200,000, allowing the movie to be shot on 16mm film. After business negotiations, the movie's production became a reality. Unfortunately, what at the time seemed to be the horror fan's ultimate dream turned into a slow, horrific nightmare.

Tim had originally planned for Al Nicolosi to produce the movie. Unforutnately, Geoffrey Miller brought along somebody who seemingly had a bit more credibility – a Chicago producer named Yale Wilson. Almost immediately, this producer began to cut away at Tim's plans for the movie, shaping it to suit his own desires. The first person to go was Joel D. Wynkoop in the leading role, replacing him with John Brace. While as much as I love Joel, I can’t really complain about this decision – this was only the beginning.

The producer went on to cut out the hired special make-up effects artist, who had done some work on Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (and later, Scanners III) in favor of someone who claimed to be able to pull off the same quality work for far less money. This proved to be a fairly devastating blow to the movie – as not only did he prove unable to accomplish the grisly gore effects as envisioned, he managed to botch the entire job spectacularly. Apparently, he spent all of the money allotted for creating the gore effects, tried to cast the actors... And then, Tim found him in his hotel room when it was time to shoot the movie – the latex props had crumbled into unusable goo, and were placed in the center of the room, now a volcano-shaped structure of foam latex (which Tim has compared to an infamous scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind). As a last resort, effects person Bob Shelley was called in to try and make up some new effects at the last minute – but they were far inferior to what was envisioned, and did not come out very well, with some disgruntled viewers referring to them as "dimestore gore effects."

But the worst aspect of the entire production had to be an unnamed assistant - who was nicknamed "Red Man" due to his constant red shirt wardrobe. This guy allegedly made life a living hell for all involved with the production, contradicting everything Tim requested (and later demanded), screaming at everyone, and constantly trying to steal control of the set. However, things became far more sinister – after Tim and Red Man had a particularly nasty exchange of words with one another – Red Man began to dig up dirt on Tim, eventually discovering that before Truth Or Dare? had begun filming, he worked as a dishwasher. It was then that he also found out that Tim had only recently turned 18, something that wasn't let on to anybody in charge before then. With this knowledge, the producer figured that he finally had the proper evidence to try and kick Tim off of the set of his own movie, so that he could be the director. However – he found that firing him over his age would have been illegal and could have opened him up to a lawsuit, so he began finding ways to render Tim unable to focus on the movie, and thus, unable to direct the movie competently. This included turning a blind eye to every bit of negativity that Red Man brought forth, and cutting his friends – the people who had helped him get the movie rolling to begin with – out of their positions, humiliating them, and feeding Tim bad advice on how to go about directing his movie.

Eventually, after he saw how persistent Tim was to finish his movie as best as he could, Yale decided to fire Tim from his directing position with 2 days of shooting left (filming mainly pick-up shots), taking the position for himself. When the movie went to editing in Chicago, the producer had his lawyers send Tim a letter saying that not only would he be relinquishing his director's position to Yale, but also his screenwriting credit as well, and that he would receive a "story by" credit and nothing more. This latest insult was enough to push Tim to finally file suit against the producer, demanding an injunction be issued and that all of his rightful credits be reinstated. However – there was a slight problem. The trial would be held in Chicago, and Tim could not fly all of his witnesses up there with him, so he eventually decided only to pursue his writing credit. The lawsuit cost him all of the money he was paid for directing and writing the movie. Eventually, after much perseverance, he was awarded his writing credits. However – the bitter producer seemingly decided not to put this credit in the opening titles – opting instead to place his credit until well after the last ending credit rolled, and on the video box.

The bitter irony of it all is that, in the quest for power, the producer forgot to film a few critical scenes for the movie – including a scene where Mike was to have his tongue and finger surgically reattached, and another scene where Mike robs a hardware/pawn shop to acquire his weapons for the rampage. Because of this, in the finished product – Mike's finger magically grows back, and he’s speaking fluently with no explanation; also, when he escapes from the asylum, he steals a car that miraculously contains several deadly weapons, as mentioned above.

Despite its financial success, the movie initially was not very well received – it was initially severely panned by about every critic who watched the movie, who bashed the film relentlessly due to the plot holes, continuity issues, and cheap looking special effects – all of these caused by greedy would-be filmmakers' own incompetence. Eventually, it was discovered that, despite what the video box and opening credits say, the movie was in fact directed by Tim Ritter – so there wasn't even much of a silver lining in having the movie receive such hostile reviews. The movie was a major success in the video market though, managing to chart as #16. The movie sold over 30,000 cassettes to video stores all across America, and managed to find its way into just about every video store you could find. This massive success prompted Geoff Miller to request a sequel be made by Tim, with a more pleasant production this time, but unfortunately, Geoff's distribution company – Peerless Video, who distributed Truth or Dare – was sued by outside investors over lack of payment, and he went bankrupt not long after Truth Or Dare was released. Even more unfortunate, Geoff succumbed to bone cancer not long after this.

The good news is that, over time, the movie has developed a major cult following. The reviews of today and recent years have been far more forgiving than the initial ones, possibly because the story of the production is more accessible than it was in 1986. Many have written several positive reviews about it, people have made their own action figures based on the film, and it was even voted as "The 13th Best Slasher Movie Ever Made." In the digital age, there have been many YouTube videos praising the film, as well as podcasts. It’s also worth mentioning that in 1989, the infamous and beloved death metal band Autopsy created a song based on the film, "Critical Madness", which is one of the more popular songs in their library. Overall, people view the movie as an absolute wealth of inspiration – and nobody more than myself, for sure. I will never be able to concisely explain just how much this movie means to me – it’s up there with Jaws, E.T., RoboCop, Grizzly, and so on... Tim is honestly one of the best people you could ever hope to talk with, and I’m just glad that I was curious enough about the mystery movie that the video store denied me to write him about it. And while this movie isn’t perfect, and has many flaws in it... There’s an undeniable charm to the movie, and it manages to completely entertain every single time I watch it. But more importantly, it led to me meeting one of my best of friends, so... I’m glad that I didn’t get that tape. I’m glad there was another movie in the box. Because I fear that had I received the right tape, and I had watched it that night... I’m sure I would have loved it – but I do not think that it would have had the sense of mystery, the overbearing curiosity for me to see this movie that I could not seem to find, no matter what. Never crossed my mind that the director himself would come to my aid, and send me a copy... But stories like this one are a horror zealot's ultimate dream, and I couldn’t be happier at how it all turned out...

But wait! This story isn't over. Far from it! Remember when I was talking about sequels to this? Well, for those who are unaware – there was indeed a sequel to this movie. 3 of 'em, actually! And one unofficial sequel as well. And there is much to tell about each of these movies, and the effect that they have had on myself. So... I *dare* you to stay tuned for more!!!

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