Okay, okay…star John Brace was in an episode of “Cheers” once.
Written and directed by Tim Ritter.
What kind of horror movie is it? Inept slasher.
Is there a finer tradition than gathering a few friends and watching a movie that’s so bad, you miss the bulk of dialogue because you’re laughing too hard?
Hoo boy, there are bad movies and there are the bad movies. There are films that become incredibly endearing via consistent obliviousness to their own shortcomings — shortcomings that are repeatedly thrown up for all to see, without the filmmakers giving so much as a sideways glance to the laughably amateurish goings-on.
These are films that just seem to be from another planet. You’d think they were beamed in directly from someone’s dreaming mind, such is the dissimilarity between reality and the world the film portrays. They don’t make sense. The acting is diabolical. The scripts try to capitalize on a successful film or genre — only without any sense of story logic.
Ed Wood was no stranger to making these kinds of pictures, but even he — and I don’t say this lightly — would think twice about some the decisions made in Truth Or Dare? A Critical Madness, a most off-kilter slasher outing.
The film begins when Mike Strauber (John Brace, a veteran of the “Burt Reynolds’ Play House” as the back of the VHS box is pleased to proclaim. Strauber’s career outside this film extends only to a guest spot on Cheers in the same year) returns home to find his wife, Sharon (Mary Fanaro, who otherwise specializes in bit parts or non-speaking roles), in bed with another man.
Strauber has a freakout, punctuated by heavy synth stingers on the soundtrack and Brace’s incredible face-making — a little much even for such a nasty situation. Strauber storms out, picks up a buxom, badly-dubbed hitchhiker (Kerry Ellen Walker) and drives off into the woods. It’s on this impromptu camping trip where we learn of Mike’s fascination with the game Truth or Dare as we flash back to a traumatic incident in his past when a game with a then six year old Strauber (A.J. McLean of the Backstreet Boys… yes! I’m serious!) resulted in a self-inflicted razor wound on his wrist. The children laugh at him (!) and he stiffly walks over to his mother, who scolds him with an exhausted cry of “Mike, why can’t you find any good friends?”
Moving back to the present day, Mike brings up Truth or Dare with his hitching companion in the hopes of sexual thrills, which, to a limited degree, she obliges, but not without subjecting Mike to a few challenges and sex is not on her mind. The painfully ADRed hitchhiker urges Mike to burn his wallet, slice off a finger and cut out his own tongue. The whining Mike is scared, but cannot back down from a challenge (this guy would totally crumble under the pressures of a double-dog dare) bellowing out “all right, I WILL!” with a curious mix of staginess and a hopeless lack of credibility that typifies his one-note, yet hilarious performance as the dunderheaded Strauber. Shortly after mutilating himself, Strauber challenges the hitchiker to gouge one of her eyes out, which she does without question or experiencing any pain. In the next round, he dares her to kiss him, but while she leans over to do so, her head transforms into that of Strauber’s mother and “Mike, why can’t you find any good friends? Good friends… good friends… good friends” is looped on the soundtrack before she vanishes.
I have expected this to segue into “Dental plan! Lisa needs braces!”
Mike runs away, distraught that the girl he was slicing himself up for was merely a fabrication of his misfiring brain — and if that’s not a metaphor for high school relationships, I don’t know what is. He is found by a bewildered park ranger who takes him to a hospital.
Does that sound comically surreal enough for you?
Well, and I feel obliged to point out that we’re less than half an hour in. IT GETS BETTER.
A still photo of a hospital (the same one used in Bride Of Re-Animator, by the looks of it) with a CNN-like crawl of exposition tells us that 13 months have passed, and that Mike is locked away in the Sunnyville mental institution. Mike is due to be released from the asylum, but he pretty much makes a b-line for his wife once released, killing her lover in the process and getting hauled back to the warm confines of the nuthouse again.
13 Months Later… Sunnyville Mental Institution. (Same still photo, same caption.)
Inside the asylum, we see Mike giggling dementedly as he gets his two inmates, one of whom is played by the delightfully named Asbestos Felt (who starred in a couple of other Tim Ritter films), to play another game of Truth or Dare. How does Mike do this sans tongue? Why, speech therapy have made it so that you’d hardly know he’d hacked it out. I guess he got digit therapy, too, ’cause his finger came back.
So Mike challenges one inmate to hack off an arm (which he does) and another to blow himself up. How do they do this? Well, Mike reaches below the camera frame and pulls out both a blade and a grenade from… somewhere. The elderly inmate who isn’t Asbestos Felt (let’s call him Fiberglass Velvet) wails in pain as he saws through his arm while Felt waits patiently with a grenade in his mouth. Mike tries to get Velvet to cut off a leg next, but the old codger isn’t going to see Mike skip his turn and he chants “Noooo! Nooooo! Now it’s your turn! You play Truth or Dare! Truth or Dare! Truth or daaaaare! Truth or daaaaahhhhhaaaaiiiihaiiiihaaaiiirrrre!”
The whingeing sexagenarian dares Strauber to cut his own face off, prompting another utterance of “all right! I WILL!” and so he pulls out yet another knife from somewhere the camera dares not to look and begins digging into his face when two guards suddenly rush in his cell to stop him. As Mike is interrupted from fulfilling his dare, the cell becomes coated in an explosion of Felt.
13 months later… (same still photo of the hospital)
Mike is now sporting a copper mask and has not spoken a word since the Exploding Felt incident, which is both a boon and a blow to the film’s comic value. While this deprives us from the over-the-top facial tics and his ‘you’re not going to hear me unless i’m shrieking like a woman’ delivery, the mask brings its own delight by being obviously made of rubber, since it wobbles at the bottom every time Mike takes a breath.
Just when the film seems to be slowing down or going a more conventional route, Mike jabs a guard in the eye with a pencil and drives off. He goes on one of the most ludicrous killing sprees ever caught on low-quality video tape and is pursued by the finest Komedy Kops this side of Halloween 5.
It’s hard to review a flick as awful as Truth Or Dare? A Critical Madness because you can’t do it justice if you shy away from describing the moments where the movie just throws sanity to the wind and goes completely apeshit (which is just about every scene in Truth Or Dare). Some might not go out of their way to see this nonsense (and you really, really should), but if you go in detail about every single scene, you kinda give the game away. I rented the film blind when I was looking for something awful to inflict on myself. I was probably lured in by the pedigree of the Burt Reynolds Playhouse (*snerk*).
Imagine my delight in seeing a film as inspired and silly as this!
The film raises so many “what were they thinking?!” questions. Like the bit where Mike slowly chases a little-leaguer… with a chainsaw. The kid is on two feet, Mike’s in a stolen car, but is flooring it at about 1km an hour. This scene goes on for about two minutes, and, despite the fact that the kid could very easily walk several blocks, stop by A&W for a burger, resume his walk home and still arrive in one piece at the rate Strauber’s is chasing him, Mike actually manages to slice through the boy and does that victory chainsaw upper-body dance that characters in Texas Chainsaw Massacre flicks do. But neither this, nor the aforementioned Backstreet Boy appearance is the film’s most memorable child violence moment, but I dare not spoil that one.
As idiotic as it is, Tim Ritter’s Truth Or Dare? A Critical Madness is so confident it has what it takes that you can’t help but be glad it was made. Every single decision made in this picture — be it direction, scripting, acting, music, you name it — is completely and utterly wrong-headed, but no one realizes it. It makes for a thoroughly charming non-film that demands to be laughed at.
I dare you all to see this film.
Availability? Sadly out of print on DVD. But it can be found online (wink, wink)
[Editor’s note: This video is very, very gory. Beware]