Like all good people, I am currently obsessed with the Winter Olympics! As a result, over the past two weeks, I’ve been watching and reviewing a lot of Olympic-themed films. Today, I watched the 1984 slasher film, Fatal Games!
If you look at the poster above, you’ll see that Fatal Games was advertised as being a film about “America’s Olympic hopefuls … competing in the Fatal Games!” That’s kind of true. The Olympics are frequently mentioned throughout Fatal Games but technically, no one in the movie is actually a member of the Olympic team. At least not yet. Instead, they’re all students at a special athletic academy. Apparently, it’s supposed to be a high school, though we don’t ever see anyone taking a math test or attending English class or anything like that. Instead, it appears that everyone at the school spends all day practicing gymnastics, swimming, or running. In fact, it appears that there’s only 20 students at the school and, at most, 5 members of the faculty. Maybe it’s meant to be like that school that all of the clones attended in Never Let Me Go. Either that or it’s just an indication that Fatal Games was an extremely low-budget film.
Anyway, seven of the students have just won some sort of regional competition and now they’re getting ready for nationals! And, if they win at nationals, they’ll get to go to the Olympics. However, they might not even make it to nationals. Someone is stalking the blandly likable athletes and using a javelin to pick them off, one-by-one.
Interestingly, it takes people a while to notice that the number of potential Olympians is steadily dwindling. Instead, people say stuff like, “Hey, have you seen Nancy?” “Not for a few days.” “Hey, have you seen Sue Ellen?” “Didn’t she got to San Francisco to see her boyfriend?”
Well, I guess it’s understandable. It’s not like anyone in the film is going to school to develop their critical thinking skills. They’re athletes. Who cares about all of the people mysteriously disappearing? They have athletic stuff to worry about!
Fatal Games is pretty much a typical mid-80s slasher. Interestingly enough, it’s structured like a giallo. The murderer dresses in black and we get all of the required close-ups of the killer’s gloved hands. The film introduces several potential suspects but doesn’t reveal the killer’s identity until the final ten minutes.
Is it the overly critical track coach?
Is it the creepy doctor?
Is it the nurse who is worried that the athletes are being injected with too many hormones? (Obviously, she’s seen Goldengirl.)
Is it the swim coach?
Or is it her girlfriend, the swimmer who didn’t qualify for nationals?
Is it the gymnast whose grades are slipping?
Could it be the other gymnast who is always telling jokes?
Or the runner who has father issues?
Or is it Joe, the token weird guy?
They’re all given a scene or two to establish that they have a potential motive for wanting the seven aspiring Olympians dead. When the killer and the killer’s motive is finally revealed, it’s so over-the-top and stupid that you can’t help but admire the film for actually going there. The filmmakers obviously said, “Forget trying to make sense. WE’RE GOING FOR IT!”
Anyway, the main problem with Fatal Games is that the murderer uses a javelin and, as a result, there’s a lot of scenes of the killer running through narrow school hallways, carrying this goofy-looking javelin. Don’t get me wrong. Javelins are sharp and scary and I wouldn’t want one thrown at me. But still, when someone spends more than five minutes running down a narrow hallway while carrying a javelin, it just looks silly. Let’s not even think about the logistics of using a javelin to kill someone in broad daylight without anyone else noticing.
That said, as silly and predictable as Fatal Games may have been, there were a few moments of inspired lunacy. I already mentioned the ending, which is so over-the-top and silly that you can’t help but admire it. But there’s also a few shots that are genuinely effective. A scene where the killer suddenly appears in a doorway was handled well. There’s also an oddly dream-like sequence in which a swimmer practices in the pool, little realizing that the killer is floating underneath her. How did the killer get in the pool, with the javelin, without anyone noticing? Who knows? It’s still an effective scene.
Finally, I have to mention that Fatal Games opens with a song called “Take It All The Way,” which is so generically 80s that it’s oddly brilliant. It’s almost as good as Graduation Day‘s “The Winner.”
Fatal Games is currently available for viewing on YouTube.