Cards of Death Film Details
Overview: Centers around a cop and two brothers hot on the trail of a murderous card game in which masked participants must murder the loser or be killed themselves.
Review: Let’s make this easy. In some cases, the title of a movie gives you everything you need to know. If you think that a movie called “Cards of Death” is likely to be up your alley, then go ahead and check it out. It features, yes, an evil and sadistic card game played by weirdo street-trash sleazebags in which the winner must kill the loser or be killed themselves. This is the basic premise of a raunchy, scummy shot-on-video horror/gore flick that is clearly of its time yet remains enjoyable if you can overlook its flaws, which are par for the course in a flick of this ilk. Apparently this was shot and then shelved for 28 years except for an obscure Japanese VHS release. It’s hard to say why, as I’ve seen plenty worse from that era. To get the bad and the ugly out of the way right off, the acting is less than stellar, the premise is basically completely silly, and the editing is jumpy, among other quibbles. But let’s give this thing some credit. A particularly horrifying atmosphere of sadism and sleaze is built up from the opening scene in which a cop sneaks into the warehouse where the illicit game is being played and gets mutilated with a cheese slicer (yes, a cheese slicer) while a grinding synth score piles on the alienation, ugliness and doom. And this thing has a sense of deep, black humor, which it needs. Laugh at it for being ridiculous and of its time, but it’s already laughing at itself (I mean, a cheese slicer?). Additionally, the villains in this film are great. I was never quite able to figure out their motivation for hosting the card game – while the players are all down-and-outers who apparently hope to win the cash prize and regain their lost positions in life, the hosts appear simply to revel in the sadistic enjoyment derived from forcing these people to debase and abuse each other. Anyway, the villains are Hog, a dude who likes to paint spiders on his forehead and drink the fresh blood of his victims out of a wine glass, and Tracy, an apparently Nazi-inspired dominatrix with a penchant for mutilating her “pets.” Like I said, the acting isn’t great, but I do think these two characters are drawn pretty effectively. And then there’s the janitor who cleans up around the warehouse (my god, what a job that must be), a genuinely creepy dude whose main contribution to the film is sticking his laughing face into the camera at opportune moments. I haven’t mentioned the main story arc thus far because – well, does it really matter? Anyway, the cops are upset after one of their kind falls victim to the game and they try to track down the clandestine organization that hosts it. In the process, they pound the neon-lit pavement roughing up prostitutes and generally plumbing the darkest depths of Los Angeles 80s street life. Like I said, some people are going to really enjoy this and others are bound to wonder what it’s all about. All the questions are cleared up by the closing credits, over which the absurdly inappropriate “Cards of Death” theme song plays while ad-libbed physical slapstick comedy occurs in the background. I won’t give away exactly what happens to avoid spoiling the ending of the film, but the blackly absurd humor leaves no doubts that this film intends not only to indict humanity for being stupid, ugly, and sadistic, but then to turn around and laugh at itself. I can’t claim this is a great film, but the hour and a half passed by enjoyably enough for me, and Cards of Death this can be confidently recommended to fans of shot-on-video 80s sleaze/gore/horror. It’s an able effort and it’s a disappointment that W.G. MacMillan never made more like it.
Duration: 90 min
Genre: Crime, Horror, Thriller
Also known as: Cards of Death,Splatter Blackjack