24 September 2015

Remake vs. Original: KNOCK KNOCK (/Slash Filmfestival 2015 Surprise Movie) + DEATH GAME


Chile / USA, 2015
Director: Eli Roth


I guess this is typical Eli Roth humor. That old bastard takes an old movie from the 70s that no-one knows or remembers, remakes it with Keanu Reeves as the lead, gives it a funky title and basically sells it as his very own movie. So, what may look like Eli Roth's interpretation of "Funny Games" and "Fatal Attraction", is actually an unimaginative rehash of "Death Game" (1977), which was already remade in 1980 by Spanish exploitation director Manuel Esteba under the title "Vicious and Nude".

The story is simple: whene a devoted husband/father/architect is left home alone for the father's day weekend, two young and sexy women unexpectedly knock on his door for help. What starts out as a kind gesture results in a dangerous seduction and a deadly cat-and-mouse game.

"Knock Knock" actually starts out pretty cool with a few really hilarious Keanu-makes-shenanigans-with-his-family scenes, a suspenseful build-up, marvellously photographed shots of the suburban areas in Santiago de Chile, and some neat acting of Reeves who made it back on my radar earlier this year with his striking performance in the badass "John Wick".

Then after the first half hour, the movie starts to drag in a pretty unnerving way. Endless dialogue, superfluous scenes (DJ Keanu), and a sex scene that looks like the poster for "The Human Centipede" - but that all isn't so bad compared to what comes after: unbelievably annoying and way-too-aggressive scenes with the girls going bonkers, followed by more boredom with Keanu going back home, followed by the girls coming back, doing Un-Funny Games with Keanu, shrieking, screaming, destroying half the house, while Keanu's acting gradually becomes worse and worse. To me, he was always a hit-or-miss actor, but here in the movie's second half, he's hitting a new low point by giving a performance that is so frustratingly over-the-top, it makes you think that Nicolas Cage in "The Wicker Man" actually wasn't so bad at all.

But it's not just Keanu's fault. It's (obviously) mainly Roth's fault. He always had a fucked up kinda humor that is more stupid than amusing, though what has worked for me in his incredible debut "Cabin Fever", and hasn't worked so well in his two "Hostel" films, here in "Knock Knock", it doesn't work at all. Stupid jokes, horrid gags, inane lines. It's all as funny as cancer. But wait, there's more: the two girls are a pain in the arse and their behavior is way too exaggerated. The performances of Lorenza Izzo (Roth's wife) and Ana de Armas are below-average at best, the whole overlong quiz show segment is almost unbearable, the attempted semi-feminist and slightly anti-misogynistic message doesn't work at all, and the mind-bendingly lousy ending incl. some of Roth's absolute worst jokes is just dreadful. I admit, I laughed at the Fun-with-Facebook moment, but it totally doesn't save the movie from being another Roth-dumbfest.

Hell, there would be so much more to rant about, be it the predictable and unimaginative screenplay by Roth and his newest best friend Nicolás López ("Aftershock"), or the unbelievably shitty scene where some guy prefers to save some work of art instead of saving Keanu... but I don't wanna waste your time. "Knock Knock" is bad, and its awfulness will knock you off your socks.


Alternate Title:
The Seducers

German Title:
Tödliche Spiele

USA, 1977
Director: Peter S. Traynor


So, this is it. The original. "Death Game". Next to "Evil Town", the only other movie directed by Peter S. Traynor, and the only movie ever written by Anthony Overman and Michael Donald Ross. The movie has the same story as "Knock Knock": family father, alone at home, two girls knock on his door, sex, terror, etc.

Is it better than "Knock Knock"? On a technical level, no. You can easily spot that it was shot on a tight budget and primarily made for drive-in cinemas, and it's also pretty obvious that the director isn't the most talented filmmaker in the world. Yet, for various reasons "Death Game" definitely worked better for me.

Oscar-nominee Seymour Cassel ("Faces") delivers a terrific performance, not just because he's clearly a much better actor than Keanu, but also because he plays his character in a much more believable way and it's just amusing hearing him shouting lines like "You have the manners of an alley cat!" at the girls.

The girls are pretty much as over-the-top and annoying as the chicas in "Knock Knock", but the actresses here are way more talented - Oscar nominee Sondra Locke ("The Heart is a Lonely Hunter") and the wonderful Colleen Camp ("Game of Death", "Police Academy 2+4") - and some of their characters' behavior is much more comprehensible, especially during the courtyard-scene which works so much better than Roth's dumb quiz-show scene. Also, the movie's weird dream-like atmosphere makes the whole thing more intriguing than I expected.

Okay, the pacing is awkward (at times too quick, at times way too slow), the direction is clearly all over the place, the title song is a bit too silly ("Good Old Dad" by The Ron Hicklin Singers) and the supposed-to-be-surprising ending is rather daft, but all in all, I totally prefer "Death Game" over "Knock Knock". Traynor 1 - Roth 0.


  1. Oh no! You were really looking forward to Knock Knock!!

    I liked the two girls a lot more than you but Keanu Reeves was just awful! He ruined what should have been a fairly decent 90mins in the cinema.

    I didn't realise that it was a remake though - you live and learn!

    K :-)

    1. Yeah, I was. The premise sounded super-interesting and it looked so different from his previous efforts.

      The girls were so annoying, and Reeves... yeah, pretty awful. So good in John Wick, so bad in Knock Knock.

      Glad I could teach you something new ;)

  2. I found Death Game on Showtime when I was a newly minted teen and it just knocked my socks off - it was so decadent and dirty! I watched it again on VHS four or five years later - still enjoyed it but saw how silly it was. I've watched it since again a time or two - and I enjoy it for what it is. I was interested in the remake when I heard about it - but it sounds like it went poorly. Oh well.

    1. I never heard of Death Game until Knock Knock came along, even though it got VHS and DVD releases. It's far from being perfect, but it's clearly far more watchable than Roth's dreckfest.


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