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March 11, 2017

Movie Review: Deathrow Gameshow (1987)

I have a long history with Deathrow Gameshow. You may be too young to remember, but in the late 1980s there were these anomalies called 'video stores.' Within these treasure troves of schlock, one could rent what was called a 'VHS' tape. On these tapes were movies. Wonderful movies. Sick movies. Deranged movies. Horrible movies. Sometimes all of these were the same movie... as is the case with Deathrow Gameshow. 1988, I'm 17 and looking for something new. I roll in and see that Bloodsucking Freaks had already been rented, so my goto sick film wasn't an option if the boxes didn't call out to me. Scanning the rows I notice Deathrow Gameshow. I pick it up and see MARK PIRRO on the box. I knew that name. How did I know that name? Prior to the internet, we had to remember things and, in a flash, it hit me... A Polish Vampire in Burbank! Oh, oh and Curse of the Queerwolf! My underground film education started early and I had been thoroughly entertained by the director's first two films... this was a no-brainer, in more ways than one. Of course, that is a wonderful thing.


Deathrow Gameshow could never be confused with a genre classic or a piece of high narrative, but it is a damn fun film. In a nutshell (that will make more sense later), the story is about Chuck Todean (John McAferty) who runs a gameshow called Live or Die. On the show he publicly executes deathrow inmates allowing them to make cash for their families or even be set free after playing one another. In a classic b-move happenstance, Chuck accidentally kills a mob boss and is set upon by a hitman and has to use his skills as a mass murdering TV star to survive. Suffice it to say that hilarity ensues and there are some wonderfully vulgar executions, sex scenes and ridiculousness for the whole family.

Well, maybe not the whole family. That hitman, though. Played by an over the top actor named Beano (which will also make more sense in a moment), the character delivered a line that I have used as a horrible joke for nearly the past 30 years. While behind closed doors, Beano is involved in the loudest, most horrifying bowel movement ever comitted to film. Seventeen-year-old (and forty-five) me think his is hilarious. The episode is capped off with the line, "Hunh. I don't remember eatin' walnuts!" I just laughed. Right now. Again. If my time on Earth allows me, I'll use that joke for another 30 years.

So, you can imagine how grateful I am that Vinegar Syndrome has released the film in a beautiful Blu-ray edition. It is gorgeous, truly, and features like two late 1970s Pirro short films, a featurette on Deathrow and the 2015 'Director's Cut' of the film (I still prefer the nostalgia). This is highly recommended as not only a pastiche of the 1980s, but as one helluva fun ride.


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