Night Game

| March 28, 2015

Two things drew me to Peter Masterson’s Night Game (1989): 1) Roy Scheider, and 2) the promise of some sort of hook-handed baseball-themed serial killer hacking his way through attendees of a Houston Astros game. Though I received only the former of the two, the film is by no means a disappointment, proving itself an impressively sprawling Texas-set thriller. The film follows Scheider as a detective on the trail of a serial killer whose deadly assaults on the women of Galveston may have something to do with the Houston Astros (Galveston’s only about 50 miles outside of Houston, in case you were wondering how the two are connected geographically).

Sure, I had hoped that the film would be more of a straightforward slasher flick, like some sort of mainstream response to Robert Altman’s Brewster McCloud (1970). Brewster McCloud centers on the titular character played by Bud Cort who’s linked to a series of murders, is trying to turn into a bird, and, as it happens, living somewhere inside the Houston Astrodome. Apart from a couple scenes in Night Game taking us inside the Astrodome, though, it bears little resemblance to that (or really any other Altman) picture. In fact, the film bears a greater resemblance to The Lost Boys (1987) than it does Brewster McCloud since far more of the film is set in a coastal amusement park like that featured in Lost Boys than is set in the Astrodome.

In spite of the bulk of the film thus having little to do with the Astrodome or baseball in general, Night Game still does a number of things incredibly well. The first thing that’ll strike you is the cinematography. While the first unit cinematography is admirably nuanced and otherwise perfectly passable, the second unit’s aerial and establishing shots are absolutely stunning, providing a wealth of welcome eye candy in the absence of narrative development.  This material is credited to second unit director Ron Fury, who also served as the film’s production manager, and his invaluable contributions definitely warrant mention. Fury also, for the record, served as assistant director and unit production manager of Howling II (1985), of which I’m a big fan, in addition to serving as production manager on the science fiction slasher film, Dark Angel (a.k.a. I Come in Peace (1990)).

There’s also a scene, likely the contribution of the film’s first unit, that’s set in a Hall of Mirrors, not entirely unlike the climax of The Lady from Shanghai (1947). While numerous films have aped that particular scene from Lady from Shanghai, few have been able to make it entirely their own, using it more often as a straightforward homage to Orson Welles than as something unique to the work appropriating it. Here though, director Masterson and his team use the hall of mirrors to masterfully create a sense of claustrophobia as two young women are stalked through the mirror maze by the killer. It’s a truly disturbing sequence that’s made all the more effective by the film’s believable, practical gore effects.

Additionally, the filmmakers’ world-building here creates a sense that these characters inhabit a world that extends well beyond the scope of the narrative. This they do by dropping in little bits about the characters and their pasts that have little to nothing to do with the story at hand. To that end, it’s of little consequence that Det. Mike Seaver’s (Scheider) dad was some sort of gangster/thug or that Mike formerly pursued a baseball career of his own. These things have no bearing on Seaver’s investigation, per se, but instead significantly raise the stakes for the characters, since we in turn see them as people with histories we’ll never fully understand instead of as bodies to be hacked to bits.

Add to all this a constant sense that the filmmakers are purposely toying with our expectations the thriller genre and a fantastic supporting cast including Karen Young (The Sopranos), Lane Smith (My Cousin Vinny), and Paul Gleason (The Breakfast Club), and Night Game proves itself one hell of tight and tense little thriller! It’s one that you’ll certainly want to check out if you’re a sucker for police procedural thrillers as I am. And you can check it out in HD too thanks to Olive Films, who debut Night Game on Blu-ray on March 31, 2015 (along with a tandem DVD release)—a perfectly-timed follow-up to Olive Films’ other recent Peter Masterson release: Blood Red. The video transfer of the film on the Olive disc is quite strikingly clear with only the occasional obvious speckling, while the equally clear audio provides a dynamic platform for perfectly highlighting the film’s sultry 80s saxophone score.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).

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