Guess what, kids? I stayed alive! That's right, today I went to see the movie about a video game that can kill you in real life, and I've lived to tell about it.
A group of friends and gamers with cool, movie-character names like Hutch, Swink, Finn, Loomis, and October get worried when friends who die while playing the spooky underground game Stay Alive begin to die in the exact same fashion their pixelated counterparts die. With the help of the Information Superhighway, the kids learn about the legend of The Blood Countess, the woman on whom the game's storyline is based. She's resurrected when gamers read an on-screen incantation, you see, and she's pissed! It's a race against the clock as the kids try to stop The Blood Countess before it's...before it's....oh yeah, you know it's coming...before it's GAME OVER.
Judging from that cheeky little plot synopsis, you might think that I didn't enjoy Stay Alive, or that maybe it deserved a few of my many middle fingers stuck up at it. Not true! Not true at all. You see, laying heavy criticism down on a movie like this (or going into see it with high expectations to begin with, even) would be akin to going to McDonalds and then bitching when your Happy Meal burger ain't filet mignon, or being disappointed when The Spice Girls sing "I really really really wanna zigazig ah". In other words, it's junk food, it's pop music, it's a cheesy horror movie: go into the venture to have a good time and you'll most likely enjoy yourself. You might not tell your friends about it, your body might pay for it the next day, but hey- man cannot live on Proust or Fellini alone, am I right? Am I right, people? Can I get a hell yes!? You can even feel guilty about it if you want, but that seems like a waste of time to me. Lighten the fuck up and have fun!
And have fun I did, I must say. This movie had all the fat trimmed and was 90 minutes of pure videogaming horror action, right from the get-go. A game character dies almost immediately, flung off a second story balcony with a rope around his neck. Later that night, the dude playing the game starts to hear noises and see things in the dark. He's found the next morning-gasp!- hung from the second story balcony. And so on...and so on. The movie had a few nice little touches- some genuinely frightening bits that made me think "Man, I wish that genuinely frightening bit was in a better movie". There's more jump scares in Stay Alive than all 11 Friday the 13th movies combined. There's figures who move in that herky-jerky fashion that's been all the rage since The Ring. The effects are decent, although the demon figures (mostly freaky, homicidal children) look very CGIed...of course, they should, as they're crossing over from the video game into the real world. There's some blood spilled, but not much more gore than that (it's rated PG-13, after all). I found myself wanting to see much more than is shown.
The legend on which the fictional game is based, that of The Blood Countess, is absolutely real. Elizabeth Bathory was a Hungarian noblewoman who killed over 600 young women in the late- 16th/early-17th century. Under the delusion that it would keep her young, she would torture and kill the young women, then bathe in their blood. Initially murdering her servants and local peasant girls, Bathory eventually began to seek the blood of other nobles (it's much finer quality, you see). Soon thereafter, a party raided the castle and, when they saw the horrors within first-hand, put Elizabeth and her servants/accomplices on trial. The servants were burned at the stake while Elizabeth was walled up within her castle- some accounts have her walled into the torture chamber itself. Regardless, she died in 1614 after three years of imprisonment.
For the sake of the plot, there are some changes to the legend- for example, instead of living in Hungary, Stay Alive has The Blood Countess residing on a plantation in New Orleans where the film takes place. This makes it easy for the kids to track down the source of the evil through the magic of the internet. Turns out that the address of the game manufacturer is the plantation of death itself! Noooooooo! This is an OK plot contrivance, but it leads to the biggest point of contention I had with the movie- the only one I had, in fact, for I turned my brain off when I sat in my seat. This meant accepting the fact that eventually the movie's rules changed; you no longer had to be playing the game in order to die in the game...turn it off or hit pause and the game would play itself. Eh, I was fine with that. There was one big issue that just couldn't be ignored, however...
The kids arrive at the plantation and soon discover that it's the same house you traverse in the game. Neat! Eventually, they find a room where the game developer/maker obviously did all of his/her research into Elizabeth Bathory. There's books, photographs, drawings, an oversized brass magnifying glass- it's a work space. But this mystery designer is never met, never seen, never really mentioned once the kids confront Elizabeth herself. What gives? Did the ghost of The Blood Countess come up with the nifty idea of setting herself free by having an incantation read in a videogame? Did she learn code and a graphics program (hell, let's start from scratch-did she learn what a pencil is, then...) and get the game out there into the hands of hungry Nintendoheads? Seems awfully complicated. Stay Alive, you almost had me completely wrapped up in your ever-cheesy, ever-lovin' arms for an afternoon of fun. When you name-dropped Silent Hill 4 and Fatal Frame, I thought "Wow, the makers of Stay Alive sure know their horror games. That fills me with a warm, geeky glow!" But then to drop the ball like that...I just don't-
--hey! Wait! Maybe the game developer just wasn't home! Yeah, that's it! He or she was out buying groceries, and then he or she is gonna come home later and be all like "What the-? Why is my backyard on fire?" Problem solved! Wow, I feel better. I'm sorry I doubted you, Stay Alive. You're so good-n-cheesy, I should've squeezed you out of a can.