Blu-ray Review: Deathrow Gameshow

The reality show boom turned contestants into inmates for the sake of being the winner. The people who come on down at The Price Is Right don’t have to live in the Bob Barker studio for months. The hopefuls on Big Brother, Survivor and RuPaul’s Drag Race aren’t allowed to go to home at the end of the episode. Their lives are under constant surveillance from the producers for weeks. When gameshows got more gross with shows like Fear Factor, critics demanded to know at what point would people be put to death on the screen in pursuit of winning. Well turns out this concept and complaint was originally aired in 1987 with Deathrow Gameshow.

In the near future Television has reached a new lower bar for entertainment than National Bingo Night. With a record number of people awaiting execution on deathrows and the courts clogged up with drawn out appeals, a compromise is reached. Convicts can compete on the Live or Die gameshow. If the condemed win, they get their freedom. However if fail during the stunt, they’re dead meat and the viewers get to see it all. The series is a massive hit and host Chuck Toedan (Beverly Hills Bordello‘s John McCafferty) is a sensation. He’s like The Gong Show‘s Chuck Barris with a bodycount. As easy as he makes things sound, the stunts have a tricky catch at the end that makes sure justice is served. As much as he likes the fame, Chuck is getting burned out. A lot of people aren’t happy that he’s taken culture down a notch. A few others aren’t delighted at seeing their family members executed on a knock-off of Let’s Make A Deal. Indeed one of those people is planning on killing Chuck really soon. Things go to hell when a contestant for a different show wanders into the line for Live Or Die and gets snuffed.

Deathrow Gameshow is much more entertaining than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Running Man. Both films had the theme of prisoners being executed on gameshows. Running Man was convoluted with Arnold being innocent and him protecting rebels. Deathrow doesn’t overblow the theme and the contests. The games the inmates play are kind of like Minute to Win It with a fate worse than being touched by Guy Fieri. Deathrow does a lot with its limited budget. The set looks like a cheesy ’80s gameshow. John McCafferty has the perfect gameshow host smile plus a haircut that was pioneered by Peter North. He really gets beneath the skin of the soulless nature of his character. Deathrow Gameshow deserves to be programmed with Weird Al’s UHF and The Gong Show Movie as it explores the gag reflex of the TV viewers.

The videos is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The resolution brings out the bad gameshow fashion. The audio is DTS-HD MA Mono. The sound levels are fine with Chuck’s voice being properly irritating. The movie is subtitled.

DVD with all features of the Blu-ray.

Audio Commentary includes director Mark Pirro, John McCafferty (actor) & Robyn Blythe (actress) discussing the fun of getting to make a movie with a 35mm camera.

Director’s Intro (0:21) is a nice thanks for watching.

Revisiting Deathrow Gameshow (32:20) is a documentary covering how the film came together. Mark Pirro’s Super 8 films A Polish Vampire in Burbank and Curse of the Queerwolf brought him to the attention of Crown International (Van Nuys Blvd). They loved the script and gave him $200K to make the magic. Cast and crew remember the low budget fun. A lot of them met up as tour guides at Universal Studios. There’s even talk about set flings.

2015 Director’s Cut (80:30) has a few small differences.

Short Films of Mark Pirro include Buns (1978) and The Spy Who Did It Better (1979) are both starring McCafferty. They are Super 8 comedies. The first has a hamburger killer on the loose. The second is a bit of a spy spoof.

Theatrical Trailer (2:16) is red band and worth it.

TV Spot (0:42) is a nicer cut.

Image Gallery includes production shots and an ad that showed it opening in theaters as the same time as The Running Man.

Director’s Bio covers his numerous films.

Vinegar Syndrome presents Deathrow Gameshow. Directed by: Mark Pirro. Screenplay by: Mark Pirro. Starring: John McCafferty, Robyn Blythe, Darwyn Carson, Beano, Debra Lamb. Running Time: 80 minutes. Rated: R. Released: October 25, 2016.

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