Truth or Dare: A Critical Madness 1986 Review
Truth or Dare: A Critical Madness 1986
Directed by: Tim Ritter
Starring: John Brace Mary Fanaro, Bruce Gold
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Tim Ritter is another of the multitude of directors that emerged during the post-Halloween abyss of low-budget horror and went on to build a career within a niche sub-genre. He is something of a legend amongst his ilk because he directed and produced his first feature at the tender age of 16. Much like Fred Olen Ray, David DeCoteau and Dennis Devine; Ritter has built a decent catalogue of self financed B-Movies that have allowed him to express himself and convey his cinematic vision to audiences across the globe. His films are notoriously gratuitous and he is amongst the most outrageous exploitation guys currently working.
Truth of Dare was his second feature and since its release in the mid-eighties, it has garnered a relatively large cult following. Its success opened up the chance for two sequels, and Ritter has worked continuously ever since.
Mike Strauber returns home from work one day to find his wife in bed with his best friend, Jerry. Visibly traumatised, Mike heads to the beach to clear his thoughts. After contemplating suicide, the emotion seems to trigger a violent schizophrenia in his mind and he begins suffering aggressive delusions, which make him play truth or dare with imaginary characters from his warped mind. Before long Mike succumbs to the grips of insanity and begins a violent trail of revenge on the society that he feels has outcast him.
What we have here is a tough movie to judge. It has moments that are worthy of credit and then its share of parts that seem to have been shot by the characters from Dumb and Dumber. Firstly, the performances are woefully overplayed from start to finish and John Brace is hilarious as the wild-eyed Strauber. The cast looked as if they were offered no guidance from an experienced dramatic adviser and they fall astoundingly short of delivering anything even remotely convincing. There are gaps in the plot that are large enough to re-sink the Titanic and the continuity is like something from a fairytale, with weapons and convenient props appearing as if on command.
There are many schoolboy errors strewn throughout the feature, which demonstrate a lack of experience from the production team and especially from the teenage director. After a surprisingly good start the film goes on to throw so much daftness at us that it left me somewhat bemused. The few things Dare does do well however, it does astoundingly so…
Ritter definitely came out with an intention to shock and he succeeded successfully in making a film that approaches areas that more competently financed features would never have dared. In today’s climate of extreme political-correctness and constant fear of audience offence, this movie is a fine example of a time when media was brave enough to voice an individualistic opinion.
The copper-masked maniac commits a few of the most gruesome acts ever filmed in slasher cinema. Three elderly pedestrians are randomly machine gunned whilst waiting at a bus stop and a cheery child is bloodily slashed to death with a chainsaw. By far the most shocking scene sees a pram-pushing mother and her baby gorily rundown and killed by the maniac (he even goes as far as to reverse back over them); and watching now as the father of an 11-month old child made it a tough scene to sit through.
Despite Mike’s extreme malevolence, the story initially builds sympathy for his journey into insanity. No matter how strong a relationship may be, everyone can have moments of insecurity and panic if they suspect that their love is not equally shared. How would you feel if you came home to find your partner in bed with your best friend? I doubt that many of you would put on a copper-mask and go on a killing spree, but kudos to Ritter for approaching a subject that viewers find it easy to relate to. There’s something frighteningly realistic about the scenes that see Strauber recollect memories of his relationship and realise that he should have picked up on the fact that his partner was betraying his trust. The opening is brilliantly handled and demonstrates the potential of a young filmmaker with a relevant message to convey.
Like many eighties slashers (Killer Party, Terror Night, Scalps etc), Truth or Dare suffered a nightmare production. Rumour has it that the producers became anxious once realising that Ritter was only 18 years old and they eventually pulled the plug. This meant that the final version that we have is not the director’s initial vision. Ritter has said that many of the plot holes are filled within the missing footage that’s gathering dust somewhere in a cupboard and having seen the effect that a plagued production can have on a feature’s development (Moon in Scorpio anybody?) Ritter deserves the benefit of the doubt. Although technically the film fails to impress on so many levels, it excels in its power to shock and it has a subtle political comment on the Reagan cost-cutting era of the eighties.
What we can’t overlook is the multitude of classic moments and some of them I love so much that I could watch them over and over. Who could forget the part where a moany elder (the type that we all came across and disliked during childhood) walks over to the heavily armed and copper-masked Strauber to give him the third degree for dropping some litter? I mean, the scene mixes rebellion, humour and ‘take her out’ cheers from the audience like no other. Also, although John Brace is no actor, you can’t help but love his wonderful no holds barred portrayal. It somewhat excels being just plain bad and flies off to a new level where it almost becomes credible. Looking at the screen snaps that I took for this review brought it all back for me. In a good way, of course. God only knows what he was doing so important that prevented him from reappearing in the sequel…?
I really enjoyed watching Truth or Dare and I feel that it’s an excellent time-capsule of a cinematic period that will never be repeated. It starts well and despite a dip in its mid-section, the film ends with the flamboyance that was so flagrantly evident in its launch. Considering the fact that Ritter was only eighteen at the time and has grown into a key player and sponsor in the world of B-movie production, this is an excellent example of his ideas. It’s big up yours to the likes of Ebert and serious movie critics, because it is not trying to be anything other than a slasher for people that love them. In fact, it achieves a lot more than the $17,000,000 thrown at I Know What You Did Last Summer managed, because this has become a cult favourite and that’s a status that not all can boast. On a side note look out for Backstreet Boy AJ McLean in the small film-part that he wishes he could erase from existence…
Final Girl √