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Truth or Dare: A Critical Madness   C+

Sub Rosa Studios

Year Released: 1986
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Tim Ritter
Writer: Tim Ritter
Cast: John Brace, Mary Fanaro, Raymond Carbone, Terence Andreucci.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

Along with 1985's Blood Cult and The Ripper (both directed by a hack named Christopher Lewis who hasn't done much else since), Tim Ritter's Truth or Dare: A Critical Madness helped lay the groundwork for the direct-to-video horror market. Made when Florida's schlock-horror auteur was only 18, the film finds a guy named Mike Strauber going crazy after discovering his wife in bed with her boss. The theme of bloodthirsty insanity inspired by the discovery of marital infidelity continues in Ritter's next two films -- Killing Spree and Wicked Games -- but here it's most potent. There's something disarmingly authentic about the scenes in which Strauber mulls over moments in the recent past that should have tipped him off that his wife was shagging another guy. We begin to sympathize with poor Mike Strauber. But then he goes off the deep end and becomes an over-the-top cartoon in one of the goofiest slasher films ever made.

And I mean goofy. Playing "Truth or Dare" with a female hitchhiker shortly after being devastated by his wife's betrayal, Strauber is dared to cut open his chest. With a maniacal gleam in his eyes he shouts, "All right! I will!" Thanks to a flashback in which future Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean plays Mike Strauber as a youngster, we discover that he was traumatized by the game when his playground pals dared him to slice his wrist with a razor blade; dripping blood, he walks across the park to show his mother, who simply says, "Oh, Mike, when are you going to get some good friends?" The rest of the film finds Strauber ping-ponging in and out of the Sunnyville Mental Institution until he finally dons a copper mask and goes on a freakishly ridiculous killing spree -- featuring the now-classic drive-by chainsawing of a little boy -- before going after his cheating wife. Of course, a couple of cops almost as stupid as the bumbling law enforcement duo in Last House on the Left try to foil his plans and get to the wife before Strauber.

Whatever flaws Truth or Dare has (including, but certainly not limited to, the '80s-porno quality acting, clumsy plotting, laughable dialogue, shoddy production values, inept editing, downright stupidity, and failed attempts at suspense), it almost makes up for in sick, giddy absurdity. Weapons appear out of nowhere whenever Strauber sees fit to use them, like the machine gun he uses to mow down old folks at a bus stop or the grenade he dares a fellow mental patient to stick in his mouth. And although Strauber cuts out his tongue and hacks off a finger at one point, they magically reappear later in the film. While B-Independent.com's Allen Richards speaks of "some truly disturbing kill scenes" in his review, I couldn't point out anything disturbing in this endearingly ridiculous movie to save my life. While suitably gory, the death scenes are so hokey that they border on the splatter comedy of the intentionally bad output from Troma Studios. But were Ritter and company really going for camp or did they expect us to take this seriously?

Even the DVD commentary track with Tim Ritter, Allen Richards, and a guy named Mitch gives little indication as to Ritter's intentions. Nevertheless, the commentary and a behind-the-scenes documentary do explain that some of the film's most obvious goofs resulted from clashes between Ritter and his producers. In any case, the commentary is definitely the highlight of the DVD, as Mitch consistently rags on the movie, Ritter takes it all in stride while describing all the problems that plagued the production, and Richards expounds on the film's Reagan-era social commentary (I won't get into it here; read his review). For all its unbelievably bad acting, cheesy violence, and eye-popping inconsistencies, Truth or Dare: A Critical Madness is so bad it's actually pretty damned entertaining. Still, nothing in the film is quite as jaw-droppingly awful as the end credits song, an '80s pop ballad with a female vocalist singing about poor Mike Strauber: "The little boy that needed understanding / Now he's a man and in a world that's cold and so demanding." Yeah, that's far and away the scariest thing about the film.

Review published 07.14.2003.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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