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death games semifinals

Round 4 of voting for the next Death Games bracket is almost over; now is the time to make sure your favorites make it through to the end.

As we race to the finish line of the Morbidly Beautiful Death Games, four killer films are battling it out in the semifinals. When we began, 32 contenders entered the ring. Now it’s up to you to decide which 2 films will go to head to head to crown the King of Carnage. To help secure your votes, four members of our staff take up the mantle of lobbying for their favorites in this battle. Find out why they think you should vote for each of the four very worthy contenders in the two epic semifinal matchups.

Make sure your champion reigns supreme and vote now. But you have to hurry! Voting for this round ends Saturday, October 24th, at noon Central.



Ready or Not

The rules aren’t known. Hell, there isn’t even a rule book; no instructions printed on the inside top of the box. And there’s no preparation, no knowledge beforehand about what is about to happen. It’s just “run now if you want to live”. That’s all Grace (Samara Weaving) in Ready or Not is given before she’s chased around a large house by a maniacal family armed with guns and knives and axes and crossbows.

It’s Grace’s wedding night, and, having built their fortune on board games, her new in-laws have a tradition of playing a game every time someone new is welcomed into the family. A peculiar tradition for sure, but harmless fun like backgammon or checkers. If only. When Grace randomly selects to play hide and seek, she finds out the deadly intentions behind the game when she sees a servant get part of her face blown off by a shotgun, because the person who shot her thought she was Grace. In an instant, this fairy tale wedding day just became a harrowing nightmare of survival.

Grace learns that “playing a game” actually means the family killing her by dawn in order to avoid a family curse. If the family fails to kill Grace, they will all die. Still in her wedding dress, Grace’s mindset is nowhere near prepared for such a shocking revelation. Not that anyone is prepared to partake in any sudden life or death situation, but Grace is thrown into such a scenario on her wedding night with her husband aware of the tradition! To mentally shift gears as fast as Grace is forced to would be a Herculean task for anyone.

But Grace isn’t just anybody, and her badass attitude fuels survival skills she didn’t know she had.

The ensuing game of cats and mouse is suspenseful, laugh-out-loud funny, thrilling, and features a knockout performance from Samara Weaving that is both beautiful and brutal to watch. Gritty, bloody, and in your face, Ready or Not is a wallop of a film that’s entertaining as hell — with an ending that’ll blow your socks off.

In addition to being the ultimate death game movie, the story is a darkly hilarious exploration of family dysfunction and how the rich see themselves as above the common man, using them for entertainment.

Grace is a lone wolf in this death trap of a house filled with cursed killers who want her dead. No one is giving Grace tips telling her how to survive the night. No one can be trusted to form an alliance with, not even her own husband. There’s no one to turn to. It’s just Grace with her instinct and sheer will. She’s fucking Rambo in a wedding dress and Converse. And when the shit hits the fan, Grace is ready for the blood to flow and for heads to roll, staring death in the face with a fierce smile that says, “game on.”

Vote now to help this modern masterpiece win the game.

(Championed by Jason McFiggins)


It shouldn’t be a surprise to find Battle Royale (2000) as a final contender in the Morbidly Beautiful ‘Death Games’. Actually, I would’ve been both shocked and saddened to see if it wasn’t among one of the four finalists. 

42 Students. 3 Days. 1 Survives.

Twenty years ago, legendary Japanese director, Kinji Fukasaku took on one of most controversial narratives ever spawned in the Land of the Rising Sun. Battle Royale, originally a novel penned by Koushun Takami, then a popular manga series, became the scourge of the Japanese government. Keen on banning the 1999 novel, as well as the motion picture adaptation, for the graphic violence involving teens, officials and their outcry inadvertently catapulted Battle Royale to one of the highest grossing films of all-time in Japan. Despite the fact the film had a difficult time with some rating boards and critics across the globe — causing screenings and releases to be few and far between — the movie still ended up rightfully earning a cult status badge.

The Japanese government — feeling they have lost control of their country’s youth — seek to regain authority with the implementation of an annual tournament called Battle Royale. We follow a group of forty two students, forced to face off against each other on an uninhabited island. The rules are simple; the last one standing wins. But to make things a bit more interesting, danger zones are mapped out, and electronic explosive collars are fitted to each participant along with randomly assigned weapons. Some definitely fare better than others, with everything from an Uzi machine gun to a pot lid given as resources to help each one survive. 

In the impeccably paced two hour run time, we see all sorts of provocative shit go down. Stabbings, shootings, explosions, poisonings, hangings — even young lovers plunging to their demise — are experienced. Death after death is played out on screen in over-the-top succession; presenting many fans with a healthy dose of blood and gore. And this is something I personally find irresistable. 

Fukasaku felt a deep connection to the tale told in Battle Royale after his traumatizing experience as a young adult working in a factory during World War II, and I believe he took great honor in translating those fears and concerns he faced for this infamous feature that continues to stun audiences.

With an epic body count, sweeping array of weapons, swift-minded students and a certifiable cult status, Battle Royale should reign supreme. Vote now and make sure it gets the bloody gory it so deserves. 

(Championed by Danni Winn)



The 1970s and 80s are constantly referred to as the “greatest decades for horror,” but by the 90s, audiences had begun to understand the tropes created over those two decades of iconic cinema. This knowledge, along with the rise of independent film and straight-to-video, led filmmakers to either try their hand at the next big thing or flip the recurring themes on their heads with landmark films in meta-horror like Scream.

The 90s brought about a technical revolution that evolved rapidly, so much so that there’s constant philosophical debate about how children of that period feel a cultural loss. There wasn’t that medium (records, FM radio, drive-in double features, etc.) that was entirely “theirs” and lasted throughout their adolescence. However, the argument could be made there was something specifically for the children of the 90s. They saw the seeds being laid of video games moving from a classic arcade-like style to the artform they are now.

Of course, with every new technology comes stories about the fears that these “technological advancements” may bring. And that is how we get an “out there,” swinging for the fences, meta film like 1994’s Brainscan.

Brainscan tells the story about a troubled teenager, Michael (Edward Furlong), who discovers a horror video game using hypnosis to create a custom “realistic” experience for the player. However, as Michael plays and is tormented by the game’s narrator, he comes to realize the crimes he has been committing may not be entirely fictional. For those that haven’t seen it, the film is 90s teen angst meets Drop Dead Fred, combined with a psychological cyber slasher. It’s the underdog horror movie. While the film didn’t make as big of a boom, or boast as much flash, as the ones we constantly refer to, Brainscan gives us everything it has.

While it’s a fun genre flick that we crave to watch late at night with friends and junk food, you can’t mistake the film’s impressive commentary on the response to horror movies and video games from older generations — even its criticism on problematic elements within a lot of 80s horror. The story makes it clear that violent movies and videos do not make a killer. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it executes amazing insight on the gratuitous nature of studio horror the decade prior. All the deaths are felt. We are forced to acknowledge they are wrong. It is not made to be “cute” or “sexy” when Michael watches his neighbor undress. Instead, we are made aware it is intentionally unsettling.

Brainscan deserves to be examined again from modern eyes. Sure, it has its flaws. It may even be seen as outdated, campy, silly, or a slew of other dismissive terms.

But underneath it all, Brainscan is a haunting tale that rings closer to our own modern truth than we would like. Vote now to keep an underdog in the fight. 

(Championed by Craig Draheim)


James Wan and Leigh Whannell created something truly original and innovative in 2004. Of course I am talking about one of my favourite movies, SAW — the movie that spawned one of horror’s most beloved franchises. This first installment is arguably more intellectual than some of the later offerings, and in my view is all the better for that.

The film opens with two men lying unconscious in a dirty, dark, grimy, derelict bathroom. As they wake, they realize they are both chained to plumbing pipes by their ankles on opposite sides of the room. In the middle lies another man, face down, with a large blood pool around his head. Also present are two mini dictation machines and a pistol. And, ominously, a hacksaw. The two men seem to be complete strangers with nothing connecting them. Why are they here? How did they get here? And what will they have to do to escape?

What a setup!

From there, the movie follows a twisty path, taking numerous detours and side roads along the way. In so many movies, this leads to confusion and that awful, unsatisfactory feeling that events and situations are contrived just to connect the dots and set up plot points. But that’s not the case here. This movie is razor sharp. It manages to shock us, keep us guessing, and most importantly, keep us completely engaged — invested and on the edge of our seats.

Of course, if you haven’t been living in a cave for the past fifteen years, you already know all about Jigsaw and his fiendish traps. And trust me, the traps in this movie are iconic. Right from the first, the Razor Wire Maze, it’s obvious that Jigsaw is seriously sadistic. But he’s also a man with a purpose and a (albeit twisted one) moral code.

One of the things I love most about this movie is the writing. Jigsaw is presented as an anti hero. But unlike some of the antagonists in movies that use this device, he is never watered down. If you like your movie villains to be full fat, “caffeinated to the eyeballs” sick, then Jigsaw is your man. For example, let’s look at the infamous Head Trap. Imagine having a bear trap wired into your jaws that will spring open and tear your head apart unless you can retrieve the key, which is located in the stomach of a drugged man on the floor by your side. Would you kill to save yourself? And not only kill, but would you mutilate a helpless human? This is the dilemma posed to one of Jigsaw’s victims. And it’s as horrific as it sounds.

This movie boasts a stellar cast, including Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Dina Meyer, Shawnee Smith, and writer Leigh Whannell himself. Last but certainly not least, we have the incredible Tobin Bell as Jigsaw. The plot is slick and immensely satisfying. The writing, direction, sound, score, lighting and cinematography are so damn good — even on a shoestring budget.

SAW is a modern masterpiece. It’s almost impossible to believe it’s now 16 years old. Vote for the undisputed King of Carnage in the Morbidly Beautiful Death Games.

(Championed by Mike Wrigley)

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