In the 90s, many were convinced video games would bring the downfall of society. “Arcade” shows just how dangerous technology in the wrong hands can be.
In 1993, the cinematic world was introduced to some of the greatest effects work to ever grace the screen. This film was a grand undertaking centered on giving life to something that shouldn’t be alive. The advanced technology within the film made what was seemingly impossible somehow seem within our reach — not just on film, but in reality. This grand film likely impacted many lives and opened their eyes to a world they might not have ever known: the world of virtual reality gaming.
Arcade was a direct-to-video, CGI-filled gem from Full Moon. Despite my efforts to limit how often this bad horror giant is featured on Garbage Day, this movie embodies everything this column is about. Thus, I had no choice but to include it.
Arcade is the kind of movie that, even if you only saw bits and pieces of it somewhere as a child, it would haunt you for the rest of your life.
Littered with enough recognizable star talent to make it on TV, Arcade fully delivers in the ‘cheesy but enjoyable’ story department.
The movie opens, as many Full Moon films of the time do, in almost complete darkness, while Alex Manning (Megan Ward, Trancers II) discusses her mother’s suicide with a therapist. Why Full Moon insists on filming so many scenes in complete darkness, combined with terrible sound editing, is a mystery (I’m looking at you Demonic Toys, Puppet Master, and Castle Freak). But this introduction is mildly important to the plot, so be sure to crank up the volume and throw on the subtitles for it.
Like all children in the 90s, she is sent directly to school, despite being obviously emotionally troubled. It is here that viewers get introduced to Alex’s rag-tag group of friends. We meet the prick boyfriend (Bryan Dattilo Days of Our Lives), the classic stoner (Seth Green Idle Hands), and Ralphie from A Christmas Story all grown up as the creepy gamer friend (Peter Billingsley).
However, the friends serve as little more than a plot device and a reason to get a group of young people to the cleverly named arcade, Dante’s Inferno. Once there, the group finally gets to play the titular game Arcade, a labyrinth-style VR game that learns as you play it. It is the first and only of its kind and is incredibly difficult to play.
It also happens to be quite evil, but that will become obvious later on.
Once the game is finally introduced, Arcade really takes off.
Megan and Nick have to team up as their friends start disappearing into the game. There’s also a fascinating side plot to explain the unsettling origins of the game, which oddly works really well. But the crowning achievement in this film is its CGI. They even got sued by Disney for said effects, which the company claimed were too similar to those seen in Tron.
I’ll be honest, Arcade has some terribly dated CGI effects. Much like the ill-fated Beast Wars: Transformers TV show, the CGI was a victim of the times. The insertion of the actors into the CGI world looks obvious at times. Yet, as the story progresses and the world around them becomes more deadly, this issue is easily forgotten. Further, Arcade manages to make up for its dated technology with a compelling story and the clever way CGI is incorporated into that story.
In fact, this movie has aged better than most because, even at its lowest point, the CGI still feels like it complements the rest of the film.
Where Arcade is lucky is that all of the effects take place within the game. So all the bad CGI can be mentally written off as just being a product of the video game technology. The viewer is never taken out of the world of Arcade.
Arcade is an incredibly enjoyable film. If produced by anyone other than Full Moon, it could have seriously flopped. But thanks to Full Moon’s expertise in the low budget horror genre, they are able to continually make movies that, while certain qualifying for bad movie status, remain a blast to watch.
Check Arcade out on Tubi. And be sure to leave me a comment about what you thought about it. As always, comment below with your bad movie suggestions, and you might see your suggestion featured in a future Garbage Day spotlight.