GAMES (1967) Blu-ray
Director: Curtis Harrington
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

Scream Factory plays for keeps with their Blu-ray of the Universal psycho-drama GAMES.

Married for three years, Paul (James Caan, THE GODFATHER) and Jennifer (Katherine Ross, THE GRADUATE) work hard at being "unconventional," spending her inheritance collecting modern art, cultivating eccentric personalities, and other diversions. Into their lives comes Lisa Schindler (Simone Signoret, DIABOLIQUE), a glamorous middle-aged woman who gains entry into their home claiming to be a friend of a friend but turns out to be a cosmetics sales woman. Jennifer is annoyed until the woman collapses from exhaustion. Despite Paul's misgivings, Jennifer allows Lisa to stay for a few days until she gets back on her feet. Jennifer is immediately intrigued by Lisa's romantic past but the older woman alternately goads and tantalizes Paul into her idea of more sophisticated mind games involving psychological manipulation and dueling pistols. When randy delivery boy Norman (Don Stroud, PERDITA DURANGO) winds up with a bullet in the eye, however, Paul and Jennifer are no longer playing as they assume their charming houseguest will nevertheless bleed them dry if she were to find out. As Paul tries to dispose of the body, Jennifer starts hearing and seeing things, and Lisa's dabbling in spiritualism has her intuiting a vengeful ghostly presence. Is it guilt… or games?

The first of director Curtis Harrington's studio films – followed by the "hag" horrors WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? for United Artists and WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO? for American International before he would be forced to move to television and the indies in the 1970s – GAMES is a gorgeous-looking production as expected from Universal; however, it is not only the presence of Signoret that should clue in audiences that the film will be taking DIABOLIQUE route for its climactic twist. Derived from a story by Harrington and producing partner George Edwards (FROGS), the initial concept of escalating mind games is compelling but the restrictions of a studio production and the script by KOJAK series writer Gene R. Kearney probably prevented it from going in more challenging directions. That said, Caan, Ross, and Signoret are all entertaining as they go through the motions as creatively lensed in scope by William A. Fraker (ROSEMARY'S BABY), and the film does mark a turning point in Harrington's filmography in which the dangers of wallowing in fantasy (although the danger usually comes from within than without in Harrington's other films). Kent Smith (CAT PEOPLE) appears as Jennifer's lawyer and Estelle Winwood (MURDER BY DEATH) typecast as the kooky neighbor.

Largely unavailable after its theatrical release despite the casting cachet of Caan and Ross, GAMES was the only film for which Harrington advocated letterboxing in his Video Watchdog interview because it was shot in the Techniscope format. When Universal did get around to releasing the film on VHS, it was of course a panned-and-scanned transfer. A letterboxed version would not see official release until 2011, and then it was one of Universal's "Vault Collection" manufactured-on-demand DVD-Rs. Scream Factory's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray is prefaced with disclaimer that it was manufactured from the best material available, but it looks great for the most part with the usual white specks popping up here and there. Reds are vibrant, particularly with the "theatrical" bloodshed and Stroud's apparition appears beneath a striking green gel. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track is free of any distracting level of hiss with dialogue and effects making more of an impression than the blandly "playful" score of Samuel Matlovsky (FLIPPER). Optional English SDH subtitles are included. It is unfortunate that Scream Factory could not have arranged for a commentary as David Del Valle and Nathaniel Bell provided good tracks on Kino Lorber's Blu-ray of WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO? and VCI's Blu-ray of RUBY. Extras consist only of a still gallery (1:06) and theatrical trailer (2:21). (Eric Cotenas)