18 June 2024
The Name of the Game Is Kill (1968)
84 min.
Directed by Gunnar Hellström.
With Jack Lord, Susan Strasberg, Tisha Sterling, Collin Wilcox Paxton, Marc Desmond, T.C. Jones, Mort Mills.
The Name of the Game Is Kill is the very definition of psychotronic.

Hungarian hitchhiker Symcha (played by supermacho Lord, sporting the thickest Eastern European accent this side of Budapest) is picked up on the highway by demure brunette Mickey Terry (Strasberg) and taken back to her desert home to meet her family.

And what a family it is!

Mickey's older sister Diz (Collin Wilcox Paxton) has a nasty habit of revving up the Terry car, taking to the streets, and running over anyone who's angered her. Another sister, Nan (Tisha Sterling) has racked up a long police record of brutal assault & battery charges against local townsfolk.

And then there's the kindly Terry matriarch (T.C. Jones), a soft-spoken widow who reportedly clubbed her husband to death with a second-rate Venus de Milo statue.

But what could all this mess mean for poor Symcha?

As the hapless foreigner begins to fall in love with Mickey, he soon realizes the Terry family are a completely unhinged bunch...and it's a gamble whether he'll escape with his life!

How to summarize this bizarre offering from director Gunnar Hellström? Well, for starters, imagine Tennessee Williams' The Fugitive Kind (1959) meets Carlos Aured's House of Psychotic Women (1974).

A palpable sense of feminine psychological decay surrounds The Name of the Game Is Kill, in the way that only a late '60s grindhouse horror can generate. Add to that the flint of a strong, grounded performance from Steve McGarrett -- er, we mean Jack Lord -- and you've got just the right balance of tension needed to ignite an already-combustible cult flick.

In addition to good work from Lord and Strasberg, kudos also goes out to Paxton for turning in one of the more nuanced performances here: her frustrated Diz is a near-perfect portrayal of tragic, angry pathos mixed with a muffled, misguided hope for the future. Her exposition scenes with Lord in particular rise above those of a normal horror outing.

There's not a great deal of red stuff on display here. But that's the charm of Name of the Game: the terror resides in what these women have been through -- the torments of the past which consume their minds daily -- rather than what you'll see onscreen.

Also known as The Female Trap.

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