Game of Survival is a 1989 B-movie actioner from first time director Armand Gazarian that is an impressive piece of low-budget sci-fi. This grainy 8mm feature focuses on a group of gnarly criminals who are sent to Earth to fight for their freedom on the streets of LA. As an underseen gem of the early 90’s VHS era it's full of surprisingly good fight scenes and a cast fully committed to their insane characters. Culture Shock brings the film to Blu-ray with a solid A/V package and plenty of special features to please fans of this film. Recommended
“There can be only one winner. The rest will be terminated.”
On the far-flung planet of Sino a corrupt government rules with an iron fist. Those who oppose it are captured and killed. One such dissenter named Zane (Nicholas Hill, Bloodsport 2) is brought before a group of aliens who delight in using criminals for sport. Their leader assembles seven outcasts to fight for their freedom on Earth. The goal is to find a spiked ball within 60 hours hidden somewhere in Los Angeles. We follow Zane as he navigates the back alleys of LA dodging crooks and weirdos hoping to win the contest and secure his freedom.
Game of Survival (opening titles display Games of Survival) works within many sci-fi tropes from its Highlander take on the game to The Terminator relationship Zane fosters with an Earth woman. The opening chase scene features a dune buggy complete with rooftop missiles which instantly caters to action junkies looking for something entertaining. The fighters all have names that were taken from an 8th-grade short story: Skullblaster, Gygon, Baarg, and the groan-inducing Minig for the shortest member of the squad. Dressed in dimestore Mad Max facsimiles the punk-styled criminals bounce around LA fending off locals and battling each other in public parks.
Early on the film humanizes Zane by showing him rescuing another prisoner attempting to escape the militant dune buggy. His personality and motivations are in clear opposition to the other outcasts who are straight-up cold-blooded killers. Zane just wants his freedom without the joy of busting a few heads. He runs into 80’s babe Cindy (Cindy Coatman, Princess Warrior) who shares Zane’s love of big hair and Celeste's frozen pizza. As expected our warrior lover must eventually choose between Cindy’s fate and his own. Snooze.
Director Armand Gazarian stages the surprisingly good fight scenes confidently, allowing the actors interesting locations and space to brawl. The modestly trained actors are giving it their all to achieve flips, punches, and sweet roundhouse kicks with respectable results. Gore isn’t a priority here but there is enough blood spurts and effects to please fans of the post-nuke genre. Gazarian chose to film the feature in guerrilla style which offers plenty of happy accidents in the background combined with an interesting slice-of-life perspective on the streets of 80’s LA.
Ultimately Game of Survival is a fun no-budget actioner that will entertain anyone looking for a good time without the need for complicated plot lines or subtext. This bizarre feature is raw and unfiltered which raises the stakes even more as you watch the insanity unfold. While the film borrows ideas from iconic post-apocalyptic movies, it never becomes a blatant ripoff. Gazarian adds just enough humor and sincerity to keep it feeling bigger than its meager budget.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Game of Survival arrives on Region Free Blu-ray thanks to Culture Shock Releasing. The BD-25 disc is housed in a transparent keepcase with reversible artwork. Loading the disc presents the Culture Shock logo before landing on the Main Menu screen with scenes from the film playing behind typical navigation options.
Culture Shock’s new restoration of Game of Survival presents the 8mm film in its original 1.33 aspect ratio. Black levels are surprisingly dark with grain levels fine and film-like. Color saturation is low however reds and blues are stronger than expected. Close-ups reveal minimal detail in costuming and facial textures. Dark interiors of the alien spaceship mask set details but there are traces of the production design that look interesting such as the fighter’s molded chambers. The same goes for the bar fight scene which presents a noisy image offering little detail and mushy colors.
Image stability issues result in frequent jittering with lines and specks evident though this never detracts from the enjoyment of the feature. The restoration from Culture Shock is surprisingly good considering the source print supplied. In the special features, you can see a side-by-side comparison of the efforts made in the process.
Game of Survival arrives on Blu-ray with a clear and pronounced 2.0 DTS-HD MA mix that compliments the feature. The pulsating synth rock tracks thunder behind the action scenes constantly. The post recorded dialogue is clear with minimal distortion in exchanges. Overall this audio mix balances effects, dialogue, and music tracks effectively resulting in a pleasing experience.
Culture Shock provides a respectable set of special features for the lo-fi actioner. Start with the commentary track then move through the interviews. Don’t forget the music video from Municipal Waste!
Game of Survival is a fun B-movie actioner with memorable characters, decent fight choreography, and an enthusiastic sincerity from everyone involved. This is the perfect movie to relive those VHS heydays with some friends looking for a good time. Culture Shock brings the film to Blu-ray with a surprisingly good A/V package and plenty of special features for fans. Recommended.