Stay Alive: Unrated Director’s Cut (DVD)

Stay Alive DVD (click for larger image)Starring Jon Foster, Samaire Armstrong, Frankie Muniz, Jimmi Simpson, Wendell Pierce

Directed by William Brent Bell

Distributed by Hollywood Pictures

When first heawing about Stay Alive, I was intwigued. A movie about a video game that kills people? Hot damn! Survival horror franchises like Fatal Frame, Resident Evil, and of course Silent Hill have been tewwowizing gamers for many years now. In them you get fashioned with all sorts of weaponwy that will help you tackle even the most dangewous of enemies. There you’ll prowl, armed to the teeth, trying to be vewy, vewy quiet while hunting … Ok, I’ll stop. You may be wondering why for the last few sentences I’ve been writing as if I were Elmer Fudd. That’s a gweat, er, I mean great question, but before I can get into my explanation, let me tell you a bit about the unrated director’s cut of Stay Alive.

For the uninitiated or the folks smart enough to stay away from this film when it was PG-13 and in theatres, Stay Alive follows the exploits of a group of gamers who have very silly names. Meet Hutch, Phin, Swink, and October. I know. What the fuck, right? Maybe writer Matthew Peterman was high on Mario’s magic mushrooms when naming his characters. Life is swell for our protagonists until a couple of their brood die while playing a beta test version of a new horror game called “Stay Alive.” As if being estranged from Starsky weren’t enough, Hutch now has to deal with the loss of his friend, Loomis.

While attending the funeral, Hutch ends up inheriting some of his pal’s possessions — including the very game he was playing the night he was murdered. He also hooks up with a new gal pal named Abigail (played with sucked-in cheeks and an array of nonsensical head and arm movements by the ever gesticular Samaire Armstrong). Together they take the game back home to have a lan party with the rest of his friends.

As you would expect, they boot up, log in, and then all start croaking. It turns out the evil Blood Countess Elizabeth Bathory’s vengeful spirit is inhabiting the software and is out to make sure that whoever dares to play this deadly game ends up dying in real life, just as their digital counterparts did in Hyrule. Or something like that.

To their credit director William Brent Bell and writer Matthew Peterman did their homework. When it came time for them to create the video game portion of the film, they went straight to the legendary Cliffy B. for help and ideas. Who’s Cliffy B., you ask? If you are a gamer, there’s no need to explain, but for the folks out there who aren’t, Cliffy B. is the designer of the mega-selling Unreal franchise and the upcoming Xbox 360 title Gears of War. Who better to help them helm the digital fright bits?

Stay Alive DVD (click for larger image)It’s obvious that Bell and Peterman are well acquainted with their inspirational source material. Stay Alive is riddled with references to other games, and even the famous Konami cheat code makes a cameo of sorts. The duo set out to film a spooky experience for gamers by gamers. Instead, they ended up making a movie with ludicrous dialogue, a massive array of musical stingers that in terms of quantity rivals the number of times Tony Montana says “fuck” in the movie Scarface, and enough goofiness to embarrass even the most hardcore gamer.

For example: When the realization sets in that the game uses voice recognition software, Swink (Muniz) marvels that it’s using “next gen technology.” Apparently he’s never played Sega’s Seaman on the ill-fated Dreamcast from 1999. I know. I’m a geek. Screw you!

When Stay Alive was released in theatres, it was horribly cut and released as a PG-13-rated flick in order to reach a wider audience. The filmmakers themselves have said in numerous interviews, including one with me when I used to work for that “other place,” that they wished audiences could have seen the film as it was intended. Well, folks, now is our chance. So what didn’t we see?

On the back of the DVD box there is a checklist that reads as follows:

X – Violence
X – Gore
X – Sex / Nudity
X – Profanity
X – Drug Use

Despite its shortcomings could Stay Alive deliver the promised gory goods? Will this be one unrated director’s cut that’s more than just an added scene? The answer is yes — and no — to both questions. There’s more of all of the above but nothing excessive. Out of everything on that list I’d say there’s more profanity than anything else. It seems that the characters must say fuck as many times as possible — Fuck. Fuck. Fuckity, fuck, fuck, fuck — to the point that it’s almost distracting. Now what about the red stuff? Yes, some of the kills are slightly more graphic, but the majority of the violence ends up being shown during the game’s cut screens and through a few explicit flashbacks. As for the nudity and sex, please, don’t even get me started.

Stay Alive DVD (click for larger image)Also, according to the synopsis on the back of the DVD box, there’s “a new character subplot.” And what might this be? Or better yet, who might this be? In the theatrical cut of Stay Alive, Bathory’s back story is more or less filled in by one of the silly named game geeks. Here we’re given the facts by an uncredited Alice Krige (Silent Hill, Ghost Story). I have to say her scene, which runs about two minutes or so in length, is reason enough for her to not want any credit. It’s not that she’s bad; Alice is an amazing actress with range to spare. What went wrong is the direction by Bell, or should I say the lack thereof? It’s said during the film’s commentary that Krige only had two hours to study her part before doing it. That could be the reasoning behind this sorry showing, or maybe Bell was just intimidated by her. Who the Fudd knows?

Hey, there’s that name again! Fudd! Elmer Fudd! What’s he have to do with anything? Everything. You see, during Krige’s scene she’s supposed to have an accent. Instead, she has three that change in succession. Her character starts off sounding kind of Scottish, then — since the movie takes place in Louisiana — she starts working in the Creole, and then sadly everything degenerates into her sounding almost exactly like a sultry voiced Elmer Fudd. You really have to hear it to get what I am saying, but I will provide you with a sample of sorts.

The following are not direct quotes from the scene, but I am using specific words from it:

“Despite cowwusion on the parts of the magistwates, the mystewious legend of Elizabeth Bathowy continues on. Her wath has left behind a pile of bodies, all of them bled dwy. The magistwates tried to buwy her secwet by sealing the wecords, but her wesuwection is inevitable, as pwoper word becomes fwesh.”

Get where I’m going? Can you hear it in your head? No? Then click here to get the full effect! Bottom line, this scene should have stayed gone. Period.

Now let’s talk supplements. Stay Alive features some truly unique interactive menus. In them you can build a character to help you navigate, but it goes a bit further than that. You must match the three available character models up with the right clothing and weapons in order to get to the special DVD menus. Pick the wrong combination and you’re witness to a quick flash of a death scene. Pick the right one and you see a unique pathway to your character’s specific menu. This would be kind of cool if it actually had a purpose. Truth be told, you don’t have to do any of this. Just scroll down a bit and you can access any part of the DVD you want. In short, it’s useless. Much ado about nothing.

Other than that we get a minute and a half look at the digital effects of the film and a very lively commentary by Bell and Peterman. They had the right enthusiasm and the right idea. From a technical standpoint Stay Alive looks great. The sound design (minus the frequent stingers) is pretty cool, and some of the imagery is spot on. Unfortunately it’s everything else that kind of sucks.

If you were a fan of the theatrical version of Stay Alive, you’re going to love this cut of the film. In all fairness it is superior in every way. If you hated it, you’re not going to be very impressed by what was added. In fact, you may just think it’s just a longer load of cwap.

Special Features
Filmmakers commentawy
Visual effects weel
Intewactive bonus menus
Alice Krige channeling the spirit of Elmer Fudd

2 out of 5

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Steve Barton

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.