Stars: Megan Ward, Peter Billingsley, Seth Green, A.J. Langer, Bryan Dattilo, Norbert Weisser, John DeLancie, Don Stark, Humberto Ortiz | Written by David S. Goyer | Directed by Albert Pyun
Released at the height of the straight to video techno-horror phase that rode in on the coat-tails of The Lawnmower Man and also saw the release of films such as Evolver and Brainscan, Arcade was, I think, unfairly overlooked, at least in the UK, at the time due to poor distribution, a lack of big-name stars (unlike Brainscan which had a post-T2 Edward Furlong, the biggest stars in Arcade were A Christmas Story’s Peter Billingsley and ST:TNG’s John De Lancie), and effects that – even though they were apparently redone after the film was completed – did not compare to other CGI-heavy films at the time.
Arcade tells the story of Alex Manning (Megan Ward), a troubled teenager whose mother committed suicide and whose father has never recovered from the loss. One day Alex and her friends decide to visit the local video arcade known as Dante’s Inferno to try out the new virtual reality game Arcade, which is being test marketed by a computer company CEO who also hands out free samples of the game for Alex and her friends to take home. However, it soon becomes clear that the teenagers who play (and lose) Arcade are being imprisoned inside the virtual reality world by the games villain. Discovering that the game was built using a boy’s brain cells in order to make the game more realistic, Alex and her friend Nick (Peter Billingsley) enlist the help of the game’s programmer and head to Dante’s Inferno for a final showdown with Arcade.
As a fan of the film, re-watching Arcade some 20 years since it was first released turned out to be somewhat of a surprising experience. I expected, unfortunately, the CGI to have dated badly, and it has. But the film has also dated in terms of look and feel – the film screams “early 90s” as characters walk round in an inordinate amount of flannel shirts ala grunge rock and Nirvana, crawl through windows instead of just using the front door (a cliche that began in the 80s and permeated teen cinema well into the 90s) and act like moody “pre-emo” emos.
So if that’s what I was expecting, why was watching the film as surprise?
Well Arcade has dated badly in terms of the visuals but at its core the film is STILL a great techno-horror flick. And to be honest its actually no wonder… Arcade was penned by an up and coming David S. Goyer (Blade, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight) based on a story by Full Moon’s Charles Band; and this wasn’t Goyer’s first Full Moon flick either – he also wrote Demonic Toys the year prior!
What’s also surprising, some 20 years later, is the cast. Megan Ward was, at the time, something of a Full Moon staple, having appeared in Crash and Burn and Trancers 3, she would go on to the likes of TV’s Party of Five, Melrose Place and and fan-favourite Dark Skies. Appearing alongside her as Alex’s small circle of friends are the aforementioned Peter Billingsley (A Christmas Story, Death Valley), who also took on the role of Arcade‘s post-production supervisor marking and early move to behind the camera; Buffy star and Robot Chicken creator Seth Green in one of two horror film appearances that year (the other being the fantastic killer-bug flick Ticks); A.J. Langer, who had previously appeared in Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs and would, the year after Arcade‘s releases be cast in her breakout role of Rayanne in My So-Called Life. The more grown-up cast is rounded out by John De Lancie, fresh from playing Q on Star Trek: The Next Generation; Norbert Weisser, a familiar face from a ton of movies over the years and whom had previously worked with director Albert Pyun on Captain America; and Don Stark, yet another “familiar face” appearing here in little more than a cameo – but who would go on to star in the likes of NYPD Blue and That 70s Show.
I’ll admit that I was a little afraid to re-visit Arcade over 20 years since it was first released (and at least ten years since I have last actually watched the film), I was worried the experience would tarnish my memories of one of my favourite Full Moon features (Arcade ranks in my Top 5 Full Moon flicks of all time). But I needn’t have worried. The film, even with its dated fashions and CGI, still stands the test of time thanks to David S. Goyer’s great script and Albert Pyun’s solid direction.
This DVD release includes the usual special features: 88 Films trailer park, original trailer and an Arcade-specific episode of Videozone – which, fact fans, features the original special effects for the film before they were redone and replaced with the CGI now in the movie. Worth a watch to see the original vision of the film and its Knightmare-esque world.
Arcade is released on DVD on March 17th, courtesy of 88 Films.