GameOverThis is the scary inverse of HOME ALONE, a French thriller that replaces the former film’s family-friendly pukiness with darkness and perversity. I approve, but also wish GAME OVER were better overall.

GAME OVER (36.15 CODE PERE NOEL/DIAL CODE SANTA CLAUS) is often referred to as a rip-off of or “answer to” HOME ALONE, yet the present film was actually released in 1989, a year prior to the other. The question of whether HOME ALONE’S creators John Hughes and Chris Columbus borrowed from it remains an open one; GAME OVER was never released in the US, but Hollywood certainly took notice of the film. It actually led to a career in American television for its writer/director Rene Manzor, who during the nineties helmed episodes of THE HITCHHIKER, THE YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES and HIGHLANDER.

Thomas is a mullet-haired, Rambo-obsessed brat who lives in a secluded mansion with his businesswoman mother Julie and nearly blind grandfather Papy. Julie decides to spend Christmas Eve at the office, leaving Thomas alone with Papy. Thomas, it transpires, is a computer and mechanics whiz, two skills that will come in handy over the course of the following evening.

Elsewhere a pervert dressed as Santa Claus, who just happens to work for Thomas’ mother, is fired after he manhandles a young girl. Still wearing his Santa suit, the perv stows away in a delivery van bound for his former employer’s home, where he kills the driver of the van. Next he spray paints his beard and eyebrows white, and enters the house through the chimney.

Thomas is awake to witness the entrance of the pervert, who he mistakes for Santa Claus. But then the guy stabs Thomas’ dog with a pie cutter Thomas realizes this Santa is evil. Thomas escapes into a hidden room with Papy, but it isn’t long before the perv discovers them. Thomas and Papy manage to escape just in time, although Thomas ends up with a nasty leg wound.

After burying his murdered dog in the back yard Thomas decides to fight back against evil Santa. He does this by shutting Papy up in a suit of armor displayed in the entryway and firing an arrow at Santa that allows Thomas to track his every movement via a homemade scanner. Thomas also sets up various booby traps, such as a tripwire that when tripped shoots darts and a grenade equipped toy truck.

All the while Julie is desperately trying to make her way home, but she keeps getting sidelined. Will she arrive back in time to save her son and father from evil Santa??

Because this film is from France it’s been miscategorized by some as a subversive art film, but in truth GAME OVER is very much an exploitation movie that proves French filmmakers can be every bit as trashy and irresponsible as their Hollywood rivals. In fact I’d say this film actually outdoes most U.S. fare in exploitative sensationalism: unlike the above-mentioned HOME ALONE, the antagonist is a genuinely menacing child molester and the kid protagonist made witness to many horrific acts—and brutally wounded—in the course of the film.

For the most part it’s well made, with action that despite a few missteps (such as the fact that the bad guy only ever seems to move in slow motion) is uniformly taut and suspenseful. The visual design is striking, making good use of the maze-like interiors of the mansion where much of the film takes place, as is the acting of young Alain Musy, who (unlike Macaulay Culkin) demonstrates a fair amount of nuance in the lead role.

The film loses its footing in the final scenes, where the carefully wrought suspense gives way to a montage of mayhem that severely undercuts the intensity. Also: the gaudy eighties music video inspired look dates the film, as does the crummy techno score and thoroughly unmemorable Bonnie Taylor theme song.

Vital Statistics

L.M. Productions

Director: Rene Manzor
Producers: Jean-Luc Defait, Ziad El Khoury
Screenplay: Rene Manzor
Cinematography: Michel Gaffier
Editing: Christine Pansu
Cast: Brigitte Fossey, Louis Ducreux, Patrick Floersheim, Alain Musy, Francois Eric Gendron, Stephane Legros, Franck Capillery, Nicole Raucher, Gedeon, Charles de Feral, Marion Bureau, Mousse