Arcade ★½

I saw ARCADE as a kid, and it scared the bejeesus out of me.

It was on one the rare nights where I found myself alone in my dad's basement. I popped in the tape and held my breath. I had rented ARCADE from the HORROR section. I knew it was going to be the scariest thing I had ever seen. Even more terrifying than GOOSEBUMP books! As it played out before my terrified eyes, ARCADE's weird pace and non-action perplexed me. I knew it was looked dumb, and nothing was happening, but by the time the final shot arrived (a small kid saying "Bitch" into the camera), I was shaking and couldn't explain it. The experience somehow covered me in an itchy blanket of existential dread stitched together from pure irrationality. I recall rushing up the stairs to bed propelled by the utter fear that the evil-sounding ARCADE could be right behind me.

With that in mind, ARCADE is terrible. Kids don't know anything!

The film follows a group of teens that include Full Moon mainstay Megan Ward, a Pre-BUFFY Seth Green and a post-A CHRISTMAS STORY Peter Billingsley as they stumble onto a new VR game called ARCADE. Every kid gets sucked into the virtual world, and it's up to Ward and Billingsley to "Kiss reality goodbye!" and save the day. Can two clueless and annoying teens defeat all the shitty CGI effects $750,000 can buy?

Made back to back with DOLLMAN, Full Moon's original pitch was about a bunch of teens being knocked off one by one in a haunted arcade, but things changed drastically when Pyun and screenwriter David Goyer came in with VR on the brain. The shooting draft of their script was supposedly insanely ambitious, and Pyun admits in the book IT CAME FROM THE VIDEO AISLE that he just wasn't ready for the project's scope. He bailed before it was finished which forced the producers and Peter Billingsley to step in, re-write most of the dialogue, and whip it into a releasable state. It didn't help that they had to re-do all the special effects after Disney slapped them with a lawsuit when they noticed the cars looked way too similar to the light-cycles from TRON.

It's easy to poke fun at the genuinely awful effects that make up the back-half of ARCADE. They're bad, there's no doubt about that, but the real sin is that they're dull. Each level features zero character interaction or decision making. Instead, the time in the game is mostly spent watching the first-person view of someone skateboarding down a castle hallway. That's it! It doesn't help that Pyun is way out of his depth and doesn't have a clue how to deliver horror movie thrills. There aren't any suspense sequences, gore gags or weirdness anywhere in sight. There's probably a version of this story that plays like a slasher film, but this isn't it. There isn't even any nineties retro charm to be found. Megan Ward wanders around aimlessly in the real world until the plot forces her to face off against the arcade. Once she enters the game, it's like an episode of like Secrets of the Cryptkeeper's Haunted House (Yes, that existed) Its a middling 21-minute episode of ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK stretched out to 80 agonizing minutes. Its only merit is that it scared a young Justin Decloux who should have known better.

FUN FACT: No fun facts. This movie is awful. Please don't watch it.