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  Tag: The Assassination Game Human Target
Year: 1982
Director: Nick Castle
Stars: Robert Carradine, Linda Hamilton, Kristine DeBell, Perry Lang, John Mengatti, Michael Winslow, Frazer Smith, Bruce Abbott, Xander Berkeley, Ivan Bonar, Scott Dunlop, Jim Greenleaf, Charlene Nelson, Steven Peterman, Forest Whitaker
Genre: Comedy, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: On this university campus, the game of tag has become a way of life for some of the students. The way it is organised is simple: the players carry a rubber dart gun, and have to shoot and "kill" their opponents; if they succeed the tagged victim will pass on their envelope which contains the details of the victor's next hit, and so the game continues across the weeks until there is a winner at the end. Susan Swayze (Linda Hamilton) is an enthusiastic player, and one night where she takes brief refuge in the dorm room of Alex Marsh (Robert Carradine) makes quite an impression on him...

The director of this was Nick Castle, who had come to this role thanks to getting his start with John Carpenter, but here showed that he was not simply happy to sit back and regurgitate the slasher movie conventions as laid down by his old buddy's Halloween. That's interesting, because Tag could have been a mundane plough through the killer on the loose clich├ęs, but Castle had more influences he wished to include, so what in other hands would be horror turned into more of a comic thriller. Although the violence when it came was serious, the tone was largely not.

As you might expect, a whole film dedicated to following the students as they shoot rubber darts at each other would see its excitement pall rather quickly, but add in a player who takes the game that bit too far and you had a story on your hands. That player was Gersh (Bruce Abbott), who is the proud holder of the trophy for Tag champion, and has been for a while, so when he slips up and gets tagged himself when sneaking up on his quarry in the shower (no sense of privacy, these gamers) he doesn't take it too well. So badly in fact that he goes back to his room, picks up his real gun, and returns to get his own back.

This sets him on a spree of murder, but nobody latches onto what is actually happening with the game because he hides the bodies (no mean feat for the very large first victim) and they are reported missing by and by, yet nobody makes the connection - not at first, anyway. Our hero, Marsh, dreams of being a Raymond Chandler protagonist, or at least taking the Humphrey Bogart role in a real life film noir, but he is distracted by Susan who he takes a liking to and makes it his business to get to know her under the pretence of writing an article for the student newspaper. These classic movie references may be self-conscious, but they add a nice twist to the proceedings.

Don't go thinking that with Gersh on the loose this is a bloodbath, as Castle was less interested in gory special effects - essentially people get shot but not dismembered - than he was in working up a tone that veers towards spoof while presenting the thrills fairly straight. At times the gags hit the mark, with Michael Winslow from the Police Academy movies doing his funny noises as one of the more overt laugh-getters, but more often the humour was surprisingly gentle. Indeed, Marsh and his romantic chasing of Susan is contrasted with the more deadly pursuit of Gersh, and she is more interested in being independent than reciprocating her new admirer, so you can guess what will bring them together for the finale. With a title sequence that deliberately echoes James Bond, and Craig Safan's groovy theme, this might not live up to its inspirations or even its potential, but was far better than you might have expected.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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