Boy I love “Arcade.” I just want to hug it tightly until it pops. It’s such a bad movie that it’s actually damn good when you overcome the absurdity. Maybe it’s because a plump Ralphie Parker plays a strong supporting role. Maybe it’s because Seth Green co-stars with a grungy nineties doo. Maybe it’s because the movie is just a rip-off of “Tron” and “Lawnmower Man”; either way it’s quite ridiculous, but for whatever reason Albert Pyun’s Full Moon Entertainment science fiction horror film is one of the finest pieces of schlock I’ve ever seen.
In the nineties we knew very little about the internet and video games, but surely enough as both worlds were being developed, many filmmakers knew the mediums could be combined. These days we just have another form of playing a video game, but back then it possessed a magical potential that could create new worlds, bring in monsters, and even possess us. The internet and video games combined? It’s witchcraft I tell you! Back in 1993, my dad would pretty much rent whatever he could get his hands on, and incidentally enough most of the videos he’d rent from a local store were Full Moon movies. This one in particular was a blast, even though it was technically deemed rated R.
Written by David S. Goyer himself, “Arcade” begins with Alex, a pretty young girl who is still haunted by the suicide of her mother. To escape the nightmares and vivid visions of her dead mom, she hides at Donny’s with her gang of clichés, it’s a local arcade where the newest game from Vertigo Tronics (Tron) called (ahem) “Arcade” has arrived for all to play in sheer awe. And a skosh of terror. I’m still not sure why such a revolutionary game premiere isn’t being held at some world summit instead of just through ads in flyers in an arcade most people likely never visit. While Arcade the machine is a virtual villain, he’s essentially a CGI Krueger whose own weapon is using his players worst fears and nightmares against them to create whatever world it wants.
Of course once the players enter his realm, they never leave the game alive. The movie becomes goofy once the owner of Arcade gives the teens home versions of the game where Arcade is able to taunt the teens through televisions without either of them really drawing attention to its sudden sentience. Arcade even becomes a snarling taunting drama queen giggling at his players, and even egging character Alex on to call her friends and look for her missing boyfriend. I don’t care how virtual a game is, I’d be prone to tossing it in the trash at this juncture. The mere implication that this is basically a virtual “Nightmare on Elm Street” permeates throughout the film as characters are knocked off, and Alex has to go in to the world to confront Arcade and her worst fears.
Director Pyun takes great pains in attempting to convince us this is a CGI “Nightmare” (it even squeezes in a cute kid for no reason) and while it fails in that regard, it works as a goofy and senseless bit of nineties technological fear mongering that has a much more creative premise than the film’s budget allows. And with such a ridiculous final scene, you just have to enjoy what nonsense this serves up. Director Pyun and writer Goyer’s 1993 science fiction horror film is still one of my favorite B movies from the decade of Straight to Video escapism; filled with strong performances by Billingsley and War, and a clever premise, “Arcade” sadly tries to convince us it’s a warning about the dangers of technology, when in reality it desperately reaches for “Lawnmower Man” popularity, and “Nightmare on Elm Street” terror to no avail.