October Horrorshow: Truth or Dare?, aka Truth or Dare?: A Critical Madness

If one goes poking around the internet looking for an SOV horror flick to watch, one will likely find Truth or Dare?, Tim Ritter’s 1986 feature, on many lists. But, this flick was not shot on video. It was shot on 16mm film, and then transferred to video for release. As such, I’m not including it amongst the SOV horror reviews. However, it is a treat to see Ritter, who was only 18-years-old at the time of filming, work on his storytelling chops.

Ritter wrote and directed Truth or Dare?, but on the initial VHS release back in the 1980s, directing credit went to the film’s producer, Yale Wilson. As best I can gather, this was Ritter’s pseudonym.

Whoever Wilson was, real person or nom de guerre, as a producer, he delivered. Ritter’s next film after this was Killing Spree, which is a typical example of SOV horror. That is, it’s a very, very limited production. Truth or Dare?, on the other hand, while only having about a quarter of a million dollars to work with, was a legit production. There are some actors in this that have more than one appearance on their IMDb pages, there are stunts and fiery car crashes, requiring the work of trained professionals. and there may have even been a craft services table.

The film follows John Brace as Mike Strauber, a middle-class white-collar worker who loses his mind after he catches his wife, Sharon (Mary Fanaro), cheating on him with his friend, Jerry (Bruce Gold). He runs out of his home, drives to a bluff overlooking a beach, replaying all the clues to the affair in his mind, before raising a pistol to his head. He doesn’t pull the trigger, though. Instead, he picks up a Truth or Dare? 1986 VHS boxstrawberry-blonde hitchhiker, goes to a campsite with her(!), and begins playing the most sadomasochistic game of truth or dare one will see. The hitchhiker is all in his head, and after Mike is found to have mutilated himself, including yanking out a hunk of his tongue, it’s off to the insane asylum for him.

Later, he is given a clean bill of health and released, only to attack Sharon and Jerry, and it’s back to the asylum. But, no asylum can keep Mike down. He escapes, dressed like Michael Myers, strange mask included, and goes on a killing spree in the final act before denouement. Picture if Halloween had a much longer sequence featuring Michael traveling to Haddonfield and killing everyone he meets, and one gets the picture of this final act. In fact, it walked a pretty fine line between being influenced by Halloween and ripping it off.

Of all the Ritter films I’ve seen to this point, which is not many, this is the most professional. His storytelling in this film is coherent, the editing, credited to Jack Behrend (probably another pseudonym for Ritter), is tight, and, most importantly, the acting is better than anything I’ve seen in actual SOV horror flicks. It’s not great acting. There are plenty of amateurs, bad reads, and obvious first takes used. But, the actual professionals used in the film displayed genuine chops.

Brace was a joy to watch. In the parts of the movie where he isn’t hidden behind a silly-looking mask, he does well portraying Mike Strauber as a man losing his sanity. And when his character crosses the line into full crazy, Brace is the perfect amount of manic and unhinged. He carries the film, in fact.

This is a film that showcased Ritter’s potential as a filmmaker. Had someone in Hollywood taken notice, I don’t doubt for a second that Ritter would have been given the opportunity to make a film with more resources. As it happened, his career was destined to go in a different direction.

Truth or Dare? was a happy surprise. Objective quality is poor, but watchability is high, landing this film in the #180 spot in the Index, displacing Point of Terror. Check it out.

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