Stay Alive-A Cautionary Tale

Malcolm in the Middle was one of the many staples of my childhood. Its whimsey and humor brought heart and levity to many households in the early 2000s. I got excited when I saw promos for this 2006 horror slasher flick, Stay Alive, as it starred Frankie Muniz, the title character of Malcolm in the Middle. That was all the convincing I needed to watch it …on DVD since I didn’t have a car and wasn’t able to drive due to my ripe age of 15 at the time. It was time well spent.

The film starts with NBC’s Heroes breakout star Milo Ventimiglia as Loomis playing the eponymous videogame Stay Alive. He, his roommate, and the girlfriend characters die in the game. But it turns out, all three end up suffering the same fate the way their digital counterparts die.

Think Nightmare on Elm Street, only instead of the victims dying in real life just like how they die in the dreams, they are connected to their digital videogame counterparts, and their fates are linked. 

After the funeral, Loomis’s friends, Abigail and Hutch, find the game in his belongings and begin to play it. Their friends, October, Hutch, Swink, Phinneus, and Miller, join in on the “fun.” They recite the ancient prayer of Elizabeth Bathory, the so-called Blood Countess and the villain of the game. 

RELATED: Debunking the myth of the Blood Countess

All who resist to perish so their blood can keep Countess Elizabeth Bathory young.

That sounds normal and doesn’t evoke “I have a bad feeling about this at all.”

One by one, people start to die horrible deaths the same way in the game. We find out, Bathory was a prominent figure who drained young women of blood, bathing in it to maintain her youthful complexion. Countess Bathory was locked away as punishment for her gruesome crimes and vowed to return for revenge. The reciting of the prayer was the tipping point. Her kryptonite is driving three nails into her body to trap her evil soul. It feels amazingly like a plot for an episode of Supernatural

 The game starts to play itself while Bathory becomes desperate to complete her mission taking more lives. No one is safe. Luckily Frankie Muniz narrowly escapes death. They manage to exploit mirrors, her Achilles heel, and then stab her thrice and set her body ablaze. All is well until we see that that killer-hungry video game is now going to be sold on a massive scale, igniting another reign of chaos.

  I think the idea of your favorite videogame coming to life seems to be a fantastical adventure. But depending on the game, it can be a wild ride or a nightmare. The movie shows that scenario in the worst way possible.

 I find it fascinating when horror stories are stemmed from history. There seems to be a pattern of historical figures being wronged, dying of a broken heart, or unfulfilled desires in their soul. An episode of Supernatural dealt with Sam and Dean Winchester facing off against a pagan god Leshi whose forest was burned down, thus allowing less people to worship her. She then takes the form of idols like Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, and PARIS HILTON to reclaim her glory and kill her fans.

What I noticed about Bathory is that she was born into royalty, married young, and had a lot of power at such a young age. She had wealth, land, and a family. There is something to be said about that. She was quite a woman of influence and had the makings of an esteemed leader handling other affairs while her husband was away.

But when her husband dies, things take a gruesome turn. She turns to the dark side. While the mysterious and tragic deaths of innocent women to maintain her youth are the stuff of legend, it baffles me her intentions are still a mystery. Bathory had so much power, I wonder if she feared for the power she would lose, knowing there wouldn’t be a man in her life to match her equal. Would people see her differently? Based on the plot of this film, I wonder if killing the innocent was a way to cope with death and yet maintain a level of fear and respect among the masses making her drunk with power. It is a noble tactic worthy of Maleficent but overly unorthodox.

In terms of this film, the legend is fueled into this videogame. Bathory’s never-ending wish-fulfillment is to stay young and powerful forever, so in turn, she uses the game which has reached millions of youth. The youth are drawn to its addictive nature and are unaware of their grisly fate. What a twisted way of obtaining eternal life. 

The video game presented in the film is a double-edge sword. It makes the people who play it feel alive and adventurous, but too much of the game and characters begin to lose themselves before their untimely deaths. 

This film received poor reviews and low box office numbers, but it worked for me regardless. Director William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside, The Boy) knows his way around the genre as he takes the addictive nature of video games and turns it on its head. It was suspenseful from start to finish. I liked how we got to see Milo from Heroes, then in an instant, his character his gone. No one is safe.

Vengeful spirits do not play. 

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