Ginger Nuts of Horror
Last year, writer/director Greg Francis put out a somewhat-overlooked horror film called Poker Night. Starring Ron Perlman and Giancarlo Esposito, as well as relative newcomer Beau Mirchoff in the role of the protagonist, the film earned only 44% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes. It didn't perform any better with audiences, either. Even so, it certainly had a specific appeal to those who enjoy a dark, scary film with a hint of absurdity. In short, not a great movie, but maybe one to check out if you just love the genre.
Oddly enough, one of the disappointing aspects of Poker Night is that it had little to do with actual poker. With so many millions of people around the world obsessed with the popular card game, it was easy to expect the film would incorporate some gripping card playing scenes in the midst of its quest to scare. Unfortunately, while poker was involved, the title was more meant to describe a gathering of colleagues than any intrigue particularly related to the game. But still, it got us thinking....
What if a brand-new horror film did take advantage of the world's obsession with poker, and with gambling in general, to produce a film with a chance to reach a new, wide audience? Here are three ideas for such films we'd love to see made:
In Texas Hold'em poker, there are various community cards dealt over the course of the game. Poker News describes the fifth and final of these cards (aka "The River") as being dealt face-up, leading to a final betting round before "The Showdown," when players must show their hands. So basically, once you reach "The River," it's all on the line.
This makes for a dramatic (if somewhat cheesy) title concept for a horror film built around high-stakes poker. The premise could be simple: perhaps a pair of friends known to want to win at all costs splits up when one turns on the other in a high-stakes tournament. The winner goes on to fame and fortune in poker, with the scorned friend turning to the dark side of basement gambling. He commits crimes to make his money until he finally ends up in a game against his old friend, in disguise. On "The River," he's already put all his money on the line—so he bets that the winner takes the loser's life, revealing his true identity.
OK, it's a rough sketch, and you'd need to sprinkle a lot of genuine horror in along the way to make it intriguing. But when you consider it as a horrific version of Rounders, it's easy to see how it may attract a major audience!
"Never Land On Red"
Although it doesn't quite inspire the crazy following that Texas Hold'em does, roulette is still an extraordinarily popular casino game, both online and in real casinos. Ideally, a film concerning roulette would be set in Europe, because as Intercasino describes here in its explanations of the different kinds of roulette, the European brand offers the closest to 50/50 odds (between the player and the "house"). As written on the site, "Unlike American Roulette, European Roulette gives the players slightly better odds." This is because European Roulette wheels have only one "0" in addition to the 18 red and 18 black landing spots (which also include 18 even and 18 odd numbers).
The idea, though, is that a serial killing low-end casino thief uses roulette wheels as a judgment during his crimes—like a more sinister version of iconic Batman villain Two-Face's tendency to flip a coin to decide the fate of others. Dealers, hostages, etc. get executed by the killer every time a ball lands on red (which has some obvious but likely effective blood symbolism attached to it). Perhaps, in the end, the tables could be turned and the killer could be presented with the same situation. There could even be an ambiguous, teasing ending as the wheel spins and the ball slows down....
Initially this sounds like a silly premise, but it may actually be one of the more effective casino-themed horror films that could be made, as long as we're talking about the games remaining part of the action.
This film idea would be an adaptation, or at least a spin on an existing character. According to Comic Vine, there is a Black Jack comic character (from Archie Comics, of all sources). He's a police detective who earns the nickname of "Black Jack" after using a Jack of Spades card to cut a slit in drying concrete and allow himself to breathe after being walled up in a dark room.
Really, it's a great name and a pretty dull character. The idea of using a literal black jack to escape captivity is a nice starting point, but this could really work in a horror capacity if the character that emerges from a walled up room ends up on a bloody, lawless quest for vengeance. Maybe he could even leave the Jack of Spades on his victims in a Joker-ish fashion.
Ideally, there'd be some actual card playing involved, so as to avoid the trap Poker Night fell into (as in, not involving the game in a way that really has to do with the plot). But this could be a good start!