In 1982 there was a film released under the title EVERYBODY GETS IT IN THE END. I don’t know how many theatres it played in, if any, but I never saw it, or even heard of it.
After release, it went through a name change, and became the film it is known as today, T.A.G: THE ASSASSINATION GAME. It aired on cable under that name, and it quickly became a favorite of mine.
The premise of the film followed a group of students in college, playing a game with plastic dart guns. Each player is given the name of another player. They then have to track them down, and shoot them with the gun, without being shot first. They then take over their target, and hunt them down. This continues until there are only two players left, and they have a final tournament to decide the victor.
Robert Carradine plays a college newspaper reporter. After one of the players, Linda Hamilton, hides out in his room, he decides to write a story on the game, to get to know her.
What they don’t know is that one of the best players in the game, Gersh (Bruce Abbott), after getting shot himself on what should be an easy “kill”, he snaps. He starts to use a real gun, and hunt his targets with it.
The last half hour of the film is the final tournament.
The film was written and directed by Nick Castle, his film debut. Movie fans may know that Castle was a close friend of John Carpenter, and that he played Michael Meyers (or “the shape”) in the first HALLOWEEN. He pays tribute to John Carpenter by having the head of the tournament named Carpenter.
Castle would go on to direct films such as THE LAST STARFIGHTER and THE BOY WHO COULD FLY, and spend the 90’s making comedies like MR. WRONG and MAJOR PAYNE.
This film was made two years before Carradine would go back to college to film REVENGE OF THE NERDS. Every time I see this, I have to make sure it is the same Carradine as he weighs probably twenty pounds more in this than in NERDS. Never would have figured him for the same actor. But, it is.
And interestingly enough, Carradine’s NERDS co-star Anthony Edwards followed up NERDS by making GOTCHA, a not as good film about the same game.
And then there is Linda Hamilton. Honestly, I would say that Hamilton in this is right up there close to Michele Pfeiffer in GREASE 2 as one of the most beautiful actresses of the 80’s. After seeing her in this, the main reason I wanted to see THE TERMINATOR was because she was in it.
Bruce Abbott as the psycho Gersh is just brilliant. It was his first film role. He would go on to star in countless cult films like RE-ANIMATOR. And, in December of 1982, right after making TAG, Abbott and Hamilton were married. They were divorced in 1989.
Without going into details, I will just say the finale of this contains some of my most quoted film lines.
“Why are you doing this?”
“I want to win the game, you silly”
“That’s not fair”
Also in the cast are Xander Berkley who would go on to star in 24 as George Mason, Kristine DeBell a familiar face from 80’s TV and films such as MEATBALLS, and Michael Winslow, the noisemaker from the POLICE ACADEMY movies.
But, billed very last in the film is the biggest star to come from the film. In only one sequence, as Winslow’s bodyguard is an actor by the name of...
Forest Whitaker! Yes, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND is in the film.
The score, by Craig Safan, is extremely memorable. From the horn driven, PETER GUNN like jazzy opening theme, to the big finale chase music, I just love the score. Safan would go on to score countless films and TV shows, including many for Castle, and winning several Emmy’s. He even composed the songs that Emma Thompson sang in a very memorable episode of CHEERS(“My number is 555-6792”).
But, the film has seemingly disappeared.
While it played on cable several times in the mid 80’s, I haven’t seen it aired once since then.
It was released on VHS in the early 80’s, but copies are very hard to find. None of my video stores carried it. Only in the mid 90’s, when at a used video sale, did I ever find a copy (and it was only $1.99, one of the greatest buys of all time). You can find copies on Amazon and Ebay, but they go for well over $30.
To further confuse the issue, in 1993, Roger Corman released a film called TAG: THE ASSASSINATION GAME (aka CRISIS IN THE KREMLIN), a Russian set thriller that has nothing to do with this film.
Even if you find a copy though, as some of these screenshots will show, they are not of very good quality. A lot of the film takes place at night, and as you can see, the night scenes are not very easy to see.
It was a New World film release, and they are no longer in business. So, I’m not sure who owns the rights for the film today. Disney, of all companies, has the rights to many titles, but I don’t know if this is in with them.
Still, it is a very entertaining film. It was a favorite of mine for the time, even enough that a group of us tried to start the game in middle school. But, we all kept forgetting to bring our toy guns on the same day, so it never began. In college, I remember there were signs for people to start up the game. I don’t think it ever got started.
If you have never seen the film, would you think of it as an undiscovered gem? Hard to say. Like I said, a film that you watch so many times that you essentially memorize, it is difficult to think that others will have such devotion to the film.
But, it shouldn’t be forgotten.
EDITED 4-16-09 TO ADD: I just found these two clips of T.A.G. on You Tube.
Here is the opening and the James Bond like credit sequence.
And slight spoiler, one of the "kills" from the middle of the film featuring Kristine DeBell