“Children love to watch things die.” This morbid line by lead character Chris aptly sums up Playroom in both level of maturity and premise. Archaeologist Chris is plagued by nightmares of his youth, spent in the ruins of a castle-like monastery in Europe, where his father was searching for the hidden tomb of demented child prince Elok. Prince Elok was a ten year old whose favorite pastimes included torturing people to death and the worship of a Slavic demon. Just like any other normal child, right? His father never found the tomb, though, as one night Chris’ parents and sister were murdered by an unseen assailant with a pickaxe. The trauma ignites a fervent desire in Chris to revisit the scene of the crime and finish his father’s work.
Convincing his magazine editor girlfriend to fund the trip to the monastery in exchange for an exclusive article, they pack up and head to Yugoslavia with a photographer and his assistant in tow. As soon as Chris begins his search for Prince Elok’s chambers, his mental state deteriorates at a rapid pace and his childhood imaginary friend pops back into his life. His friends grow fearful when Chris becomes threatening and obsessed. Meanwhile, back in town, a local looking for financial gain from their excavation crosses paths with the mental patient who took the fall for Chris’ family murders all those years ago.
Vincent Schiavelli revels in his role as the mental patient with a grudge. Played with equal parts menace and glee, Vincent’s character often utters the silliest lines, but his delight is contagious. He may very well be the highlight of the entire movie. Also playing an irrational nutcase is Christopher McDonald as the lead Chris. Though Christopher’s character is the only one with any type of emotional arc, his performance is still uneven at best, over the top at worst. He barrels out of the gate a bit too intense and edgy, so his transformation into a deranged childlike killer seems a forgone conclusion from the start.
His scenes with his imaginary friend Daniel, played by Aron Eisenberg, really set the tone for juvenile maturity when they taunt each other like obnoxious kids. The dialogue really hits it home, though, with lines such as, “I’ve always loved hide and shriek!” Or, my personal favorite, “I always wondered if you could sever someone’s head with just three shots.” These lines will make you snicker or groan. Or both.
When Chris’ memories of his past are revealed and he finally discovers Prince Elok’s chambers, the movie finally finds its fun. The torture chamber is glorious and the body count rises. Prince Elok manifests in goofy animatronic monster form, and in jerky movement behaves like a bloodthirsty ten-year-old. While stalking toward a victim with his sword, he halts to pick a slimy booger from his nose. And then eats it. His taunts were equally childish, making you wonder just exactly for what demographic this movie was made.
Perhaps, more shocking than the cheesy script, is that the writer of Playroom is Jackie Earle Haley. What’s not so surprising is that it’s his only writing credit to date. Director Manny Coto went on to write Dr. Giggles and an episode of Tales From the Crypt, so perhaps this project helped shape that warped sense of humor.
The concept of children’s warped yet innocent fascination with death is interesting, but it’s lost among the two dimensional characters, muddy plot, and extreme over-acting. The immature humor and Vincent Schiavelli gives Playroom a sense of fun, especially in the climax. And in case you were wondering, you will know how many shots it takes to sever a head by the time the end credits begin to roll.
About the Author
Meagan Navarro is a blogger from Houston, TX. She fell in love with monsters at age four after being exposed to them via Ghostbusters, and her passion grew into an obsession for all things horror and Halloween (which is the entire month of October, as far as she’s concerned). Meagan also loves traveling and chocolate.