For those of you too young to have heard of this gaming phenomenon let me enlighten you. Atmosfear was a board game which came packaged with a videotape that you played while you played. The players attempted to collect tokens and beat the clock while at random intervals the crazy evil Gatekeeper would appear on your TV to taunt, reward, punish or challenge the petrified participants in a variety of ways.
Atmosfear was fun and in a weird possessed television way kind of scary.
It was a desperate attempt to modernise boring board games, made a million 90’s kids yell ‘I am the Gatekeeper!’ at each other during playtime and quite possibly could have been the inspiration for Open Graves, released this month.
Set in Spain an unfortunate American, Jason (Mike Vogel from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake) ends up in possession of an ancient game called ‘Mambo’ which has a mysterious and sinister past.
Curiosity getting the better of him he gathers his group of glamorous friends together to try it out, but as they role the diabolical dice they are totally unaware of the evil they have let escape.
Made from the skin and bones of a witch, tortured and executed during the Spanish inquisition, the players must make it round the board without receiving a cryptic and creepy Epitaph card. The gang including beautiful surfer girl Erica (Buffy and Dollhouse star Eliza Dushku) slowly drop out one by one. But when they start to be murdered in real life Jason gets the feeling that the game is more powerful and dangerous than he ever imagined.
Obviously pitched to poach the killer crown worn by the Final Destination series Open Graves is sadly more like a gory version of Jumanji.
The deaths which befall the kids after getting knocked off the bewitched board are well executed, with some excellent effects and nasty make-up – but nowhere near as brilliant or insanely creative.
Spanish director Álvaro de Armiñán does a competent job helming his first picture after being a second unit director on many many other movies, but ultimately it is the central premise of the killer game which lets the film down.
The idea soon starts to feel stretched, making the movie as a whole much less scary. The harbinger of death is a CGI dragonfly, the murderous moments are signposted from a mile away and the cards only seem to have a tenuous link to the killings (also why they along with the rules are written in English when they where made in 15th century Spain is never explained.)
The cast is a collective of pretty boy Americans, sleazy nondescript Europeans and expendable ex-models. And it is only Eliza Dushku who generates any kind of emotional connection with the camera and the audience.
Not as awful as games night round your Nan’s with 80 over 80’s, but equally not as entertaining as drunken Twister, Open Graves is essential for Dushka completists. It lacks that certain ‘something’ to make it rise above the general horror fodder flooding our homes like so many special editions of Monopoly.
Now where’s my VHS machine because I’m off to play Atmosfear.