‘A raging madness unleashed to kill’
Play Dead is a 1982 American horror film about a bitter old woman who uses black magic and a vicious Rottweiler dog to murder her relatives.
Directed by Peter Wittman (Ellie; producer of Skullduggery) from a screenplay written by Lothrop W. Jordan.
The movie stars Yvonne De Carlo (Cellar Dweller; American Gothic; The Munsters’ Revenge; The Silent Scream; Nocturna; Satan’s Cheerleaders; Munster, Go Home!; The Munsters TV series), Stephanie Dunnam, Ron Jackson, David Cullinane, Glenn Kezer.
Hester Ramsey (Yvonne De Carlo) lives in a cavernous old house, with only her pet Rottweiler, Greta, to keep her company. Bitter and alone, Hester blames her estranged sister for stealing away her one true love, Sam, decades earlier.
Following her sister’s death, Hester begins to plot diabolical revenge, using her knowledge of the black arts to place a spell on her dog and then gifting the satanic beast to her grief-stricken niece, Audrey (Stephanie Dunnam).
Soon, those closest to Audrey begin to get bumped off by her newly cursed pet in a series of increasingly violent ‘accidents,’ as Hester seeks to kill off all of her surviving family and leave Audrey to take the blame…
“Pretty well acted and produced, but lacking sufficient exposition and characterizations to give it substance.” John Stanley, Creature Features book
“Play Dead is not particularly scary, but it is campy and frequently entertaining. There are better killer dog movies, but this is one of the more bizarre titles. The kills are not the most exciting or violent but the dog does a fine job with the material. It’s always nice seeing Yvonne De Carlo up to no good…” Horror DNA
“Rather than a clever script or a good idea for one, it’s clear that the backers for this movie just found a well-trained dog and decided to build a movie on that premise alone. And it’s abundantly clear why Troma, in an effort to build their reputation picked up this film for distribution.” Lost Video Archive
“The film seems to have at least a partial awareness of its utter absurdity, with plucky Greta finding ways to go after people in broad daylight and even in the bathroom. The rest of the actors culled from the acting scene are the Dallas area are actually just fine given the fairly stock nature of their characters, but it’s really Greta who steals the show.” Mondo Digital
“There are passages in Play Dead that tend to drag and look an awful lot like filler […] But Play Dead is not without its charms. The performances are either surprisingly solid or ridiculous to the point of entertaining you. Any time Yvonne De Carlo is on screen, you believe she’s that dark soul looking for revenge…” Movies & Drinks
“The script for Play Dead is the modern equivalent of Old Hollywood’s “murder-a-reel” flicks: whenever there’s no murder on screen, the script has nothing else to offer. Play can’t even claim the originality of being first to use a demonic dog as a serial killer, having been aced out by the 1978 TV film Devil Doll: The Hound of Hell, which was at least enjoyably bad.” Naturalistic! Uncanny! Marvelous!
“The movie has a couple of slow spots in the first half but it’s hard not to appreciate a film where Lily Munster plays a Satanic priestess using a giant dog to get revenge. The murder set-pieces are both creative and well-staged […] bonus points to writer Lothrop W. Jordan for coming up with some pretty neat ways to involve a dog in murder.” Rock! Shock! Pop!
Cast and characters:
Yvonne De Carlo … Hester Ramsey
Stephanie Dunnam … Audrey
David Cullinane … Jeff
Glenn Kezer … Otis
Ron Jackson … Richard
David Ellzey … Stephen
Jo Livingston … Pathologist
Carolyn Greenwood … Monique
Jeff McVey … Eric
Robert Hibbard … Policeman
Desmond Dhooge … Dog Trainer
John Caroll Perry … Sam
Alex Bond Winslow … Clarisse
Harry Gibbs … Funeral Attendant
De Soto, Farmer’s Branch, Highland Park and University Park, Texas
Filmed in 1982, Play Dead sat on the shelf before a July 1983 VHS release in the UK. It was finally released in the US theatrically in January 1986 when it was picked up for distribution by Troma.
Vinegar Syndrome issued Play Dead on Blu-ray + DVD on July 30, 2019. Special features:
Region Free Blu-ray/DVD combo
Newly scanned and restored in 2K from the 35mm interpositive
Video interview with director Peter Wittman
Audio interview with actress Stephanie Dunnam
Original theatrical trailer
Reversible cover artwork
English SDH subtitles
Free to watch online [brief nudity removed (sigh) due to YouTube rules]: