With the start of Major League Baseball this week, I thought it would be another opportunity to delve into the very obscure genre of baseball-horror. A few years back I reviewed the crazy, Japanese gorefest, Deadball. This time, I’m tackling (apologies for mixing sports metaphors) the little known 1989 “thriller”, Night Game starring Roy Scheider.
Scheider stars as Mike Seaver, a former minor league ballplayer, turned homicide detective based in Galveston, Texas. The city is experiencing a rash of brutal murders, with women from the seaside community turning up dead and Seaver is assigned to lead the case. A commonality of the murders is that all the victims have been slashed with a sharp, curved object and police spend a good deal of time trying to identify what the unusual murder weapon could be. They ultimately determine it is a hook – an unfortunate spoiler made apparent to anyone who sees the movie poster.
Despite the fact that his ball playing days are long over (Scheider was in his late 50s when the film was released), Seaver remains a rabid Houston Astros fan. As the bodycount continues to rise and tension grows in the beach town, the grizzled detective struggles to find connections between the murders.
While listening to an Astros game on the radio, It occurs to him that the murders seem to happen after the Astros win home night games. After looking into this unlikely coincidence by researching baseball statistics on the local newspaper’s giant 80s era computer, he soon realizes that the murders always happen after a specific Astros pitcher named Sil Baretto gets the win.
Seaver begins looking into the pitcher’s background to find how he might be connected to the murders and discovers that a former pitcher named Epps, who was released from the team to make room for Baretto, may have a motive. After the team released him, Epps was involved in a tragic accident that resulted in him losing his pitching hand. He subsequently replaced his hand with shiny new prosthetic, bringing new meaning to giving a pitcher the hook. With Baretto on the mound that evening and on track for another win, Seaver races to track down the killer before he can claim another victim, this time his own young fiancé, Roxy (played by Karen Young).
While I give Night Game credit for having a rather unique premise, there’s not much else that makes this film interesting. The supporting characters include a standard array of cantankerous cops and one dimensional beach floozies who get knocked off one by one. Seaver’s rocky May-December romance with his fiancé fills much of the time between murders but seems oddly disjointed from the film’s dark premise. In one particularly cringe worthy scene, Scheider’s character hits the dance floor at a local club with his young bride to be, a sight more disturbing than most of the murders.
Roy Scheider’s portrayal of the washed-up baseball player turned burnt out cop is the highlight of the film but by this point, his career had fallen far from his iconic role as Chief Brody, heroically trying to protect the residents of a beachside community from a hidden menace in Jaws. I couldn’t help but notice some parallels in the settings and characters of the two films which only made the complete lack of suspense in Night Game even more glaring.
Night Game was directed by Peter Masterson who had a short and eclectic resume as both an actor and director. His most notable project was the critically acclaimed, The Trip To Bountiful, which was released four years prior to Night Game. The style and substance of the two films couldn’t be more different, with his earlier film earning its star, Geraldine Page, an Academy Award, and this film putting Scheider in contention for a Razzie. It felt like Masterson was attempting to make Night Game into a modern era film noir, using a jazz soundtrack to establish a sinister tone while the heroic detective attempted to stop a murderer and protect his girl from harm. Unfortunately, the lack of suspense and cheesy, 80s vibe of the film made it miss its mark.
The baseball theme and locations were probably the most interesting aspects of the film. Some scenes were actually filmed at the Astrodome in Houston and apparently the Sil Baretto character was inspired by real-life pitchers Bob Knepper and Juan Agosto. Hopefully their wins didn’t result in as dire of consequences for the women of Galveston as Sil’s. The film concludes with Seaver and Roxy attending an Astros game immediately after their wedding ceremony dressed to the nines in full formalwear. Noticing them in the stands, Baretto runs from the mound (a flagrant violation of the pitch clock rule) to thank Seaver for stopping the crimes, bringing the film to a suitably corny conclusion.
Unless you’re in the unique mood for a baseball-horror mashup, I can’t really recommend this film and suggest your time would be better spent watching Scheider in his original role as coastal community cop in the classic, Jaws.
Night Game is available to stream on Tubi.
This is my contribution to The Favorite Stars in B Movies Blogathon. Be sure to check out my maniacal partner in crime’s fishy article. Click on the image below to read the contributions of some other talented bloggers. Our thanks to Films from Beyond the Time Barrier for allowing us to share our fish stories.