Stay Alive

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Starring Frankie Muniz, Jon Foster, and Samaire Armstrong. Rated 14A.

The video-game industry has spawned several action-oriented horror flicks in recent years, ranging from the mediocre (Resident Evil) to the pointless (House of the Dead) to the downright putrid (Alone in the Dark). Stay Alive takes a different tack than those in that its plot isn't built around an existing video game but a fictional one. In a clumsy nod to the Final Destination franchise, anyone who dies while playing Stay Alive winds up getting offed in a similar fashion in real life. Highly reminiscent in tone and style to last year's predictable Internet-based slasher flick, Cry_Wolf, it's a crass attempt to cash in on the video-game craze, and a failure on all counts.

The film opens with a Matthew Good-looking gamer hulked over his computer, fighting for his virtual life after securing a test copy of Stay Alive. "It's the sickest shit since Fatal Frame!" he raves over the phone to his buddy Hutch (The Door in the Floor's Jon Foster), referring to the popular Japanese horror-survival game (rated T for teens). Strangely enough, although it's supposed to be a cutting-edge mind messer from the underground, the Stay Alive game centres on the dusty legend of Elizabeth Bathory, the early-17th-century Eastern European mass murderer who supposedly bathed in the blood of virgins to stay eternally young. (Old-school fright fans may remember her as the inspiration for '70s Hammer flicks like Countess Dracula.) For their own ridiculous purposes, the filmmakers have the spirit of "the Blood Countess" setting up shop in New Orleans, as if the Big Easy didn't have enough problems already.

After the Matthew Good look-alike dies in the game and then gets similarly hung by a steel chain, Hutch inherits the cursed copy of Stay Alive, and he quickly gathers his friends around to play it. The cookie-cutter crew includes the tough goth chick (Sophia Bush), the nauseating dickhead (Jimmi Simpson), the shy sweetie (Samaire Armstrong), and the know-it-all geek (Frankie Muniz from Malcolm in the Middle). After playing the game, they all suffer from scary (to them, at least) visions, and some of them die, but even their deaths are lame. I mean, getting run over by a horse-drawn carriage? Come on! The filmmakers are so at a loss for fresh ways to shock that they even dredge up the twitchy, girl-with-hair-hanging-in-her-face trick from The Ring and The Grudge. I rate this one T for Trash-and not the good kind, either.