Wow. I've seen "high concept" before. I've seen "dumb" before. But not even I was prepared for what a stupid, sloppy mess THIS was. 

Okay--bear with me here. A video game with a potentially lethal effect on its players. We've seen (or skipped) such films as NIGHTMARES, ARENA and BRAINSCAN. But fair's fair--now we're dealing with the current state of the art and haven't completely played out this territory. Remember--we're not dealing with a film BASED on a video game this time. 

We know our horror history, do we? So let's invoke the name of Countess Elizabeth Bathory. Never mind that she was Hungarian--in this case, we'll just say that she was a plantation owner in New Orleans. But she still killed young women in an attempt to stay young, got bricked up and promised to return. 

And so she does. 

Apparently, you can awaken her spirit by reciting the prayer that opens the new (beta tester only at this point) video game called STAY ALIVE. And yeah, yeah, if you die in the game, you die for real, but if you try to stop playing or pause, you're still out of luck. Because you said the prayer and awakened her spirit--and your only hope is to find her body and go through certain prescribed motions which I won't bore you with. And the video game company can be traced to her original plantation address. 

So who the hell is actually MAKING this game? Who's programming it, packaging it, shipping it, taking phone and computer orders? Oh, it's the spirit of Elizabeth Bathory, of course. But I thought you had to invoke her with a prayer. So if she's already up and grinding out video games, why does she need you to wake her up? And if she's not already up, who the hell IS? And if she has only one material body on one material plantation, how long does she expect to be able to keep this nonsense up? 

Hey--these are NOT your routine "Oh, deal with it, it's just a movie" questions. These are genuine "how the hell does this make sense on ANY LEVEL WHATSOEVER?" questions. 

And the rest of the movie is just as bad. We assemble our (completely uninteresting) cast of protagonists--and a fifth wheel pops up out of nowhere. So she's got to figure into some sort of surprise ending, right? And if she doesn't, she's STILL a fifth wheel who popped up out of nowhere, and you can bet that she DID figure into some sort of surprise ending at SOME point when they were trying to salvage this script. Oh, and our hero is scared of fire because of a childhood trauma. Think there'll be some fire waiting for him at the end of the movie? 

How 'bout just the scares? Well, you get your now-typical SCREAM/RING prologue deal. Not bad. Could go places from there. And there's less indulgence of video-game footage than in HOUSE OF THE DEAD, surprisingly enough. But the scare attempts consist almost entirely of fleeting glimpses of skittering J-horror ghost kids with the "nuclear fingernails" sound effect. Yes, folks... again. And almost none of it works. No good jumps, no good shivers, no characters worth giving a frog's fat ass about (but plenty you'd love to "off" yourself), no sense, no continuity, no payoff, no NOTHING. Well, except some blatant, shameless CHEATS (er, the GAME OVER sign for a character you know damn well ISN'T dead, but they want you to THINK he's dead so you'll be sad before he shows up again at the end... oh, I'm so SORRY... did I give something AWAY?). 

Well, WHEN A STRANGER CALLS? You're safe from being named the worst genre release of 2006. 

Somebody shoot me. 

Just don't make me watch the LARRY THE CABLE GUY movie. There are some things that even I simply will not do.

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