The Straight-To-VHS B-Horror Movie That Holds A Special Place In Elijah Wood's Heart

After playing Frodo Baggins in Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, Elijah Wood expanded his eclectic career by starring in a wide array of films. Despite being invested in several genres, Wood is partial to horror, having started his career in a made-for-TV horror flick titled "Child in the Night." Over the course of his career, Wood starred in several horror offerings, from 1993's "The Good Son" to 2012's "Maniac." Taking his love for horror a step further, Wood founded his production company, SpectreVision, which has churned out standout titles such as "Mandy," "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night," and "Color Out of Space."

As Wood has been championing the indie horror movement in subtle yet significant ways, he was asked about the opening and closing films he would choose for a Halloween-centered film festival. His answer for the closing film is John Carpenter's "Halloween," an appropriate closer that he describes as "delightful" and "a wonderful classic horror film." But which movie does Wood choose to open a Halloween-themed horror fest? His choice is none other than the unintentionally hilarious, extremely gory "Truth or Dare? A Critical Madness," which is a 1986, straight-to-VHS slasher directed by Tim Ritter. What makes this entry so special?

A fantastically bonkers fever dream

In his interview with The Playlist, Wood says that he watched "Truth or Dare?" when he was "very young" and has introduced it to "so many people" since then. "Truth or Dare?" is one of those movies that is so bad that it's good, akin to Tommy Wiseau's "The Room," which has garnered a cult following due to its endlessly meme-worthy dialogue. Wood describes the bonkers premise of the film, and why it is so appealing as an '80s slasher horror:

"It's about a guy who is clearly mentally deranged, and at the start of the movie he witnesses a colleague sleeping with his wife and he spins out and drives off in a huff and ends up camping overnight and basically imagines this person next to him and they play truth or dare, and it ends up getting very violent because the dares get very violent very quickly. And it's just wonderful and unintentionally funny and very much of the era. It was super low-budget and, as I said, direct-to-VHS, and it's just awesome, I love it so much."

Simply having a look at the trailer of the film will give you an idea of the kind of experience it has to offer. To paint a clearer picture, here's how the plot evolves. Mike Strauber (John Brace) is admitted to the Sunnyville Mental Institution after mutilating himself during a hallucinated game of truth and dare. After he is released, Mike murders the man who slept with his wife and is re-admitted again. By this point, Mike is driven absolutely insane by the trauma, and kills every man, woman, and child in his way in an extremely extra and tastelessly gory murderous rampage. But that is part of the fun. 

Go watch Truth or Dare, as a little treat

"Truth or Dare? A Critical Madness" is not as obscure as you think it is, thanks to Wood's sincere recommendation of the slasher gem whenever he gets the chance. The appeal of the film is simple, yet effective. Brace, who plays Mike, brings a maniacal edge to the role, making for a thoroughly unsympathetic yet enjoyable protagonist.

The film had a budget of $200,000 and was shot on 16 mm film, which grants it an eerie, floaty quality that enhances the violent sequences to good measure. The only comparison I can make to explain the madness of Ritter's film is the "Garbage Day!" scene from "Silent Night, Deadly Night 2," and "Truth or Dare?" seems to be a feature length expansion of the same. 

Another reason to check out one of Wood's favorite horror flicks is the way in which the gore is handled throughout. Mike has absolutely no regard for human life; he is so jilted by the past that he thinks it is okay to kill everyone in his vicinity. While this would be a horrific premise in a well-handled psychological horror, "Truth or Dare?" manages to make these kills absurd. Mike wears a gold (?) papier-mache mask and hits a stroller with a baby in it, which flies across the street, and the poor child is instantly dead. He continues his rampage with a chainsaw, a machine gun (no idea how he acquired them), nunchucks, a machete, and more. I rest my case.