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The Baltimore Sun

'Stay Alive'

Special To Newsday

Elizabeth Bathory, the so-called "Blood Countess" and reigning sexual sadist of 16th century Hungary, has inspired several recent movies, including "Eternal," "BloodRayne" and — be warned — another couple yet to come. With the arrival of "Stay Alive," it really seems time to go back and make sure there's a stake through the old bat's heart.

In this rather lethargic exercise in mayhem, and sophomore effort by director William Brent Bell, Ms. Bathory turns out to be the soul of a video gorefest called "Stay Alive," which, it becomes all too immediately clear, is killing people off screen the same way it kills them in the game.

It's clear how characters think in horror movies — possession is ninth-tenths of the law of logic — but most of them would probably wait a really long time before ascribing serial murders to a video game. Not here.

After one player ends up hanged in a stairwell, his pals, Hutch (Jon Foster), October (Sophia Bush), Phin (Jimmi Simpson) and Swink (Frankie Muniz), get together to bury their grief in virtual reality, joined by newcomer Abigail (Samaire Armstrong). Deciding, a bit ghoulishly, to play the last game their buddy watched makes them aware very quickly that something is terribly amiss. And not just in the game. "Stay Alive" spends a lot of time inside the video game system, and what will terrify the audience very early on is the realization that there's better acting in the video game than on the big screen.

Even though the imperiled teen thing has been done to death, there might have been ways to make even "Stay Alive" — which is really just a high-tech-and-hardware variation on what Wes Craven did in "Scream" — less than inert. When murders are taking place, there is a certain energy; the video game footage is creepy; the jump-scare tactics are cliched, but jolting. But between the adrenaline rushes are long, somnambulistic sequences and filmmaking that seems intent on eating up time.

Bathory, despite having been a presumed model for "Bram Stoker's Dracula" and a member of Hungarian royalty, apparently had a plantation in Louisiana and could only be thwarted by incantations dating back to the Inquisition. Or so "Stay Alive" would have us believe. In the annals of cruelty, bloodletting and torture, Bathory was apparently world-class. It may be wrong to say, but there has yet to be a horror movie equal to her peculiar talents.

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