Creepy-as-Hell Fictional Game Shows

From The Running Man and Trainspotting, through to The Real Ghostbusters, you'll be begging for Alex Trebek when these are finished.

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Everyone loves a good game show. Game shows are a light hearted staple of our TV schedules. We can rely on them to be entertaining without demanding too much in return. They are the TV equivalent of a warm bath or a nice pair of slippers. And what’s more, the whole family can enjoy them. 92 year old grandma visiting? Best leave Game Of Thrones and opt for some Wheel of Fortune instead. 

Of course, some people have to come along and spoil it for the rest of us. The concept of performing tasks in order to win or stay in the game lends itself to visions of a horrible alternate reality.

Like fairgrounds, puppets and (dare I say it) clowns, game shows are supposed to be fun and happy. However, this can easily be overdone and tip over into creepy as a result. Upbeat music, pasted on smiles, bright lights and a hundred people clapping and shouting in unison are all excellent horror tools if overdone. In trope terms, this is often known as ‘Crapsaccharine World’.

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Here are five fictional game shows that immediately flick the ‘creeped out’ switch in your head. Some are intentional, others aren’t. None of them offer a set of his ‘n’ hers pens as a prize.

1. The Real Ghostbusters: Race The Devil

In the Real Ghostbusters episode The Devil To Pay, Peter Venkman persuades Ray and Winston to appear on a new game show, where the star prize is a holiday to Tahiti. Things go smoothly until the final round, at which point the studio audience conveniently disappears, and we discover the whole thing was set up by the Devil, because the Devil does things like film pilots for game shows.

What follows is Wheel Of Fortune, except hosted by the Devil instead of Pat Sajak. Winston must guess letters in a word, and if he gets it wrong three times, Ray falls into a pit of spikes. They don’t even get a chance to win a dining table and chairs.

This episode is the main reason I’ll never apply to be on a game show. I’d hate to get sucked into another dimension and have to play hangman for my immortal soul. 

2. The Running Man

Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Arnie must kick a load of people’s heads in to prove his innocence. That’s the basic plot of this movie, but what leads to Arnie kicking heads in is being forced to take part in futuristic, dystopian game show The Running Man. After an introduction and a VT, Arnie and his friends are sent down a chute into the ‘game zone’, where they must fight ‘stalkers’ trying to kill them. 

According to the rules of the show, if a ‘runner’ makes it through the game zone alive, they can win various prizes, among which are a trial by jury and the chance of a pardon. The idea of having to ‘win’ a trial by jury only gets a passing mention, but it sticks in my mind every time I hear it.

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Despite these claims, the game is unwinnable in real life – the producers doctor footage to project the idea that there are successful former ‘runners’. Essentially – if you are a contestant on The Running Man, you are being sent to your death in front of a cheering audience.

The audience are a big part of why The Running Man is so disturbing as a concept. The host whips them into a frenzy until they are a baying mob. An extremely polite baying mob, but still. Look how happy they are to see someone get killed. It’s the mob mentality that’s frightening here, paired with the idea that people only care about being entertained. Screw justice, screw people dying, we get to be on TV for five seconds!

Fun fact – The Running Man takes place in 2017, so if you’re planning to commit any crimes next year, you should probably have a think about not doing that.

3. Trainspotting: Renton’s hallucination

The dreamlike quality of the game show studio makes it the perfect backdrop for hallucinations. From around the 2:50 mark of this scene, we see Renton in the throes of heroin withdrawal, and being forced to confront everything he’s done as a result of his addiction. Among the demons Renton faces is the possibility of having contracted HIV. This takes the form of a quiz show hosted by Dale Winton.

Winton asks Renton’s parents a series of questions about the HIV virus, followed by the bonus question – “Is he guilty or not guilty?” This is an excellent way of bringing Renton’s long-surpressed worries to light, as well as highlighting the effect this situation is having on his parents, as they try to defend their son against the questions.

There is a similar hallucination scene involving Ellen Burstyn’s character in Requiem For A Dream, although I’d have to argue that this is more of an infomercial setting, so can’t technically be counted. Because obviously my journalistic integrity would be compromised if I failed to distinguish between a game show and an infomercial.

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4. Rainbow: Who’s A Lucky Person?

Because I am writing this, of course there has to be some Rainbow in here. Having said that, this entry does wholeheartedly deserve a place on this list.

Who’s A Lucky Person? is Rainbow‘s version of Opportunity Knocks or New Faces. We view the show through the mind of Zippy, who has fallen into a troubled sleep after worrying that he’s not good enough to be a stand-up comedian. I realise I’m giving this plot more depth than is probably warranted, but stick with it.

Where to start with Who’s A Lucky Person? The show being filmed in what appears to be a cupboard? The dream sequence-signalling fuzzy border? Geoffrey’s determination to be Lionel Blair? These are all admirably creepy, but instead let’s turn to Bungle in a tutu, which is either the greatest thing ever or the worst thing ever, depending on your point of view. Let’s just take a moment to appreciate the sight of a middle aged man in a bear suit, in a tutu, doing odd ballet dancing while carrying a stick of flowers like he’s Morrissey.

5. Live!

Here we have a brand new game show where the contestants must play Russian Roulette in a studio that looks like The Weakest Link, as if the concept wasn’t bad enough already. The winner, in addition to not dying, will also receive a bonus prize of $5,000,000.

The scary thing about Live! is that it will happen at some point. Our game shows have, over the last 50 years, evolved from people in eveningwear answering questions to win a lamp, to people being dropped naked into the jungle and expected to not die. Thanks to the viewing public’s desire to see contestants pushed more and more to extremes, a game show where you literally play to the death is the natural conclusion.

Two real life examples are notable here. Firstly, The Chamber – a short-lived show where contestants attempted to endure life threatening heat and cold (the show was cancelled after a player was hospitalised). Secondly, Mars One – a planned (in theory) show that would see a handful of ‘lucky’ members of the public on a one way trip to Mars. It is possible that, should this show ever get off the ground, we will see primetime deaths in space. Or, at the very least, we’ll see the nervous breakdown of a contestant as the enormity of their decision slowly dawns on them. There was also a hoax reality show back in 2008 called The Big Donor Show, where three contestants appealed for public votes in order to win a kidney. That the show had to point out it was a hoax suggests we aren’t actually that far from the real thing.

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Now I’ve finished traumatising myself, I’m going to go watch Jim Bowen help someone win a speedboat.