Cheap Thrills (film)

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Cheap Thrills
Cheap Thrills poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byE. L. Katz
Written by
Produced by
  • Andrew Wheeler
  • Sebastian Winterø Hansen
Edited byBrody Gusar
Music byMads Heldtberg
  • New Artists Alliance
  • Snowfort Pictures
Distributed byDrafthouse Films
Release dates
  • March 8, 2013 (2013-03-08) (SXSW)
  • March 21, 2014 (2014-03-21) (United States)
Running time
85 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$59,424 (US)[2]

Cheap Thrills is a 2013 American black comedy horror thriller film directed by E. L. Katz in his directorial debut. It premiered at South by Southwest (SXSW) on March 8, 2013, and was acquired by Drafthouse Films and Snoot Entertainment. It was released on March 21, 2014, in the United States.


Craig (Pat Healy) is an auto mechanic who loses his job. He is unable to pay his rent and after seeing the eviction sign, he goes to a dive bar, where he meets an old friend from high school, Vince (Ethan Embry). After their reunion, they meet a rich couple, Colin and Violet (David Koechner and Sara Paxton), who appear friendly and benign initially, and after becoming aware of Craig's dire financial situation, offer them money in return for completing certain tasks to entertain Violet, as it is her birthday.

As the first task, Colin offers fifty dollars to whoever between Craig and Vince can drink a shot he pours first. From there, the danger of the tasks escalates along with the payout. The dares result in a bouncer confronting Craig, who is offered five hundred dollars by Colin to hit him first. He does so and is knocked out. When he comes to, he realizes he been brought to the home of Colin and Violet. Tensions between Craig and Vince begin to emerge when they compete with each other in a breath-holding contest and Vince punches Craig in the stomach to prevent him from winning so that he may claim the prize money himself. Another dare between Colin and Vince involves Vince urinating on Craig's shoes. When Craig angrily goes to clean up in the bathroom, Vince accompanies him and they hatch a plan to rob the couple. Vince divulges that there is $250,000, which he instructs Craig to steal as the safe is unlocked.

At knife-point, Vince manages to get Colin to reveal that the safe is unlocked. Craig retrieves the money and returns only to have Colin and Violet turn the tables on them when Colin easily disarms Vince as Vince not aware that Colin is an award-winning martial artist and Violet has a gun with her. Colin and Violet agree to let "bygones be bygones" and reveals the money is actually prepared for them to have but only if they go through with the game, which explains why the safe is unlocked. Another dare involves Craig having sex with Violet as well as getting $4,500, the amount required to pay for Craig's month's rent. This angers Vince, who views it as an unfair bet, increasing hostilities between the two friends. Humiliated and feeling guilty for cheating on his wife, Craig withdraws from the game and departs, having earned enough money to delay homelessness for the time being. Violet, who seems to have begun to develop feelings for him, is upset and becomes withdrawn, causing the game to end as its purpose was to entertain her. Vince, desperate to win more money, offers to perform anything asked of him. Colin suggests the amputation of his pinkie finger for $25,000. Just as Vince is about to accept, Craig returns to the game, stating that he only temporarily solves his problem with the $4,500 he has earned so far, and offers to do the same dare for a smaller sum. Vince also goes lower, and they go back and forth until Craig settles for $15,000. Vince cuts Craig's pinkie off, resulting in Craig winning again, which only serves to anger Vince further.

The next challenge involves eating a cooked dead dog, which had died while trying to eat Craig's finger, with the winner who finishes his portion first receiving $50,000. The contest results in a draw, and the tie is broken by whoever eats Craig's finger. Craig wins but he is beaten up by an enraged Vince. After being taken outside to calm down by Colin, he suggests that Vince kill Craig for the remaining portion of the $250,000. Vince considers the offer but finds himself unable to kill his friend; he urges Craig to leave with him but is suddenly shot to death by Craig. Colin calls Craig a taxi and he leaves with his winnings in hand. After he has left, Colin pays Violet her money, as the two had made a bet on which friend would kill the other; Colin chose Vince with Violet choosing Craig. The film ends with Craig arriving home, comforting his child, when suddenly the light turns on and his wife appears, staring at Craig covered in blood and at the money strewn all over the room.



Cheap Thrills was the first feature-film directed by E. L. Katz. After premiering at South by Southwest, a day-long auction took place for rights to the film in a rare bidding war. Drafthouse Films, partnered with Snoot Entertainment, won the auction. Drafthouse Films planned on releasing the film theatrically on limited screens.[3] It later screened at the Boston Underground Film Festival and the Fantasia International Film Festival.[4] Drafthouse Films released Cheap Thrills on DVD/Blu-ray May 27, 2014 which included a 45-minute documentary called "Vital Heat: The Making of Cheap Thrills".


On Rotten Tomatoes the film has a score of 89% based on reviews from 97 critics, with an average rating of 6.95/10. The consensus states "Gleefully nasty and darkly hilarious, Cheap Thrills lives down to its title in the best possible way."[5]

Joe Leydon, writing for Variety, said that film "is a thoroughly nasty piece of work, which doubtless will be the strongest selling point for this worst-case scenario about steadily escalating dares and degradations".[6] John Defore, of The Hollywood Reporter, said that the film is "one of the most involving works of cinematic misanthropy in years". Defore compared the film to Indecent Proposal and The Most Dangerous Game.[4] Scott Weinberg, of the online horror website Fearnet, said, "Cheap Thrills breezes by on a twisted idea, a fantastic cast, and a bunch of ethical quandaries that are both eerily uncomfortable and slyly fascinating at the same time."[7] Simon Foster of SBS Films said, "A textbook case of a film that never quite amounts to the sum of its parts, Cheap Thrills is still more than its title suggests and provides dark entertainment for those in the mood."[8]


  1. ^ Gilchrist, Todd. "Cheap Thrills Director E.L. Katz On Small Budgets, Big Ideas And The Horror Of Financial Success". Forbes. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  2. ^ "Cheap Thrills". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  3. ^ Yamato, Jen (March 11, 2013). "UPDATE: Drafthouse Films Picks Up 'Cheap Thrills' In First Deal Of SXSW 2013". Deadline. Retrieved August 28, 2013.
  4. ^ a b DeFore, John (August 6, 2013). "Cheap Thrills – H2013 Cheap Thrills: Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 28, 2013.
  5. ^ "Cheap Thrills (2014)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  6. ^ Leydon, Joe (March 22, 2013). "Film Review: 'Cheap Thrills'". Variety. Retrieved August 28, 2013.
  7. ^ Weinberg, Scott (March 9, 2013). "FEARnet Movie Review: 'Cheap Thrills'". Fearnet. Retrieved August 28, 2013.
  8. ^ Foster, Simon. "Cheap Thrills". SBS Films. Retrieved August 28, 2013.

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