I reject your reality, and substitute my own!


By Shawn Robare

After stumbling upon The Quest recently I’ve been in the mood to try and seek out some other obscure (or at least slightly forgotten) films from the 80s that I’ve missed out on over the years.  Since I’m not into picking up bootlegs these days though, I’ve felt pretty limited as far as where to look.  There are a number of films on Youtube, but the quality is typically pretty rough, rough enough to make sitting through a couple hours of choppy, static-y video migraine-inducing.  After weighing the options I decided to pop for a Netflix streaming package, if only for a month so that I’d have enough time to take in the complete Spiderman and His Amazing Friends series.

I’ve heard that their streaming selection is pretty bad, especially for newer stuff, but since my interests tend towards stuff that’s at least 25 years old I thought there’d probably be enough to keep me occupied for awhile.  Boy, was I ever right on that mark.  Over the course of a week I’ve managed to dig up about 50 movies from their archives that look like the exact sort of flicks I want to dive into right now.  Not really knowing where to start, I decided to watch the first thing I stumbled across which was a weird sci-fi fantasy film from 1985 called The Dungeonmaster.  Much like The Quest, it’s know by different titles depending on where you hail from, the most common alternate title being Ragewar

Though I’d never seen this film before, there was something nagging at the back of my mind, a familiarity with the title and concept that I just couldn’t shake.  It wasn’t until afterwards while searching for some decent poster artwork that I stumbled upon the cover for the VHS home video release that it clicked.  I must have thumbed over this cover a million times while scoping out my local video stores as a kid.  The painting of W.A.S.P. frontman Blackie Lawless (who I always mistook for Ozzy Osbourne as a kid) with the wicked spiked headband and blood dripping down his chin and chest sent chills down my spine.  He looked like the seriously evil and really screwed up older brother of David Bowie’s Jareth from Labyrinth

Just to illustrate how awesome the cover artwork on VHS tapes were back in the day, this one was enticing but even so was still overshadowed by at least a thousand other choices.  These days, if I saw a film with poster artwork like this I’d call in sick from work to catch it in the theater.  Anyway, back to the flick.  The Dungeonmaster was following pretty closely on the heels of films like Tron and Mazes and Monsters, playing around with the concept of taking folks from the real world and thrusting them into the fantasy realm of video and role playing games.  The story centers on a computer geek named Paul who was part of a pilot program linking humans more directly to computers.  He has a very close relationship with his feminine PC at home which he’s nicknamed Cal (short for X-Calibr8), who acts as his personal assistant that he can interface with via a special pair of glasses.

Actually, although Paul is the hero if the story, his creepy relationship/link with Cal sort of puts his heroics in a slightly dubious category.  When we’re introduced to the character we discover that he works as an IT consultant who is letting Cal do all of the heavy lifting so to speak.  While at work Paul’s glasses act as both a webcam for Cal and as mini display screens showing her commands.  It’s a neat idea that the writers and directors make great pains to utilize repeatedly during the first 10 minutes of the film.  Paul uses his glasses to “hack” into practically every single computer system he comes by including one that controls the city’s traffic lights (so he always gets his way.)  This culminates in a sequence where he realizes he’s broke while trying to buy some flowers for his girlfriend.  Instead of passing them up, he hacks into the nearest ATM and steals twenty bucks from some stranger’s account…

  

Not the most noble start for our hero, but I never held it against a young John Connor in Terminator 2, so I suppose I shouldn’t split hairs here.  Back to the plot, Paul’s been having weird dreams about his girlfriend where she’s one part seductress and one part damsel in distress.  Though it’s not clear in the film, I think Cal has been hacking away at Paul’s brain while he sleeps in an effort to separate him from Gwen.  The flick opens with one of these dream sequences (which by the way, is the only portion of the film to feature R-rated material, in particular a full frontal nudity scene with Gwen), and in a second sequence it appears that Paul and Gwen are transported to a mythical wasteland…

  

This realm is ruled by the vile Mestema (played with fervor by Night Court’s Richard Moll), an immortal wizard who is looking for people to torture and to face his evil challenges…

Mestema outfits Paul with some more appropriate clothes, as well as providing him access to his “magic” computer via a wristband controller device.  In the same breath he’s chained Gwen up to a rock and issues Paul a challenge to face his seven tasks in exchange for liberation from this world.  If he fails, Mestema will keep Gwen and will kill Paul.

   

So much like Tron we have a nerdy character stuck inside a fantasy world where he must risk life and limb to escape, except in The Dungeonmaster that world is heavily influenced by table top role playing games.  Each of these seven challenges takes place in a different environment (and is written and directed by a slew of different people), from ancient temples with stop motion monkey god statues to ice caves populated by the souls of villains throughout time (including werewolves, Jack the Ripper, Genghis Kahn, and Albert Einstein?)…

  

There are also a couple of odd choices for environments, including a real-world scenario where Paul has to stop a serial killer in New York and a very stripped down Road Warrior-esque car chase sequence…

  

Though most of the film is pretty cheesy with horrible dialogue, acting and special effects, there are a few standout moments that make this flick worth watching.  If nothing else, the wide variety of effects work on display is kind of cool.  The film mixes stop motion and traditional back-lit 2D animation, as well as compositing and puppetry to bring the various villains and creatures to life.  There’s a pretty goofy battle sequence between Paul and Mestema in the wasteland involving both magical and computer generated (conceptually, not animation-wise) dragons.  In fact it’s so cheesy that it makes movies like John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China look like Citizen Kane in comparison…

There’s also a really creepy sequence where Paul is zapped to the land of the dead in which he has to battle two undead zombie warriors as well as a demon puppet…

  

By far though, my favorite sequence has Paul whisked away to a heavy metal concert featuring the band W.A.S.P.  Paul has to save Gwen from a homicidal Blackie Lawless in what has to be the epitome of an over the top 80s metal music video…

  

I’d be lying through my teeth if I said that this film has aged well, but I also can’t deny how much fun it was to watch.  If this is the sort of flicks that are populating the Netflix streaming archive than I might just have to keep the subscription going for awhile…

  • http://www.brandedinthe80s.com/ Shawn Robare

    Slick – The wife and I managed to go a couple years without cable, but then we succumbed to the need for a DVR. Now that we’ve gotten a taste of streaming though, I think we’re ready to cut it off again. I need to check out the archive on Hulu Plus as well, to see if between the two we’d be set…

  • http://www.openyourtoys.com/ Slick McFavorite

    Glad to see you pick up a Netflix streaming membership, even if it is temporary. It’s definitely not for the new release crowd. However it seems custom built for fans of nostalgia. I literally watch ridiculous amounts of 80′s TV and movies on it. So much so after almost 31 years of cable (my mom got it right before MTV launched), we are cutting the cord. I’m curious to see if I survive.

  • http://www.brandedinthe80s.com/ Shawn Robare

    The DoLittle – Some of my favorite movie theater experiences fit that bill exactly. Garbage Pail Kids the Movie is one that comes to mind. Loved everything about it except the execution, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the heck out of it.

  • http://thedolittle.blogspot.com/ The DoLittle

    I remember my father dropping me and my bother off to see this in a matinee one afternoon while he had a luncheon to attend. I was in my early teens and thinking how bad this movie was, and yet soooo cool.

  • http://www.brandedinthe80s.com/ Shawn Robare

    Dex – Completely understand. Hope I didn’t build it up too much, but even for the cheesiness factor it’s worth a watch… ;)

  • http://aeiouwhy.blogspot.com/ Dex (@Dex1138)

    Sorry I had to stop reading your review about a paragraph in because I decided I need to see it! I’m always on the lookout for movies I haven’t seen featuring games. Thanks for the post, I’ll come back and finish it after I track down the movie!