Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Dungeonmaster

Dungeonmaster aka Ragewar, aka Ragewar: The Challenge of Excalibrate aka Digital Knights (1984)
Dir. David Allan, Charles Band, John Carl Buechler,  Steven Ford, Peter Manoogian, Ted Nicolaou, and Rosemarie Turko and written by mostly the same and also Jeffrey Byron and Allan Actor
Starring Jeffrey Byron, Richard Moll, Leslie Wing w/ special guests W.A.S.P.

THE DUNGEONMASTER --or RAGEWAR: THE CHALLENGE OF EXCALIBRATE or whatever you want to call it-- is, I guess, a movie. I mean, it’s got a title and credits and actors and stuff anyway. Of course, one of those credits is “produced by Charles Band,” so it was only ever going to bear a passing resemblance to that particular art form. In fact, it more closely resembles a series of loosely connected short films made for no money. For whatever reason.

Allow me to explain: the “plot,” such as it is --which is embarrassing enough that even the movie’s own trailer goes out of its way to obscure it-- finds this dorkus Paul (Jeffrey Byron, “Test Administrator” in STAR TREK 2009) more interested in his superintelligent quasi-sentient 1984 word processor than his nagging girlfriend (Leslie Wing, THE FRIGHTENERS), who correctly worries that he prefers the company of the female-voiced computer to his flesh-and-blood gal. (The computer’s name --no joke, actual adults say this out loud repeatedly-- is X-CaliBR8, which definitely sounds like the World of Warcraft handle of a guy who does a lot of teabagging.)

So it’s exactly like the plot of HER, except for the minor detail that inexplicably and for no apparent reason at all, Paul is whisked away one morning to a fantasy world to battle a wizard (Richard Moll, the bailiff from Night Court) who then outsources the job of battling him to various other scenarios, most of which are easily resolved by pressing buttons on his wrist-mounted X-CaliBR8. The Wizard claims he has spent 1,000 years looking for a “worthy opponent,” and somehow this guy is the best he’s been able to come up with, which is honestly more sad than intimidating. I suspect it’s been a remarkably uneventful 1,000 years. Since Paul doesn’t seem especially bothered by --or even interested in-- this turn of events, Wizard-man also takes the additional precaution of kidnapping his gal-pal, who stands around encouraging Paul to save her and not get distracted. #feminism. Incidentally, the Wizard also decides that Paul should be dressed in a costume somewhere between RAW-era Eddie Murphy and a video game ninja, marking the first moment where the movie and I are in complete agreement.

Each scenario plays like a short film, which makes sense because that’s exactly what they are, self-contained little vignettes from different directors which place Paul in some kind of danger that he resolves by shooting computer lasers. Like any anthology, some are better than others, but all were produced by Charles Band so, (also like most anthologies), even the best ones still aren’t very good. I’m a little iffy on the order; the only other review I can find which lists each segment individually starts off with the “Stone Canyon Giant” segment directed by David Allen (visual effects on numerous films including GHOSTBUSTERS II, director of this, another short film and PUPPETMASTER II), but I’m 90% certain the version I saw begins with Rosemarie Turko’s (SCARRED, nothing else) segment “Ice Gallery.” Since there’s no way in hell I’m going back to check, let’s do this from memory:

Prologue: (director unclear, but I think Charles Band) A very 80’s lady strips naked and Paul gets ready to bone her, but suddenly monsters in very cheap masks come in and ruin things. This is a dream and has no direct literal connection to anything that follows, and was almost certainly added as an afterthought once someone watched the finished film and realized there were no tits in it. Anyway, Paul awakens from this dream, and after a brief and confusing introduction to the characters and the villain, we move on to the challenges of the Dungeonmaster (there are no dungeons in the movie and nobody is ever addressed as “master,” so I can only assume it’s Paul’s last name).

1: Ice Gallery (directed by Rosemarie Turko) finds our hero hurled through time and space into this cave where there are a lot of frozen statues of colorful people and an absolutely unholy amount of dry ice. Paul observes that “every criminal in the world is here,” which is odd because the most notable denizens are Albert Einstein, a non-specific Samurai, and a werewolf. Or, as the trailer narrator puts it, “the ordeal! Of the Ice Monsters of DOOM!”  Needless to say, the ice melts and a few of the characters (but not all) thaw out and attack. Fortunately he has that X-CaliBR8 armband, and that takes care of things. This segment is cheap and shitty.

2: Demons of the Dead (dir. by John Carl Buechler, of CELLAR DWELLER and FRIDAY THE 13th Part VII: THE NEW BLOOD fame) transports Paul to a different, non-ice cave set almost certainly built for some other movie, where a couple of pretty good-looking zombie warriors halfheartedly lurch towards him, only to be quickly overwhelmed by his cheesy laser effects. Then he is confronted by a corny-looking but agreeably goofy muppet named “Ratspit” who bills himself as the “caretaker of the dead” (as we learned from BOOK OF BLOOD, the dead have a surprisingly robust economy). Fortunately he has that X-CaliBR8 armband, and that takes care of things. This segment is cheap and shitty.

3: Heavy Metal (dir. by Charles Band, DOLLMAN VS DEMONIC TOYS, GINGERDEAD MAN VS EVIL BONG) makes time for, why not, a cameo from 80’s hair-metal also-rans W.A.S.P., who in the DUNGEONMASTER universe --unlike in real life-- are a) cool enough for us to be excited to see them in a cameo and b) the demonic minions of a reality-hopping wizard with a chip on his shoulder and a complete inability to defend himself against a smug talking computer that shoots lasers. W.A.S.P. and their fanatical female fans menace Paul for a minute or two with their laser-shooting guitar (Paul doesn’t seem to see the irony of having this technology turned against him) while their tune “Tormentor” plays from somewhere. Having barely defeated a sedentary muppet, a band named after dull white suburban drones still represents a new low, but that’s Paul for you; it seems there is literally no situation he can’t find danger in, up to and including the dance floor of a hair-metal band. Fortunately he has that X-CaliBR8 armband, and that takes care of things. Having survived W.A.S.P. stealing his laser gimmick, he decides to ironically murder them with the power of music by setting the computer to “disintegrate by high-frequency sound,” which seems to do the trick (the drummer --who I assume to be Tony Richards, W.A.S.P. drummer ‘82-’84 -- actually blows up behind the kit, in a moment of bizarre parallel evolution with THIS IS SPINAL TAP). This segment is cheap and shitty.

4: “Stone Canyon Giant” (dir. David Allen, visual effects on WILLOW) changes up the formula a little bit by sending Paul outside, where two little people (Phil Fondacaro [HARD ROCK ZOMBIES], and his brother Sal) steal his X-CaliBR8, leaving him utterly, utterly helpless. Things then get worse when a hundred-foot-tall stop-motion giant statue takes exception his his presence and lumbers after him. Fortunately he quickly recovers the X-CaliBR8 and that’s that. This segment is cheap and stupid, but I cannot in good conscience call anything with a pissed-off stop-motion giant shitty. I’d like to, I truly would, but it’s just not in me to do it. “Stone Canyon Giant” gets a pass, particularly since it’s mercifully short and to-the-point.

5: Slasher (dir Seven Ford, no other directorial credits but lots of small roles as an actor. Also, this is weird, but he’s the son of former President Gerald R. Ford) starts out OK. And then the movie takes a real significant dive in quality, which is really saying something since it wasn’t exactly hot shit to begin with, except maybe in the literal sense. I feel kind of bad saying that, since this is clearly the only segment anyone seems to have put any real effort into, but sadly that just results in a vignette which is still lurching in the gutter but also doesn’t really capture the corny charm which helps the rest of this turkey go down a little smoother. “Slasher” appears to be someone’s attempt at a really, really tame giallo-type slasher scenario combined with the world’s most idiotic detective story. And it really stands out from the other sections for a few reasons; first, it’s set in contemporary America instead of a weird fantasy world, and second, it utilizes a very slightly more complex narrative structure than “Paul transports into some kind of cave, and there is some kind of monster which he shoots with a laser.” Instead, Paul awakens in an alley next to a dead body, a turn of events which is no doubt all too familiar to this movie’s producers. The cops show up almost immediately and arrest him, leaving the corpse to rot in the streets, as is standard police procedure. After a few minutes in the back of the police cruiser, Paul remembers that he has that computer on his arm, which he quickly uses to James-Bond himself out of the police car and onto the street, where he can use his keen detective skills to find the real killer without having to change out of his blue ninja vest. But this time, it’s not Paul himself in danger; the killer, we learn courtesy of a perfunctory expository visit by the wizard, has selected Paul’s girlfriend as his next victim!

Now, Paul’s gal has occasionally appeared in these little challenges before, usually as an incidental damsel-in-distress (she’s been tied up by W.A.S.P., for example) but also sometimes in the sidekick role (for some reason both she and Paul are required to solve the riddle of the ice cave, probably because he’s woefully incapable of tackling any problem which cannot be solved solely via laser fire.) Here, though, she’s niether -- she’s just a denizen of the real world, and has no memory of Paul or anything about wizards, nor does she know she’s being stalked by a killer. But wait, this isn’t some kind of fantasy world, this is real, contemporary America -- you know, the place where she lives in real life. But this is not her real life, so… what gives? I honestly don’t know if this is some sort of crazy virtual reality, or it’s another dimension, or it really IS reality and she’s just had her memory wiped and an elaborate fictional backstory constructed, or what, but I think we can all agree it makes no sense. I’d pity poor actor Jeffrey Byron for having to muddle through this hopeless scenario, except that in this case he’s also the writer, and as such responsible for his own mess. I’m as bleeding heart as they come, but come on, personal responsibility, fellah. Anyway, after an intolerably long time farting around trying to pretend we could possibly experience any tension over any of this in the same movie which offers a muppet named “Ratspit,” Paul manages to find the… alternate dimension version of his girlfriend (?) just as she’s about to meet her doom. Fortunately he has that X-CaliBR8 armband, and that takes care of things. This segment is cheap and shitty, and also direly boring.

There's no good images from this one, so instead enjoy a little visit from our old friend, animated 80's lightning.

6: Cave Beast (dir. Peter Manoogian, DEMONIC TOYS, ARENA) finds Paul back in familiar territory, yet another styrofoam cave with a monster in dire need of being defeated by laser fire. By this point Paul, like the audience, is fatigued with this concept to the point that he can barely motivate himself to enter the subterranean vault, but he goes through with it, and engages in a short rock-throwing match with a critter of some type. Fortunately he has that X-CaliBR8 armband, and that takes care of things. Unfortunately, in this case winning is losing, because the defeated critter turns into an angel and admonishes him for defending himself. “You would have won if you had simply not walked into the cave,” she lectures, nonsensically. Not to blame the victim, but if she didn’t want death by laser beam, she shouldn’t have been dressed like an aggressive cave critter. Anyway, Paul seems uncharacteristically broken up over the whole thing, but for some reason “losing” this challenge  --if that is indeed what happened-- doesn’t seem to make any difference, and it’s on to the final round. This segment is cheap and shitty.

7: Desert Pursuant (dir. Ted Nicolau, TERRORVISION, SUBSPECIES, in his first directorial effort*): This segment wisely ditches the SWORD AND THE SORCERER (with lasers) ripoff and adopts a much more venerable ripoff structure for no-budget z-movies: The MAD MAX ripoff. Paul, this time accompanied by his gal, turns up in a junkyard populated by Sand People (I believe the preferred term is Tusken Raiders) driving what Australians would refer to as “compact cars” and everyone else on Earth would describe as “Libertine deathmobiles.” One of the riders grabs his X-CaliBR8 (marking the second time today he’s lost it like a chump) but he uses math to tell the laser to kill the thief, proving that the man is capable of making even shooting laser beams at futuristic marauders into something embarrassingly nerdy. Going on the offensive, Paul and his trusty co-pilot steal one of the death mobiles and go on a rampage of laser-fueled high-octane carnage like a Blackwater merc on his fifth consecutive day of nothing but vodka and PCP. This culminates in a suicide game of chicken, where Paul, having dispatched his other opponents with lasers, decides to try something different and drive his car head-on into his final foe at full speed, killing him instantly and resulting in a huge fireball. Seriously, that actually happens. Not only does it happen, but apparently it was the way to “win” this challenge, which is, if anything, even more confusing than the “this time, you win by NOT shooting the monster” fake-out from last time. You win by killing yourself? Man, this video game is pretty easy. Anyway, for once the computer lasers play only a huge, huge role in winning here, instead of being the only factor. So that makes it kind of refreshing. And while this is certainly cheap, it’s rambunctious enough not to be completely shitty, because, let’s face it, are we really capable of turning up our noses at weirdos in masks driving crudely assembled deathmobiles at unsafe speeds? I, for one, am not. “Desert Pursuant” wins the “least shitty” award of the seven challenges, for its commitment to whammy and its excellent use of the word “pursuant.”

So, after seven dull and pointless challenges, it’s back to the netherworld, where Paul and his wizard buddy have to face off in a final fight to the death, which takes the form of a short, awkward wrestling match. The wizard, goaded by Paul, promises to refrain from using magic to win, but then breaks his promise, but somehow that drops him into a lake of lava, so, yay for the win I guess? Not be be outdone, Paul manages to find one more use for his X-CaliBR8, as it saves him from plunging to a similar fate (by shooting a laser he can grab? Anyone want to explains the physics on that one?). A poof of dry ice later, and Paul, girlfriend, and computer are all safely back at home. And what do they talk about? Why, marriage, of course! Seems that while Paul was battling an interdimensional wizard, girlfriend talked it over with the computer and decided to take the plunge. Possibly because she just got to experience exactly how completely helpless Paul finds himself without the aide of the magic adding machine, possibly because she’s just using him to get close to that sexy, sexy muthaboard. But anyway, it makes about as much sense as anything else here.

"I dunno, I can't seem to shake the feeling that someday these "computers" will make Donald Trump President."

DUNGEONMASTER is, of course, a total piece of shit. But you knew that. You’d guess that even if you didn’t know they’d changed the name to “Dungeonmaster” --from the somehow even less appealing original title RAGEWAR-- in the hopes of coasting on the good name of Dungeons and Dragons. And it’s a sad, sad day when you need to falsely impersonate D&D to become more popular. It’s probably for the best, though; a movie called RAGEWAR could, in theory, be good. It might even be a good name for a black metal band. Fortunately, a movie called DUNGEONMASTER could never, ever be good, so I doubt anyone watching this one was shocked by its incredibly low quality, idiotic dialogue (the phrase “I reject your reality and substitute my own,” --made famous by Mythbusters’ Adam Savage-- originates in this film and is spoken in complete seriousness) and hilarious repetitive low-effort hokum. At least the segments are all pretty quick (several are under five minutes!) and the movie itself is a paltry 73 minutes, meaning that (with the exception of the distended “Slasher” segment) if you’re not into one vignette, the next one is always right around the corner. Of course, none of the them are really any good at all, and nearly half involve shooting lasers at monsters in cheap cave sets, so moving quickly to the next bit is not exactly a foolproof method of maintaining your attention.

That having been said... As spectacularly idiotic no-budget howlers go, DUNGEONMASTER is something pretty special. Very, very few films this dorky are so completely unaware of that fact. I’m completely convinced that the makers of DUNGEONMASTER were totally sure they were tapping right into a rich vein of cool, leaving the movie absolutely dripping with camp potential. With a bunch of friends and a respectably heroic about of alcohol, it could be a real hoot. But you’ll really have to supply your own entertainment; even the usual “oh well, at least there were tits and some gore in there” ethos doesn’t apply here, because aside from the tacked-on opening there is zero nudity or gore, and I don’t think even any foul language. Aside from a nifty stop-motion giant and a few respectably decked-out go-carts, this is a strictly “laugh-at, not-with” affair. Your commentary is almost guaranteed to be more entertaining than the actual movie, which isn’t typically the way I prefer these things. But if shooting fish in a barrel with a bunch of buds is your bag, this is a very small barrel overstocked with some very lazy fish indeed.

*He also edited TOURIST TRAP and served as “Additional editor” on ROAR.

Also this happens at some point. I honestly cannot remember the context.
Good Kill Hunting

He is the Overlord Of Strange Beasts And Stolen Souls. Which I guess means the “Dungeonmaster” is actually the wizard, not Paul. In that case, I guess it seems semi-true.
No dungeon, no master, no accuracy. Then again, “Ragewar” is almost entirely meaningless, and RAGEWAR: THE CHALLENGE OF EXCALIBRATE is impossible for a human being to say without suicidal thoughts, and misspells “X-CaliBR8” in any case.
Absolutely not.
Believe it or not, there actually is sort of a sequel. The 1988 anthology PULSE POUNDERS is said to include a 30-minute segment in which both Byron and Moll reprise their roles. I use the word “said” because apparently the film has only ever screened once; it was shelved when Empire Pictures collapsed in 1989, and only rediscovered in 2011, to be exhibited at a Chicago film festival the following year. The wikipedia page claims it will be released “via a streaming service,” someday, but as near as I can tell that has never happened.
Anthology, Zombie, Wizard, Sci-Fi, Stop-motion, Slasher, Post-Apocalyptic,
W.A.S.P? Richard Moll?
Charles Band? John Buechler? Ted Nicolaou?
Yes, a weird full frontal dream sequence pre-credits, and then nothing else ever again
Methias or whatever gropes up our boy’s lady pretty good while she’s chained up, but over her clothes.
Some talk of the “land of the dead” and presumably some corpses, though they not too specific about exactly what label they fall under.
Magic aplenty, but no specific cult
There’s a slasher in there I guess.
Statue comes to life, eventually. Oh, and some kind of cave troll turns into a winged lady.
Surprisingly little of note, which is weird for a movie like this, you’d think they’d go sleazier.
In 1984, there was no magical problem which a computer could not solve using lasers.

No comments:

Post a Comment