Monday, March 21, 2011

It Came From Netflix: The Dungeonmaster

Well, I reject your reality and substitute my own!
No, these immortal words were not originally spoken by Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame, but by Paul Bradford, computer programmer and champion of all that is good in the world, staring in a film that contains nothing good at all.

Mestema sitting on his throne
I was first introduced to this film at the Washington Psychotronic Film Society, a group of people “dedicated to the the appreciation and defense of: Independent, cutting-edge, student, experimental, anime, off-beat, underground, obscure, super-8, low-budget, classic, forgotten, must-see, and just about anything on film.” The Dungeonmaster is a 1984 science-fiction/fantasy film (originally titled "Ragewar: The Challenges of Excalibrate") starring Jeffrey Byron, Charles Moll and Leslie Wing certainly qualifies. After watching this, no one should be surprised that the movie had seven different directors. Yes, seven directors, those include Dave Allen, Charles Band, John Carl Buechler, Steven Ford, Peter Manoogian, Ted Nicolaou, and Rosemarie Turko. You know you're in for something... unique when the film has that many directors.

The movie concerns itself with a computer programmer named Paul Bradford and his girlfriend Gwen, who along with Paul's artificial intelligence, X-CaliBR8 (Cal), are transported to a dimly lit locale by Mestema, an evil sorcerer. Over the years, Mestema has grown bored, so to entertain his whims and fancies he chooses an opponent to challenge him every few centuries. Out of all the people in the entire planet, he chooses Paul. I suspect he was chosen for his ability to control traffic lights and steal from ATMs with his computer, which is linked up inside his glasses. Perhaps his thievery is to be admired since he only stole 20 dollars from the ATM to buy his girlfriend some flowers.

In this nightmare world, Paul's computer has magically become a wristband computer, and Mestema has confusingly knighted Paul as “Excalibrate” - the film then spends precious time revealing why he's now being called Excalibrate by his captor. Oh yeah, that's his computer's name too! Genius!

He is thrown into Mestema's first challenge, a chase with two "little people" and then a confrontation with a giant rock creature. On my first viewing of this film I wasn't sure what to make of it. At all. It was confusing, the "challenge" didn't really make a whole lot of sense since there was absolutely no setup or reasoning for his actions in defeating the rock creature other than firing a laser at it, oh – we also learn here that Cal can now fire lasers. This development appears to be something devised my Mestema, because there would be absolutely no way that Paul could possibly have developed such a device. Think of the millions that Paul could have made selling this kind of technology. No, it had to have been given to him by Mestema. Though why Mestema would give him such an advantage is a bit odd, especially since he calls Paul's computer a "magic machine," seemingly unaware as to many of its abilities. And thus, each subsequent “challenge” is presented in the same, increasingly redundant way, between scenes where Mestema battles him with absurd dialogue.

Paul then arrives in a cave full of zombies. His attackers are quickly subdued, with almost embarrassing ease. He meets their ruler, or what I can only presume was the ruler of this world – Ratspit. Paul "insults" him by calling him "Spitrat," like the name Ratspit isn't insult enough. Oh, by the way, Ratspit looks pretty much like a jacked up Salacious Crumb from Return of the Jedi. Apparently he wins this challenge because he says "Well, I reject your reality and substitute my own!"

I seriously don't know where they came up with this stuff... He has to save Gwen from the rock band W.A.S.P., using some kind of sound amplifier from Cal to destroy them and save Gwen from having her body rubbed with a machete. This armband machine can do anything! This sequence lasts about a long as a song, so I suspect they thought W.A.S.P. and/or a heavy metal music video would be a draw for the audience. W.A.S.P.’s front man Blackie Lawless appears prominently on the cover of the VHS release of The Dungeonmaster. I'm sure some poor W.A.S.P. fan picked this film up back in the day and was disappointed to find out that Blackie only showed up for 3 or 4 minutes, and most of that was prancing around fondling Gwen with a large knife.

Paul and Gwen
The next challenge finds Paul and Gwen finally reunited together, albeit for a short time, in an ice cave, full of mass murderers and Albert Einstein for some unexplained reason. Completely unexplained. He's simply *there* among these murderers. Again, Paul uses his laser beam from the first challenge to fend off some of the attackers, then gets the idea of throwing a crystal Einstein is holding to destroy the rest. Somehow he figures this out, though I don't know how.

Then, one of the more promising sequences comes along one where Paul is framed as a serial killer (who wouldn't think that with the horrid costume he wore?). This sequence ends up falling to pieces simply because there just isn't enough strength in the rest of the film, plus some of the glaring plot holes that occur during it. In this particular piece it seems that Gwen has forgotten all about Mestema and being tested. I wonder if the film could have been better had they focused primarily on this segment, along with one or two others, instead of giving us more than a handful of mediocre ones.

The next segment has Paul facing a cave creature who throws explosive "things" at him. The cave creature accidentally kills itself and transforms into an Angel and scolds him for coming into the cave. So yes, he wins this one accidentally. I was left scratching my head here. I've seen the film on both VHS and Netflix, so it wasn't like I was missing anything in particular as far as I was aware. It was as if they got partway though this sequence, cut out the substantive parts of it, and then decided to keep the sequence to pad out the story a bit.

The final sequence is a direct rip from The Road Warrior, in a post-apocalyptic setting which once again presents us with a "little" person, with a terrible over-dub on his dialogue, rendering any frame where he appears more like one out of a comedy then whatever this is supposed to be. Both Paul and Gwen apparently lose this contest, though under circumstances that are confusing considering the absolute weakness of some of the previous challenges. At the end of this contest, Mestema and Paul fight in mortal combat, with Mestema falling to... what I would suppose would be his "death." Paul then breaks whatever remaining laws of physics left untouched in this film by pulling himself up from certain death after Cal creates a solid beam of light to pull himself up from the edge of the abyss. The film abruptly ends with Paul and Gwen transported back in their apartment.

Was it really a bored Devil, wanting to test someone "worthy?" Was it all a dream? Was it a group hallucination from carbon monoxide poisoning? Was it Cal all along, trying to teach the two lovebirds to get married? A more fitting question would be simply: Why?... The Dungeonmaster is not a good film by any lengths of the imagination, however the film succeeds in being a great deal of fun, from its music, costumes, hilarious dialogue and nonsensical plot.

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