From its obtrusively 80s, synth opening sequence Charles Band’s Dungeonmaster (aka Ragewar: The Challenges of Excalibrate) sets out to prove that sometimes even nerds can become ultra-cool, swashbuckling heroes. Unfortunately, what we get instead is a wacky jambalaya of abridged filmland follies that take their cue from such classics Jason And The Argonauts, Mad Max and Tron. It also has the honor of being Band’s first picture released under the Empire Pictures imprint and set the bar (albeit however low) for more fondly-remembered horror movie fodder as Ghoulies and Troll.
There’s no sugar-coating the fact that as the product of seven different directors, the plot of Dungeonmaster is all over the place. Almost unforgiving in their expectation of nothing less than your total willingness to believe in what’s transpiring on screen the first act will most likely disorient less attentive viewers, though viewers who are familiar with a Charles Band production should find it somewhat easier to simply shrug off the fact-paced campy nature of what they’re witnessing. We are introduced to our main cast, however, which consists of Paul (Jeffrey Byron), Gwen (Leslie Wing) and the nefariously menacing Richard Moll (Night Court) as Mestema.
“Beam me up, Scotty… this time, its personal.”
After a long hard days work as an admittedly obsessed computer programmer, Paul takes a long jog home where he proceeds to woe his sexy girlfriend Gwen by propoing to her because his computer, X-CaliBR8, told him it was okay (no, seriously). They have a little argument seeing as how Gwen is jealous of Paul’s obsession and end up going to bed in short order (sorry, no nudity in this one folks). Paul proceeds to have a weird dream whereupon he awakes to find Gwen missing and his computer serving as a portal to some undescript circle of hell where Mestema awaits with a series of (nominally) challenging tasks.
In order to save his beloved Gwen, Paul most overcomes each challenge. Most of which are resolved by Paul simply standing there looking heroic while reciting lines from some high school philosophy textbook like a sophmore glee club dropout. He is given a some sort of Nintendo Power Glove knockoff that shoots lasers and such, but its more of an excuse to use a lot of “cutting-edge” digital graphics… and by digital I mean bright lights and Star Wars-recycled laser sound effects.
Behold! The almighty Lord of the Dead…
The most promising challenege (Slasher directed by Steve Ford and written by Jeffrey Byron) takes place in what appears to be modern-day NY (at least modern day for the 80s) and has Paul pitted against a serial killer who has his eyes on Gwen. Its perhaps the storyline with the most potential to be both narratively coherent and terrifying, but seemingly refuses to take full advantage of either its characters or venue. Another noteworthy challenge (directed by Charles Band) involved a conspicuous guest performance by heavy metal band W.A.S.P. who are subsequently disintegrated by Paul’s “super-awesome” power glove.
Since each challenge is directed by a different individual they each possess there own strenghs and weaknesses. None of them, however, feature monsters that are either frightening or believable as the actors beneath the layers of makeup offer little more performance than shuffling turds with teeth. For instance, the final act bows out with a skiddish cave-dwelling troll, a Mad Max-inspired car chase and a rather lackluster final bout with Mestema himself. I won’t spoil how the story ends, suffice it to say that the film could have been much shorter (like 45 minutes shorter) to reach the same conclusion. I can’t really even recommend this one for rental, your money would be much better served propping up that wobbly leg on your nightstand. Just saying.