The Dungeonmaster, (originally titled Ragewar: The Challenges of Excalibrate and Digital Knights), is a 1984 American science fiction fantasy film with horrific elements, starring Jeffrey Byron, Richard Moll and Leslie Wing.
The Dungeonmaster was produced by Charles Band during the early days of his Empire Pictures production company, and in many ways seems to be the epitome of the lightweight, low-budget but undeniably entertaining films that the company produced at the time.
The movie is split up into seven distinct story segments, each written and directed by a different person, many of them Empire regulars: Dave Allen, Charles Band, John Carl Buechler, Steven Ford, Peter Manoogian, Ted Nicolaou, and Rosemarie Turko. However, it is not a traditional portmanteau film, as each of the sections – while arguably featuring an individual adventure – is part of an overall narrative.
Paul Bradford (Byron) is a computer programmer who lives with his girlfriend, Gwen, and has his life run by “X-CaliBR8,” a personal computer that he programmed. This is as dated and unconvincing as any computer-themed story of the time (with the home computer market just starting to become mainstream, computer-themed films were big in the early 1980s). Gwen is jealous of Paul’s relationship with X-CaliBR8 and is reluctant to marry him as long as the computer is running his life (his attempt to counter this argument is to get X-CalibBR8 to point out the likely success of their union, suggesting she may have a point).
One night, for no immediately obvious reason, Paul and Gwen are both transported to another plain of existence by Mestema, a cackling demon/sorcerer who may well be the Devil, and who has spent centuries looking for a worthy opponent. Apparently, he thinks a weedy computer geek is an ideal challenger, which might explain why he’s been disappointed for so long. With Gwen as the prize, he sets Paul and a portable version of X-CaliBR8 (now in the form of a computerised wrist band) against various opponents across a variety of scenarios – some of them monsters, some post-apocalyptic road warriors and at one point the enemies take the form of ludicrous heavy metal pantomime act W.A.S.P.
Most of the challenges involve Paul using his X-CaliBR8 wristband to shoot people, monsters, and objects with laser beams, which hardly suggests that the opponents are a major challenge.
The Dungeonmaster struggles to create tension, is crudely acted, inconsistently directed and sloppily produced – but it’s still pretty good disposable fun. With crummy animatronic monsters, crude stop motion and poor opticals, the film certainly seems cheap, but it’s also aware of its own limitations and seems to be having fun running the gamut of horror and science fiction cliches. And the episodic nature of the story ensures that whatever faults the film has, it never becomes boring.
A sequel to the film – Pulse Pounders – was planned, but Charles Band’s Empire collapsed before it was produced.
David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA
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