DIRECTED BY: Charles Band, Rosemarie Turko, John Carl Buechler, David Allen, Jeffrey Byron, Peter Manoogian, Ted Nicolaou
FEATURING: Jeffrey Byron, Richard Moll, Leslie Wing
PLOT: A demon sucks a computer expert into a dream world where he puts him through a series of tests, each directed in a different genre style.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: With its bespectacled hero with a laser-blasting artificial intelligence best buddy who defeats Satan in hand-to-hand combat to save his super-hot aerobicized girlfriend from demonic bondage, The Dungeonmaster may be the apotheosis of 1980s nerd camp. Objectively speaking, however, it’s no more than a guilty pleasure.
COMMENTS: The Dungeonmaster starts out in medias R.E.M., with a dream in which the hero chases a red-robed woman through a misty corridor; he catches her, she drops her dress for a full frontal shot, they start to make love, and then a bunch of aliens break in and abduct her kicking nude body. This has absolutely nothing to do with anything that follows, but it does earn the movie that super-cool R-rating all the awesomest B-flicks get (besides this pre-credits sequence, The Dungeonmaster is strictly a PG affair).
Actually, in a funny Zen koan sort of way, the fact that this preliminary fantasy sequence has nothing to do with anything that follows has everything to do with everything that follows, because the rest of the movie is made up of strung-together fantasy sequences with no real logical connection between them. Paul is a computer scientist with an early prototype version of Google glasses that allows him to hack the traffic light cycles as he’s jogging and take money out of his ATM without entering his PIN number. Gwen, his aerobics-instructor girlfriend, is jealous of Paul’s relationship with a female artificial intelligence named CAL (short for her serial number, X-CALBR8), but when the Devil abducts her and chains her to a concrete boulder on a studio back lot, she learns to appreciate what she’s got.
You see, Old Scratch is impressed by Paul’s skill with computers, which he regards as some form of arcane wizardry, and so has devised seven tests (each directed by a different one of Charles Band’s pals) for Paul to conquer in order to win Gwen back. One representative quest involves Paul finding Einstein’s ice grenade to throw at the figures in a frozen wax museum. Other challenges include facing zombies and their puppet king in the Land of the Dead, defeating a stop-motion animated jungle statue, and solving a neo-noir mystery. In the most terrifying trial of all, Paul finds himself in a W.A.S.P. video directed by Charles Band, and must fight his way past a bunch of leather clad groupies with big hair to stop an Alice Cooper wannabe from sacrificing his fair maiden on a pointy stage prop.
Paul defeats almost every challenge simply by zapping the boss baddie with CAL, whom Satan has helpfully transformed into a wristband laser. He also utters the immortal line, beloved of “Mythbusters” and teenage solipsists alike, “I reject your reality and substitute my own!” The art direction, while admittedly cheap, is actually pretty good throughout, colorful in that bright 1980s way with plenty of sub-Industrial Light and Magic glowing laser beams and electrical arcs turning up everywhere. The Dungeonmaster zips from one underdeveloped adolescent fantasy to the next, with zero logic and seven layers of cheesy spectacle. It’s kind of great! If I had my way, I would totally reject this reality and substitute The Dungeonmaster‘s.
Remembered fondly by few, The Dungeonmaster was a very late arrival in the DVD format, only showing up in 2013 on Scream Factory’s “All Night Horror Marathon Vol. 2” set alongside inferior but equally unloved Charles Band productions Cellar Dweller (1988), Catacombs (1993), and Contamination .7 (1993).
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“If this really was a D&D adventure I’d venture that the Dungeon Master desperately needs new medication. Or much less medication. I haven’t seen anything this weird and stupid since I read the Castle Greyhawk module.”–Noah Antwiler, The Spoony Experiment