From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“A demonic wizard challenges a modern-day computer programmer to a battle of technology vs. sorcery, with the programmer’s girlfriend as the prize.”
Even as a critic, I’ve no problem admitting that there are some films I truly want to like for what might be considered less-than-professional reasons.
Sometimes, a favorite star might be the draw. Other times, a director whose track record has been solid might lure me into an otherwise uninviting journey. Yes, I’ve even been smitten with what might be some very intriguing source material or the promise of a bigger-than-life adventure awaits just after the opening credits. And – like so many of you – I’ve learned my lesson from the disappointment of being so easily cajoled into risking some lowered expectations with a payoff that simply fell short.
Mostly, that’s all I can say about The Dungeonmaster, another entry into the catalogue of features that sprang from Empire Pictures, the bygone production outfit for genre legend Charles Band. Casting the mold of pitting old sorcery against technological magic of the modern era (well, the 1980’s modern era, to be frank), it all looked and sounded like something that genre fans might flock to. While I’ve no doubt that it probably maintained a respectable track record at any corner video store of the day, the film is still a bit of a narrative mess, never quite underscoring what it was all about, why this particular story needed telling, and what audiences were to ultimately make of it.
In fact, I’d once read a blurb somewhere – sorry, I honestly don’t recall when and where – that a cast member had gone on record saying that the only reason the feature was made was because (A) everyone involved had just wrapped production on another Band project, (B) they had some free time, and (C) enough creators had experience to script their own piece within the anthology structure. So … maybe we need to chalk this one up to the old adage, “Just because you can make a film doesn’t mean that you should make a film!”
Paul Bradford (played by Jeffrey Byron) is a master of computer tech, but he hasn’t quite found a balance between his professional and personal lives as his live-in girlfriend Gwen (Leslie Wing) can attest. Upon receiving his offer to tie the knot, she’s entirely unwilling because she refuses to play ‘second fiddle’ to his voice-activated artificial intelligence counterpart ‘Cal.’ But either by Cal’s design – or perhaps someone omniscient out there in the universe watching (the plot is never clear) – the dueling lovebirds are catapulting into a dark underworld where the evil wizard Mestema (a grimacing Richard Moll) decides to put them through one grueling trial after another, all with the hope that he’ll seize Gwen for his very own when Paul fails!
To their credit, Byron and Wing make Dungeonmaster as watchable as it is. Moll doesn’t turn in a bad performance, but it’s all pretty much the same thing, despite his growing frustration opposite the leading man and his computer savvy intelligence. Some of the practical effects work is quite good – Empire had a knack for creating some of the better monster gear of its day – and a sequence or two even have some downright winning cinematography. Unfortunately, the weaknesses are spread out across successive chapters in the anthology; and the end result is horrifically uneven.
The Dungeonmaster (aka Ragewar) (1984) was produced by Empire Pictures and Ragewar Productions. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the fine folks at Arrow Films. As for the technical specifications? Though I’m no trained video expert, I thought the sights and sounds to the presentation were very good to this reported all-new 2K remastering. Yes, yes, yes: a few sequences have some grain, but overall this picture looks and sounds just fine. Lastly, if you’re looking for special features? The disc boasts an all-new commentary from actor Byron hosted by film critics Matty Budrewicz and Dave Wain; a separate interview with Byron (it’s quite good); the theatrical trailer; and an image gallery. Again, it’s another stellar assortment from the folks at Arrow Films.
Alas, this one’s only … Mildly Recommended … and, even then, mostly as a curiosity.
Having enjoyed a good number of films in the library of Charles Band from this era, I can assure you that The Dungeonmaster (1984) remains one of the most forgettable. Sadly, there’s really only the seed of a story there, and it never quite blossomed into the clever Fantasy flower that it could’ve been with a bit more care and attention. Performances and effects are occasionally interesting, but the connective pieces just weren’t strong enough – nor the tale’s foundation wide enough – to make this one worth all of the effort.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Arrow Films provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray copy of The Dungeonmaster (1984) as part of their Enter The Video Store: Empire Of Screams Collection for the expressed purposes of completing this review. Their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.