Instant Finds – Dungeonmaster
The Devil vs. Bill Gates.
That’s the best way to sum up The Dungeonmaster, an ultra low-budget 1983 schlockfest from Charles Band’s Empire Pictures. A mainstay of video stores throughout the 80s, the out-of-print film is now on Netflix (on a transfer that looks like it was dubbed from a VHS tape) allowing new generations to discover and finally learn the answer to the question, “Can you defeat the devil with DOS?”
The Dungeonmaster stars Jeffery Byron as Paul Bradford, a successful computer programmer who, through ways that are never explained, has a neural connection with his at-home supercomputer X-CaliBR8 (like ex-calibrate, get it!?!?!). As we learn early on in the film, being jacked in to X-CaliBR8 24/7 certainly has its advantages for Paul. He can access his bank account without an ATM card; diagnose computer problems on the fly; and even change traffic lights so they don’t interrupt his jogging route.
When you think about it, those really aren’t that impressive of feats, but I guess 1980s audiences were easily awed by computer magic.This was the early 80s after all, context is important. Most people did not own a home computer, and if they did they were of the Radio Shack variety, basically glorified word processors that you might be able to play River Raid on. The future of what computers could do was wide open, and to aspiring screenwriters with little technological experience, anything was possible!
And you don’t need to be impressed by Paul’s techno-feats, because you know who totally is? Satan!
Well, not Satan, really, but an amazing facsimile called Mestema (Richard Moll! Bull from Night Court!). Apparently, he’s been observing Paul’s “magic” from afar, and he feels that Paul is the first real champion who could be a worthy opponent to him in battle. To that end, he kidnaps Paul’s girlfriend Gwen, transports them both to his magical land of salt flats and fog machines, and forces Paul to endure one challenge after another.
Oh yeah, and he goes to a W.A.S.P. concert.
The Dungeonmaster is a mock-anthology film. Each challenge Mestema sets up for Paul is treated like a different short film, complete with a different director and writer. And that would be fine for a two-hour or even 90 minute film, but The Dungeonmaster is an all-to-brief 75 minutes. With all the situations and challenges that it wants to cram into that short run-time . it just barely allows Paul to show up to a new challenge, stumble into a solution within minutes, and then be immediately zapped to the next.
And several segments just don’t add up to anything at all. At one point Paul and Gwen are transported to an ice cave where Gwen is suddenly frozen to the floor and Paul has to defeat a series of legendary monsters before she freezes to death. During this battle, you see that Albert Einstein is also there, frozen to a chair of ice. Why? Who the hell knows! It’s over before anyone can even mention it.
Even more amazing is that, despite being only 75 minutes long, the movie feels incredibly padded and drawn out. Oddly, while a lot is going on in The Dungeonmaster, not much is really happening. So while the movie could have probably benefited from being almost twice as long, it’s probably a good thing that it wasn’t. It would be unbearably boring, no matter how much weird and wacky shit the multiple directors decided to throw at the camera.
The Dungeonmaster is ’80s cheese, pure and simple, a hodgepodge of what was popular at the moment; computers, fantasy, hell, I’m willing to bet that even the name of the film itself was an attempt to cash in on the burgeoning popularity of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s exploitative trash, nothing more and nothing less. And that’s why I like it so much. It’s rare to see movies that are this obvious with their pandering, this blatant with their rip-offs. The Dungeonmaster aspires to be nothing other than a collection of scenes inspired/stolen from other films, and that’s exactly what it does.
Sure, it drags and by god is it dumb. But if you’re looking for a quick fix of stupid that you and your friends can riff on and then promptly forget, The Dungeonmaster is the flick for you.