After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. Horror’s Not Dead’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!
I have never been that big into fantasy. There are a few things that I will enjoy from time to time in the sword-and-sandal world, but I’m mostly uninterested. Tried role-playing games a couple of times and never really got into them. Hell, I didn’t even see the Lord of the Rings trilogy until a few years ago, and I was a projectionist when they were originally in theaters. No interest.* The bulk of my fantasy knowledge comes from Dar and the gang in the fabulous film The Beastmaster and that’s the way I like it! As I get older I’m trying to give this genre a little more of a chance, but most of the stuff isn’t my cup of tea. This week’s HMN pick will certainly not change my mind in any way. Ragewar (aka The Dungeonmaster) is an anthology-esque film with several stories deeply rooted in fantasy with a little horror and kickass rock-n-roll thrown in for good measure.
I really don’t know where to begin with the plot. This is a very interestingly crafted screenplay and no, I don’t mean that in a good way. Think Robot Chicken levels of ADD enhanced short tales; at least these are vaguely connected.
In the beginning there is Paul Bradford (Jeff Byron), a computer genius who has a special AI helper computer who he’s working with in a testing phase. Cal, as she is known, helps him with all of his daily tasks and even displays info on his huge 80s eyeglasses. When Paul’s girlfriend, Gwen (Leslie Wing), gets home she accuses him of loving the computer more than her. She may be right. But they are tested that night when the two are whisked away to play a game with the devil, who goes by Mestema (Richard Moll). He has searched far and wide for a worthy adversary to fight against his creatures and scenarios, and he’s decided on some random computer geek. If Paul loses then Gwen will belong to Mestema so he must make his way through the seven scenarios put forth by Old Scratch.
Upon first seeing Paul in those huge glasses I immediately thought – holy shit, it’s Peter Scolari! If Bull from Night Court is in the film, why can’t one of the Bosom Buddies be too? Maybe there’s some Gary Coleman or Emmanuel Lewis as well. Sadly there isn’t, though there are a few little people. If the film was full of 80s sitcom stars it would have made it much more interesting and all of the ridiculous, pointless “stories” would not matter. Each of Mestema’s games are set up to be their own story but there is really nothing to them. It kind of feels like something that could be turned into a weekly series on some UHF channel on Saturday afternoons in the 90s, where each week there’s a new place and adventure. Think Xena mixed with Quantum Leap. Instead, Paul suddenly gets transported to the different locales and fights for a couple of minutes with the indigenous baddies before he and Cal, who has been transplanted into an interactive armband, outsmart them, make them disappear, and are returned to Mestema’s lair for some quality banter before the next challenge. These fights have no real story to them, how can they when they’re so short? Each section is less than ten minutes, though it can feel much longer. Not sure why the filmmakers chose to leave it so scant, unless they were trying not to break the 75 minute mark. Instead of seven fights they could have dropped it to three or four and give much more detail.
Of the stories there is only one real standout. The segment called “Heavy Metal” sees Paul thrown in a modern day club where the heavy metal group W.A.S.P. is rocking the amped up crowd. In the time it takes them to sing the tune “Tormentor” from their debut album, or the majority of it at least, Paul has to battle frontman Blackie Lawless (seen above with the VHS) and the rest of the evil musicians. Not only is it awesome to see a kick ass 80s metal band in the film, but it was also the best segment by far. Yes, I’m biased because I like the song, but I don’t care.
The other segments are just downright puzzling for the most part. There are at least three that involve being in a cave, another in modern times, and one that is in a Mad Max style desert chase. The first land Paul is sent to has a large stone statue on what appears to be an island. All I could think of was the huge monument from LOST, but this was no magical island. Well, except that the statue got up and moved around in a very Harryhausen fashion, which is pretty sweet.
For the massive list of seven directors involved with making this film there are some pretty cool people involved. Empire Pictures and Full Moon head cheese Charles Band is on board and brings along a number of regulars from the productions he’d produced or worked on in the past. These include Ted Nicolaou (TerrorVision), Peter Manoogian (Demonic Toys), Dave Allen (Puppet Master II), Rosemarie Turko (Scarred), John Carl Buechler (Troll), and for some reason Stephen Ford – son of President Ford. Quite a list of directors, many who have made or worked on some great films, this just isn’t one of them.
The best name in that list is John Carl Buechler. Because when you have him, you not only have a writer/director but also a very accomplished make-up/FX man. His skilled hand is what really elevates this to the realm of somewhat watchable. All of the practical creature FX and puppets used are definitely the shining stars of the film. There’s a reason he’s gotten so much work in the biz over the last 30+ years. He’s created many memorable beasts over the years from the plantlike beings in Troll to the nasty, yet loveable, Ghoulies. His work in this film gives us many fantastical cave dwelling beasts, and a powerful tiny creature that can control the dead.
It really is a shame that so much of this movie is wasted and seems hastily put together because there are a few good ideas in there somewhere. Even the fast paced story gets in its own way from time to time. In one of the segments, “Ice Gallery”, we see a bunch of humans and fantasy creatures frozen in ice. Paul tells Gwen that it seems like every criminal in the world is in there, right before which he mysteriously identified Louis the XVI like he was Brad Pitt. An interesting idea to have all of these dead delinquents to pose a challenge but for some reason Albert Einstein is also frozen amongst the group. What the hell?! I’m sure he wasn’t a perfect man but does he really belong with a bunch of killers? Maybe it’s a “one of these things is not like the other” Sesame Street kind of clue, since Al holds the powerful crystal that gets them out of this jam. It’s confusing moments like this in a scene that only lasts about four minutes that really keeps this film from working.
Evidently there was a sequel in the works at one time. Pulse Pounders was an anthology film with three parts that included a new Ragewar chapter as well as a tale from Trancers, another property of Band’s. The third part was a new Lovecraft adaptation of The Evil Clergyman with Jeffery Combs and Barbara Crampton! Ok, so it was archive footage, probably from Re-Animator and From Beyond, two films that Empire Pictures produced and distributed. But it was around this time that Empire went under and Band kicked off Full Moon. Since then the rights were given to MGM and the film went unfinished. Allegedly Band was going to work on getting this film out to the masses but it seems that quest has been abandoned. I’m sad, because for some reason I have to see this.
To this day Ragewar has not seen a DVD release, but if you have Netflix you can watch the film in all its glory through Instant Watch (under the alternate title The Dungeonmaster). I really expected this to have more of a D&D connection by the title and themes, but it seems that was just the studio trying to capitalize off the game’s popularity. I don’t think it worked.
Until next week – remember that W.A.S.P. stands for We Are Sexual Perverts
Body Count: 1, and I’m not even sure that counts as an actual death
Number of Stories: 7 tales, 2 dream sequences, and one wrap-around story
Total Runtime: 75 minutes
Frist Appearance of Richard Moll: 17:02
Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-10/19/11: Zombie Death House (1987) aka Death House – My pick, Austin BYE week
-10/26/11: Moon in Scorpio (1987) – My pick, Austin BYE week
-11/2/11: HMN Halloween Edition – Title TBA Soon
-11/9/11: Death Bed (1977)
* Don’t worry, I loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy once I finally saw them.