The Dungeonmaster


So there was a cheesy sci-fi/fantasy movie in the mid-1980s called “Ragewar,” but when it was released in theaters they changed the title to “The Dungeonmaster” to capitalize on the current popularity of the Dungeons & Dragons games. The movie didn’t have anything to do with dungeons, dragons, or Dungeons & Dragons — but it didn’t have anything to do rage or war, either. To be honest, I’m not sure what the movie does have anything to do with, and I’ve watched it. They could have also called it “Ragemaster” or “Dungeon War” or “Dungeon Rage” or “Dumb Thing We Farted Out with Our Computers and Crayons” or “The Copier Needs Toner” or “Three Flowers for Mrs. O’Hara” or “Who Wants Bacon?” Any random assemblage of words would have sufficed.

Our hero, to use that term even more loosely than usual, is Paul Bradford (Jeffrey Byron), a computer technician. We take our IT guys for granted nowadays, but in 1984 a man who knew computers inside and out would have been viewed as some kind of wizard genius (which is how a lot of IT guys view themselves today, but that’s another issue). Paul has invented a computer that can communicate with other computers (i.e., the Internet) and that possesses all knowledge on every subject. Does he use this amazing device for the good of mankind? No, he uses it to change the traffic signals when he goes jogging so he won’t have to wait for the lights, and to access an ATM when he doesn’t have his bank card handy. He has also given it a sexy female voice, as has been the custom of pervy computer programers since the dawn of time.

This hero, this giant among men, has a girlfriend named Gwen (Leslie Wing) who is an aerobics instructor, which is what most women in movies were in 1984. (To be fair, it’s also what most women in real life were in 1984.) Gwen is jealous of Paul’s cozy relationship with his computer. “Every time I think about that experiment you were involved in, and how you were able to ‘link up’…” she says, trailing off in disgust. “Hey,” he replies seductively. “It can’t link up the way WE can.” And thus we learn that Paul had sex with his computer, or at least that Gwen thinks he did.

Perhaps this is a reference to the film’s opening sequence, in which Paul dreamed that he pursued a hot babe through some corridors and was about to have sex with her when they were interrupted by aliens and Paul woke up. But there is also the very real possibility that this opening sequence didn’t relate to anything! It is never mentioned again! Sure, an ordinary movie would go the traditional route and only include scenes that “make sense” and “relate” to the “plot.” But “Ragedungeon Warmaster” is not hindered by such restrictions!

Anyway, one night something magical happens with Paul’s sex computer and he and Gwen find themselves in a fantasy dream computer world, dressed like Renaissance Faire actors. Gwen has been taken captive by a demonic creature named Mestema, who is played by Bull from “Night Court.” Paul, who has access to his computer by means of a wristband that is also a computer interface — it was 1984; be glad it wasn’t a leg warmer — learns that “Mestema” is another name for the devil, who has gone by more names throughout history than Sean Combs and “The Hogan Family” combined. Mestema explains that he thought Paul would be a worthy opponent because of the way that Paul is able to conjure magic with his computer. Mestema has never seen such sorcery before! In other words, the devil is amazed by the Internet. Modern viewers will laugh at this anachronism, since we now know that the devil invented the Internet.

Mestema announces that he is going to eat Gwen’s soul (or whatever the devil does) unless Paul can conquer a series of seven challenges. We are crestfallen to hear the news. Seven challenges?? Ugh, what’s wrong with three? Or even four! Four would be a great number of challenges to have. But no, there are seven, and Paul’s only weapon is his computerized wristband, which for some reason can shoot laser beams now. It is vaguely implied that all of this is taking place in a computer world, like “TRON,” which would explain why Paul suddenly has a video-game weapon. But if Mestema is bedazzled by the magic of computers and the Internet, why would he choose that world as the site for his battle with someone who is an expert in it? That’s something that a cyber-demon would do (THEY CALL HIM CAPSLOK!), not a demon who oversees all forms of general evil, and certainly not The Devil. To put it bluntly, I question this movie’s authenticity.

Maybe we can figure out what the movie has in mind by examining the specific challenges given to Paul! (Spoiler: we can’t.) Some of them fit within the realm of fantasy nonsense conceived by people who have watched “Jason and the Argonauts” many times: ancient clay statues that come to life, warrior-dwarfs in fur pelts, that sort of thing. But then there’s one where Paul faces the heavy-metal band W.A.S.P. and uses his wrist computer to produce high-frequency sounds that make the band members disintegrate. (Really.) In another scenario, he’s dropped into a big city where a serial killer is on the loose; another one is basically “Mad Max”; another one has zombies. The only thing these all have in common is that no matter what Paul’s opponent happens to be, it can be destroyed with lasers. The movie trumpets the fact that each of the seven challenge sequences was made by a different director, but if you didn’t know that you’d swear they’d all come from the same director, and that the director was an adolescent chimpanzee with a rudimentary understanding of film technique (Uwe Boll, in other words).

The best things that can be said for “Masterwardungeonrage” are that it’s only 70 minutes long, that it has a naked lady in the opening sequence, and that it didn’t kill as many people Dungeons & Dragons did. (Only 150 deaths are directly attributable to the movie, and most of those were film critics.) Also, it has a part where Paul tells Mestema, “I reject your reality and I substitute my own!,” which is a great thing for a petulant teenager to tell his parents and has also been adopted as a slogan by one of the guys on “MythBusters.” For my part, I reject the reality where I watched “Dungeon War With Bull from Night Court” and substitute a reality where I’m eating a delicious ice cream sundae.