Ragewar [The Dungeonmaster] (1984)

Every now and then, you find a movie which just doesn’t have the faintest clue what it is.

This is one of them.

It has the uneasy distinction of being one of the first movies Charles Band‘s Empire Films turned out — and it features virtually everyone who would go on to be one of the key players at Empire Films.  I suppose you might call it an anthology film, as each of the seven directors filmed a separate segment of the film (I have no idea who directed either the wraparound story or the strange dream sequence at the beginning of the European cut of the film) — although those segments aren’t anywhere near as separate as an anthology film would suggest.

Our hero, Paul Bradford is a hot shot computer troubleshooter, who’s high tech homebuilt super computer, CAL (a classic, angular, Eighties metal box type machine), enables him to connect to all sorts of computer networks with the help of what looks like a clear pair of glasses.  Which he uses to change the color of the stoplights when he’s out jogging and other equally important things.

Unfortunately, his girlfriend won’t marry him because she is jealous — she thinks he loves CAL more than he loves her (and I’m not sure I would bet against that one).

And then the two wake up in the Hellish realm of Mestema (Richard Moll, almost unrecognizable under all the evil makeup), a bored immortal who is apparently the Devil.  To relieve his boredom, he’s going to force Paul to take part in a series of challenges, which, naturally, will be provided by a very familiar list of Empire’s future writers and directors (including a rare writing and directing appearance by David Allen, complete with stop motion monster).  Mestema wants to pit his magic against Paul’s – that is, against Paul’s computer talents, which he explains is just a new form of magic, as far as he’s concerned.

That appears to be the screenwriters’ consensus as well.

So CAL is transformed into a wrist cuff, and suddenly acquires the power to shoot laser beams (or at least, we never saw her do it back in the real world!).

The real problem is that the various segments really don’t offer much in the way of challenges to our hero.  Nor are most of them resolved with clever computing, but mostly with well-placed laser blasts.  A few of the sequences are moderately interesting, most notably the serial killer sequence, the final challenge involving a “high speed” Mad Max chase, and of course, that big stone god coming to life.  Mind you, none of them are long enough to really develop much of a story; David Allen appears to have reused his model sets for the utterly dreadful Full Moon effort, Magic Island, a few years later; and it really doesn’t take long to suspect that the two buggies chasing each other might just be the same one repainted as they only appear in the same shot once, when they crash! (apparently Charles Band borrowed them from his earlier film, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn — which, come to think of it, is where he got Richard Moll as well…).  And one can only shrug at Charles Band’s sequence, which is basically a Heavy Metal music video by W.A.S.P.

However, one simply doesn’t get the idea that this is a science versus magic film, nor does it have anything to do with dungeons or dugeonmasters, despite the American title (and the mile of disclaimers that this had nothing to do with TSR, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons or any other lucrative copyrighted property).

There is a somewhat surreal opeining dream sequence which has gratuitous nudity but no real connection to the rest of the film that was removed for the American market, but it really doesn’t add anything, other than some very minor titillation.

Far more interesting is Ratspit, a puppet creature provided by frequent Band creature creator,  John Buechler, which is nicely done even if it is primitive by today’s computer enhanced standard.

One has the feeling that a few years later, this one would probably have turned into something closer to Arcade, with the computer trapping the hero in a virtual reality.  One has an uneasy suspicion that this one may have been Empire’s answer to Tron, which certainly leads one to suspect that they didn’t even understand the question, let alone come up with the right answer.

Worst of all, it just sort of…ends:  in a matter of minutes, the hero defeats Mestema, returns home and ends in a clinch with his girl, who is apparently now reconciled to being second to a cold, unfeeling box of circuits.

And that’s it.

So file it where you will, it is really neither one thing nor the other.  A computer genius tries to beat the Devil, with a little help — and a few lasers — from his best gal.

The Bands could do a lot better.  And did, in many other films.

Just not this one.

It isn’t even weird enough to save itself.

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