RetroReviews #25: The Dungeonmaster (1984)









I can thank Facebook for the reason I screened this obscure out-of-print ’80’s movie. I noted on my Facebook wall that I was planning a fantasy movie marathon, and asked for suggestions. The only answer I got back was “Check out The Dungeonmaster, it’s pretty good stuff”. Supposedly, it was available for instant viewing on Netflix, but it sure wasn’t when I went through the DVD queue. It’s not out on DVD either, but I finally found it for free online (the source quality was poor, but hey, it was free so I didn’t complain) I’m very glad I did screen the film in the end. It’s not for everyone, but it’s one of the most unique fantasy films I’ve seen in my life.



It started off in the “real world” with the story of a computer programmer, making me wonder if this was kind of a fantasy movie version of Wargames or Tron. Then, after the main character got pulled into some dark creepy fantasy world and was told by a demonic sorcerer character that he had to face several challenges, I wondered if the rest of the movie would unfold like Masters of the Universe or something. The truth turned out to be that the film can’t be labeled into any “type” of movie. It’s broadly sci-fi and fantasy based, but it’s an anthology film with seven different stories and worlds, all linked by the framing story of the computer programmer and his talking computer wristwatch going from world to world so he will eventually be able to face off against the evil sorcerer and return home. Each scenario is completely different – seemingly intentionally so because they were all done by different directors (which are noted at the end of the film when the credits appear and recap each segment). As such, it’s really not fair for me to give this movie an overall rating (though I will do anyway because its not worth the time and trouble of going back and ranking each segment). Like other anthology films (The Twilight Zone, Creepshow, New York Stories, etc.) the quality and tone of each segment differs greatly. Of course, I had never seen a film unitize the anthology format by having a single character star in seven different stories (most of them do more than three).



I’d thus give the film a 10/10 for creativity, although the execution leaves much to be desired. Much of the film is clearly low budget and cringe-worthy 80’s sets and special effects, many of the stories are silly or predictable. When Paul the computer programmer completes his tasks and faces off against the evil sorcerer at the end, I found the final showdown to be rushed and anti-climatic. (plus it had a tacked on narrative that he returned to the real world and lived happily ever after). This type of format could be ideal if the movie was an adaptation of a computer game like Myst, (or even Final Fantasy VI, which shared many of the film’s themes about a struggle between technology and magic). Here, it leads to some fun sequences, but it just as often falls flat.




In spite of all the 80s cheese and campy dialogue, this film deserves better than the 3.5 out of 10 score it currently has on IMDB. It comes up with a completely unique format and it has countless moments of entertainment and creative scenarios packed into its brisk 73 minute running time. None of the sequences drag on too long or fail to go anywhere. Even the “bad” ones are bad because they’re stupid and lame challenges, not because they aren’t directed well or don’t make logical sense.




As of the time of this writing, it appears The Dungeonmaster is finally getting a DVD release. I’d like to check it out again soon. This film could really benefit from a proper sound mix and decent print. The Dungeonmaster is a hot mess, but who says that’s always a bad thing?




** ½ out of ****



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