A lot of times when I leave a movie theater I'm unexcited. The picture entertained me, more or less, while it was on, but left nothing behind. Fairly often I'm disappointed; the film didn't live up to my hopes. Very rarely do I feel cheated, but I felt cheated after seeing The Dungeonmaster.
Understand, now, that I didn't feel cheated after seeing cheesy fantasy adventure films like Deathstalker or Yor. I didn't like them very much, but I didn't feel cheated. Why, then, did The Dungeonmaster, a film for which I had very low expectations, disappoint me? It's an audition, or, more precisely, several auditions. They made me pay to see a bunch of auditions, and most of those auditioning aren't talented. Throw in the fact that the film is only 65 minutes long, and even at bargain matinee prices I was cheated. I would have been cheated if I saw it for free.
The auditioners are seven directors and a special effects company. My best guess about the genesis of this film is that seven people just out of film school got together, pooled some rather meager resources, and decided to make a film to demonstrate their talents. So far, so good. However, they neglected to include in their efforts the one element which impoverished filmmakers can afford to indulge in: imagination. There is not one tiny bit of imagination in this film. It is shoddily written and shoddily directed.
The film is divided up into a framing story and seven segments. The framing story is stupid and dull at first, then it improves: it's just stupid and nearly tolerable. The seven segments are ripoffs. The most entertaining thing one can do while watching The Dungeonmaster is to decide which films each segment was ripped off from. There's a Ray Harryhausen ripoff; a mad slasher ripoff which if it weren't so close on the heels of The Terminator would also play as a ripoff of that film; a wax museum horror movie ripoff; a Road Warrior ripoff which starts with a ripoff from Close Encounters; a Living Dead film ripoff; and there's also a ripoff of a scene from The Empire Strikes Back.
Each segment is directed by a different person. There was no mention of which of them directed the framing sequence, which is hardly fair, since the seven segments account for no more than 40 minutes of the very brief running time. For those not in a mathematical mood, that's a little over 5 minutes a segment. With the exception of Stephen Ford, who contributes the mad slasher segment, none of them show any visible display of talent. If this is the best they can do, they'd better seriously consider going into the haberdashery business. Ford's segment, while no more original in plot than the others, does show some interesting visual choices. If he had more time and a reasonable story to work with, perhaps he might have come up with something worthwhile. As for the others, since they mostly wrote their own "stories", if you can consider five minutes a story, they have no one but themselves to blame.
The framing story is quite ridiculous. This dolt who, apparently as a result of an experiment, can "plug in", whatever that means, to his ever-so-intelligent computer is wisked off by some sort of baddy to engage in a contest for the latter's amusement. The baddy may be a wizard, he may be a demon, he may be the devil himself. If the filmmakers ever decided which, they neglected to include their choice in the script. At any rate, this villainous bozo fits up the heroic bozo with a weird costume and a link to his computer. What can the computer do for him? Anything the filmmakers feel is convenient at the moment. Need to fry a nasty? Gee whiz, it can shoot laser beams at the touch of a button. Need to counter an apparition of a dragon? Well, our friendly computer can do that, too. About to fall over a cliff? Not to worry, the computer will project a solid beam of energy for you to hold onto. Worried about where your imperiled sweetie will be when the mad slasher tries to kill her? No sweat, the computer can predict it. Talk about deus ex machina.
Perhaps something could be salvaged if the plentiful directors had been talented. They aren't. With the exception of Ford, none of them demonstrate any facility for shooting any sort of scene whatsoever. I will do them a favor by not listing their names. Were I they, I would adopt a new professional name so that I was not associated with this debacle.
The only good thing about The Dungeonmaster is that a few of the effects are passable. Just like the plots, though, these are ripoffs. A stop-motion animation figure is obviously a little more than inspired by Harryhausen's creations. Even so, it's not bad stop motion animation. Not great, but not bad. A nasty puppet called Ratspit obviously owes something to The Dark Crystal and perhaps even to Gremlins. The energy zaps that the effects people are so fond of have appeared in a dozen space operas. The gruesome makeups aren't new either. In short, Makeup and Mechanical Imageries Inc., and makeup artist John Buechler have made it clear that they are to be considered if you want low budget, unexceptional, unoriginal special effects. Remember, this is the good part of the film. The actors, who I will spare by not naming, do their best and are not to be blamed, but are definitely not in the picture-saving range. The cinematography is passable but undistinguished.
As previously stated, the film is only a little over an hour long. The theater I saw it with felt so ashamed that they padded it with a short, almost unheard of nowadays. I can get angry at this running time two ways: it's too short and it's too long. Asking people to pay five or six bucks for one hour's entertainment is almost criminal. On the other hand, it would be nearly as bad if they padded the film with any more of this idiocy.
It's taken me longer to write one pass at this review than it did to see The Dungeonmaster. Why waste this time? Because I want to warn you. Don't see this film! It is absolutely worthless and deserves to sink into oblivion without making a nickel. In fact, please do me a favor and tell your friends not to see it either. Complete outrages against cinema should be punished, and this is the only way to do it. Well, maybe not the only way. If any of you out in netland just happen to know anyone connected with this film, please be so kind as to personally tell them for me that their film sucked and that I think they should be ashamed of themselves. While you're at it, make sure that they pass the message on to all of the other people involved with the film. I fervently hope that someone, preferably someone who had intimate connections with the making of The Dungeonmaster, takes a huge financial bath on this film.
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