Let’s face it. I love portmanteau movies. From Tales from the Crypt to Asylum, The House that Dripped Blood and The Monster Club, a good part of our DVD collection is devoted to these films (mostly of the Amicus variety). 1984’s The Dungeonmaster attempts to be both a narrative and portmanteau all at the same time — to sometimes uneven results.
Also known as Ragewar: The Challenges of Excalibrate and Digital Knights, this Charles Band-produced effort (Puppet Master, Subspecies, Re-Animator) made up of seven different segments, all connected by the battle between Paul Bradford (Jeffrey Byron, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn ) and Mestema (Richard Moll, who played Bull from TV’s Night Court, as well as The Sword and the Sorcerer, House, Wicked Stepmother and more). Again, it’s a film that struggles to find a tone — it wants to be Tron as much as it wants to be a filmed version of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign.
Paul may not be able to balance a checkbook, but he loves to jog and he’s great at fixing computers. In fact, the dude is so good, he has 2017 iPhone tech that tracks his jogging. If you watch the film today, you’ll be like, “Yeah, so what.” But keep in mind, this is a 33-year-old movie.
At some point, Paul did a neural net experiment that allows him to talk to X-CaliBR, his female personal computer. This is the only futuristic tech in this world, so I guess we all have to accept that people’s brains can be wired to their CPUs.
Paul keeps having dreams where he is making love to a beautiful woman. The more knowledgeable of you out there will realize that this scene doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the movie. It was probably to secure foreign distribution with the amount of flesh on display.
Paul lives with his girlfriend Gwen live together, but she’s super jealous of how close he is to his computer. None of that has anything else to do with what happens next — the sorcerer Mestema — who has spent thousands of years looking for a worthy opponent — kidnaps both of them.
What follows are the portmanteau segments, where Paul and his laser wristband must travel through different dimensions and time to battle Mestema and win back Gwen.
PART 1: ICE GALLERY
Ever seen Waxwork? So did everyone working on this. That said — the visuals are pretty nice here, with various monsters and killers throughout history all frozen inside a giant cave. Why is Albert Einstein there? Is it a comment on his role in the nuclear bomb? No one ever really explains that — this is a movie that you either damn for being stupid or fill in the narrative gaps yourself.
PART 2: DEMONS OF THE DEAD
I originally learned of this film from the Alamo Drafthouse’s Trailer War compilation. This scene is prominently featured in the trailer, with Fulci like zombies being dispatched with laser beams. It is, as I am often heard to yell, “Fucking awesome.” It’s written and directed by John Carl Buechler, who was Jack Cracker in the first two Hatchet movies.
PART 3: HEAVY METAL
In this segment, directed by Charles Band, our heroes battle 80s metal kings W.A.S.P. If you love Blackie Lawless, well, this is the movie for you, as he is front and center and menacing Gwen. Sadly, Chris Holmes does not appear with his mother in this scene.
PART 4: STONE CANYON GIANT
Stop motion style fun here, with a giant canyon monster blocking Paul from progress. This segment was written and directed by Dave Allen, who got his start with Equinox and worked on a huge variety of films from Flesh Gordon, Laserblast and The Howling to *batteries not included, Willow, the Puppet Master series, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and so much more. Sadly, he died from cancer in 1999.
In a strange moment of Wiki research, I learned that Allen used to be married to a woman named Donita Woodruff. She learned that Allen had an ex-girlfriend named Valerie Taylor, which led to a fight between the two women. Woodruff suspected that Taylor had a criminal past and found enough evidence to get the police to arrest her in 1996 for a 1979 South Carolina murder. Taylor pleaded self-defense and served two years, while Allen and Woodruff would divorce two years later. There’s even a book about it — Deadly Masquerade: A True Story of Illicit Passion, Buried Secrets, and Murder.
Check this out — “Donita, a young, single mother of two lives in the day-to-day confinement of a small town in rural Oklahoma. Hungering for a second chance and the bustle of the big city, she decides to move her family back home to Los Angeles. Still hurting from previous romantic relationships, Donita is hesitant to start anything new; anything until she meets Academy Award nominee David Allen—successful, handsome and charming. The two are quickly swept up in a whirlwind romance. Life seems too good to be true but even wedding bells can’t hide the secrets her new husband has. Suddenly, Donita and her children are caught in a Deadly Masquerade, a world of vicious lies and double lives, where nothing is as it appears.
Mysterious phone calls, a questionable ex-lover, an unsolved murder, all begin to unravel in Donita Woodruff’s true-life account, Deadly Masquerade. When the perfect man reveals a sordid, double life, she is forced into a series of stunning revelations. Now, she only has one choice—to take matters into her own hands.”
Seriously — they should have just film this book NOW. Because I just learned that Valerie Taylor used to be a man. And that’s why Woodruff was so freaked out! AGAIN –Wikipedia will lead you down some crazy wormholes.
PART 5 – SLASHER
All of a sudden, the film becomes a cross between Quantum Leap and a horror movie. It’s written by lead actor Jeffrey Byron and directed by Steven Ford (the son of former U.S. President Gerald Ford — fuck, this movie has a veritable rogue’s gallery of backstories). Paul has to escape from the police to rescue Glen from a serial killer.
PART 6 – CAVE BEAST
A cave beast blocks the way and Paul must fight his way past it. Look — not all of The Dungeonmaster has to be complicated.
PART 7 – DESERT PURSUIT
Mad Max style racing across the desert that seems to end with our characters dying in a head-on collision in a sequence written and directed by Ted Nicolaou (Bad Channels, TerrorVision). In case you’re wondering, yes, these are the same vehicles from Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn.
Finally, Paul challenges Mestema to a one on one battle, which ends when Paul throws the sorcerer into a pit of lava. At this point, Gwen decides that X-CaliBR8 isn’t so bad and that she can finally marry Paul.
Like any portmanteau, there are some good and bad parts in equal measure. Richard Moll is awesome in this, just chewing scenery and blasting out some insane dialogue. The zombie scene is good, as is the giant. But your life won’t change watching this film. If you’re looking for something to put on as a soundtrack to a party or some great visuals, it’s certainly good for that.
Shout Factory put this out on blu ray in a double set with The Eliminators, which makes me happy that such a strange, goofy set of films can get such a prestige treatment.
PS – A sequel segment was filmed for the anthology Pulse Pounders and only shown once, but since Empire Pictures closed, no one is sure as to when it will be released. Moll and Byron came back for this sequel — which I’d love to see.
Pulse Ponders was to be another portmanteau with three stories: The Evil Clergyman, Trancers: City of Lost Angels and The Dungeonmaster II: A Sorcerer’s Nightmare. Some of it has come out, so here’s to the full release!