The ear­ly to mid-1980’s was the last gasp of real b-movie film­mak­ing, a mag­i­cal time when you could knock out a quick, cheap film to exploit a trend and prompt­ly get it into the­aters to com­pete with main­stream films. Charles Band was one of the last guys to make a career out of doing this, pump­ing up Empire Pictures before the the­atri­cal bub­ble burst and then tran­si­tion­ing into the home video realm with Full Moon Pictures. He pulled this off by mak­ing lots of films at high speed that jumped on fads while they were hot for the Dun-Elim-blugen­re audi­ence — and The Dungeonmaster is an illus­tra­tive exam­ple of the Band film fac­to­ry in action.

The Dungeonmaster has a Tron-like premise that involves com­put­er-besot­ted tech­ni­cian Paul (Jeffrey Byron) and his lud­dite fiancé Gwen (Leslie Wing) get­ting pulled into a strange dream/fantasy realm by Mestema (Richard Moll), a wiz­ard who longs for a suit­able chal­lenger to fight with. Mestema impris­ons Gwen and chal­lenges Paul to a series of chal­lenges that force him to use his mind and his com­put­er skills to com­bat the wizard’s black mag­ic. Before the quest is over, Paul must com­bat every­thing from a heavy met­al band to zom­bies to a giant stone stat­ue to save his lady love.

The fin­ished film hinges on the gim­mick of its chal­lenges, which are all helmed by dif­fer­ent directors/FX peo­ple from the Empire Pictures sta­ble: John Buechler, David Allen and even Band him­self all try their hand at direct­ing the film’s chal­lenges. It’s real­ly more an FX reel than a proDunMas-01per movie, with a slen­der sto­ry­line that doesn’t hold up to scruti­ny (it’s nev­er real­ly explained exact­ly how the heroes end up in the fan­ta­sy world) and an “any­thing goes” approach to how it is plot­ted out. The results often feel like a ran­dom-shuf­fle assort­ment of sequences from var­i­ous ‘80s b-movies, with lit­tle in the way of sus­pense or emo­tion­al involve­ment to offer the audi­ence.

That said, The Dungeonmaster can be fun if you take it as a bar­rage of bud­get-priced spec­ta­cle. The vari­ety of chal­lenges give the film a fun x-fac­tor qual­i­ty, with the view­er nev­er being quite sure what is going to hap­pen next. There’s also a cer­tain camp qual­i­ty with the way it fetishizes sev­er­al then-“of the moment” trends like ear­ly per­son­al com­put­ers, ‘80s met­al and sword-and-sor­cery plots. There is a wide vari­ety of effects — opti­cals, make­up effects, even a bit of David Allen stop-motion ani­ma­tion — and they’re all pret­ty good for a quick­ie pro­duc­tion. Richard Moll, alias Bull from Night Court, hams it up in an agree­able way as the vil­lain and chil­dren of the ‘80s will enjoy see­ing W.A.S.P. doing a bit of Alice Cooper-style shock rock in the heavy met­al seg­ment.

DunMas-02In short, The Dungeonmaster is a fun arti­fact instead of a gen­re clas­sic — but arti­facts can be as fun as clas­sics in their own way.

Blu-Ray Notes: The Dungeonmaster was pre­vi­ous­ly released on DVD by Scream Factory in one of its 4-pack film sets but has just made its blu-ray debut from the same com­pa­ny on a two-fer disc that pairs it with Eliminators. The Dungeonmaster is pre­sent­ed in a longer cut under the alter­nate title of Ragewar, with the new footage being a pre-titles sequence that involves a bit of R-rat­ed nudi­ty. Image qual­i­ty is solid, with a nice uptick in col­or from stan­dard-def incar­na­tions. The 2.0 loss­less sound­track offers a qual­i­ty vin­tage sound mix.

A few extras were includ­ed. The first is a the­atri­cal trail­er that shows off the film’s array of effects to good effect. The oth­er is a new, 32-min­ute inter­view with Peter Manoogian, who helmed a seg­ment in The Dungeonmaster and also direct­ed Eliminators. He express­es admi­ra­tion for Band and his clev­er meth­ods of film financ­ing, which often involved shoot­ing a film before the full DunMas-03bud­get was secured. That’s how The Dungeonmaster came into being and Manoogian reveals how the film was reshaped as it was being made and why his seg­ment is one of the short­er ones.

An equal amount of time is devot­ed to Eliminators. Manoogian reveals the com­plex path that led to him direct­ing the film and also dis­cuss­es how they end­ed up shoot­ing in Spain, the chal­lenges of work­ing with an untest­ed and not always accom­mo­dat­ing Spanish crew and his fond­ness for the film’s cast. Overall, it’s a nice, detailed chat with a less often inter­viewed fig­ure from Empire Pictures his­to­ry and a great way for Empire fans to fill a gap in their knowl­edge of the studio’s his­to­ry.