Ragewar (aka Dungeonmaster) (1985)

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If you’ve ever seen the TV show “Mythbusters” you’ll remember the bit from the opening credits where co-host Adam Savage says “I reject your reality and substitute my own!” It may come as a surprise that he lifted that line from this movie, a rather obscure early effort from Full Moon Pictures (when they were still known as Empire); and the sad thing is that that bit of trivia is one of the more interesting things about “Ragewar”.

 

Actually, maybe the most interesting thing is the way that 2015’s biggest tech billionaires watched this movie for inspiration too. The star of this movie is Jeffrey Byron, playing computer programmer Paul Bradford – as we see him navigate a typical day in the life, he uses things which seem extremely similar to Google, Google Glass, the iWatch and Siri. I love the idea of Steve Jobs watching this movie and going “ah, that’s what I’ll do!” This is the X-CaliBR8 system, basically sentient, and he’s got a neural interface to communicate with it. Nice!

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Paul’s girlfriend Gwen (Leslie Wing) is a little dismayed at the link he has with his computer, but she accepts his offer of marriage and things seem to be going pretty well until they’re both, for absolutely no reason, beamed out of their apartment by evil wizard Mestema (Richard Moll, just before “Night Court” would make him a star). He’s the Devil, pretty much (according to Paul’s computer) and is so bored with his Satanic existence that every now and again he’ll take one of Earth’s champions and challenge them to a duel, and because Paul has invented X-CaliBR8, which is super-good, he’s decided that Paul is the guy. Armed only with his basically magic Siri-powered armband, will he be able to beat Mestema’s seven challenges and rescue his fiancé?

 

The body of the movie, the seven challenges, are actually different segments directed by seven different people – Dave Allen, Charles Band himself, John Carl Buechler, Steven Ford, Peter Manoogian, Ted Nicolaou, and Rosemarie Turk. One would think, in a 77-minute movie (actually 72, sans credits), that this would lead to an absolute crash-bang-wallop action-fest, with the foot never leaving the accelerator for one second. But this is Charles Band we’re talking about! He’s never met an idea he couldn’t stretch out to twice its optimal length, and everything just ends up being slow and sort of dull. Best guess – he had a ton of sets left over from the other movies he was involved with and just got his friends and Empire employees to direct tiny segments to pad out his episode-of-a-TV-show-length idea. There’s a serial killer segment, a “Cave Beast” segment, a zombie segment, and oddest of all, a W.A.S.P. segment.  Yes, the thoroughly awful 80s hair metal band put in an appearance, basically an excuse to fill three minutes of the movie with one of their songs.

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Because it bears repeating as often as possible, a movie this short shouldn’t have to resort to filler like that, even though it’s a criticism that can be levelled at so many of Empire / Full Moon’s movies. It feels half-finished, like the movie was made as a money-saving venture but even re-using old sets and in-house directors, they still managed to run out of money or time. If you watched it first when you were a kid, or really like old-school special effects, then you might find something to enjoy here as they throw everything at the screen and it’s a ton of colour. Maybe?

 

Aside from the above, it does have another problem. The segments are so short, and so lacking in suspense (there’s no way he’s going to fail challenge 3, for example, he’s making it all the way to the end) that it all feels insubstantial – plus, I think it looks ugly as heck, but it’s a sentiment not shared by many Full Moon fans. Anyway, there’s no development through the stories, no sense that Paul is getting better at taking on the challenges or that Mestema is getting increasingly frustrated with Paul’s success. If they’d just had three or four challenges, or turned a couple of the segments into tiny sketches – for instance, showing him fighting a room full of zombies for just ten seconds or so – it could have felt a lot more interesting. I wanted some development from the challenges, is all.

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Add on a really awful score from Charles’ brother Richard, who’s (dis)graced many a Full Moon movie’s soundtrack, a sort of limp non-ending, and you’ve got yourself a classic Charles Band movie. You might have heard of a movie made right at the end of Empire’s relationship with Paramount, called “Pulse Pounders”, which is an anthology movie featuring short sequels to their other properties – there’s a “Trancers” segment, an original HP Lovecraft adaptation, and a sequel to this. This movie really really doesn’t need a sequel…well, it didn’t need a first movie either, I suppose.

 

Oh, just to cement this movie’s bona fides as money-grabbing garbage, you may have noticed it got an alternate title (again, not uncommon for Full Moon / Empire). Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was at the peak of its popularity at the time, so Band and co just gave it a new name for its cinema run (such as it was). But they were forced to include a “this movie has nothing to do with TSR” (the creators of AD&D) disclaimer, which both makes me laugh at the pathetic nature of it all and compare it to those dirtbags at the Asylum.

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Rating: thumbs down

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