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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House (1986)

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There are certain things that only really happen in the movies, and although we’ve been fooled by their regular appearance into thinking they’re just normal, thinking about certain things for more than a few seconds will have you scratching your head. House’s entry into that category is the thing where a guy thinks a woman is talking about going on a date with him, but actually wants him to babysit her kid, and keeps interrupting him when he says “I really don’t want to”; the man being a virtual stranger to the woman is just the icing on the cake.

 

But that’s a small scene in what is one of the 80s great horror comedies. Fronted by people better known for TV comedy (William Katt from “Greatest American Hero”, and George Wendt from “Cheers”, with a supporting turn by Richard Moll from “Night Court”), this is the story of Roger Cobb (Katt). He’s a Stephen King-like author who moves back into his Aunt’s house after she apparently commits suicide, so he can have some peace and quiet to get his head straight and finish his latest book, a personal memoir about Vietnam. But, he’s plagued by memories of the disappearance of his son, and of the war, plus the house appears to be really haunted.

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The film this reminded me of the most was “Evil Dead 2”, which came out the year after this. I’m not saying there’s any borrowing, it’s more a compliment about the quality of “House”. As he appears to slowly lose his mind, Harold (Wendt), his neighbour gets drawn in and it’s the both of them seeing the same things which helps him realise he’s not crazy, and he tries to keep an air of calmness as he’s plagued with visions of his son and the death of his best friend in the jungle (which adds a very strange air to certain sections). Portals to “somewhere” open, and while huge Cthulhu-esque monsters try and force their way through, Roger realises he can go the other way, and a faint childlike scream spurs him on…

 

The comedy in this film doesn’t really come from the things people say, it’s all from action. Katt is dragged and thrown by all manner of evil entities, and has to cover for what he realises looks a lot like mental illness when the police, his estranged wife and the neighbours come to visit. Like an evil Calvin & Hobbes, we’re never quite sure if what we’re seeing is real or a figment of Roger’s grief, and his reaction to things like a dog digging up a demon’s hand that he buried in his back garden is pretty damn funny. When animated tools pursue him through the house, and respond to him closing a door on them by politely knocking, I was in stitches.

 

Also worth mentioning  (apart from the amazing deep v-neck that Roger sports at the beginning of the film) is the definitive ending. No messing about, no “did the monster survive?”, none of it. Well done, “House”! Also of interest is the way this film series is designed like “Halloween 3” was, to be deliberately unquels, so we’ve got three different stories to come. Well done again, “House”!

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Director Steve Miner is already a friend of the ISCFC, directing the best of the Halloween sequels (H20) and we’ll be meeting him again soon when we go through the Friday the 13th movies (he did parts 2 and 3). He did a great job with “House”, filling it with memorable characters, really decent special effects and the sort of horror-comedy that very few people seem to be able to manage.

 

Rating: thumbs up