Starring Jeffrey Byron, Richard Moll, Andrew Prine, Denise Crosby
Directed by Peter Manoogian (segments of The Dungeonmaster also directed by David Allen, Charles Band, Ted Nicolau, John Carl Buechler, Steven Ford, and Rosemarie Turko)
Distributed by Scream Factory
In regard to sheer ridiculousness, no decade can top the ‘80s. Filmmakers seemed to be able to get away with producing pictures that stretched the limits of absurdity, filling video store shelves with one horribly entertaining gem after the other. Leading the pack (arguably) was Empire Pictures, the independent genre house responsible for cult classics like Re-Animator (1985), Troll (1986), and From Beyond (1986). There were plenty of companies pumping out lo-fi horror & sci-fi pictures on the cheap at this time, but one thing Empire can’t be faulted for is employing wild imagination and talented artists to bring these films – which could have been absolutely unwatchable in the wrong hands – to life. Charles Band’s production studio only operated for a decade, but in that time he and a cadre of winning directors, actors and FX artists delivered a few dozen memorable B-movies… many of which Scream Factory has seen fit to give some love on home video.
The company set a tone right out of the gate with their first released picture, The Dungeonmaster (1984, aka Ragewar). An amalgamation of the popular Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game and Disney’s TRON (1982), the film was ambitious in that it was loosely done as an anthology, with a different director helming each of the “stories”. Our unlikely leading man, computer geek Paul (Jeffrey Byron), is a programming whiz who lives with his girlfriend, Gwen (Leslie Wing). In their home is X-CaliBR8, a computer Paul has programmed to be nearly sentient with which he is able to communicate. One night, unexpectedly, Paul and Gwen are both transported to a realm within the computer, lorded over by the nefarious Mestema (Richard Moll). It seems that in all his time Mestema has yet to come across a worthy opponent, but in Paul he sees potential. First, however, his appointed adversary must defeat a series of challenges armed only with a wrist-sized version of X-CaliBR8. With Gwen held captive and at Mestema’s mercy, Paul has no choice but to forge ahead and vanquish his digital enemies before facing down Mestema in the ultimate battle.
If you can’t love watching a thirty-something man wearing a puffy track suit and shooting lasers from a cheap-looking computer “weapon” on his wrist at enemies such as a massive stone god or Blackie Lawless from W.A.S.P. (!), then you have no soul. I reveled in the sheer insanity unfolding on screen. Each of the scenarios in which Paul is inserted feels like it comes from a completely unique film. All of the directors deserve credit for making their segments stand out while also being sure they gelled with the overall story. Paul’s gauntlet includes a fight against frozen villains, a massive stone idol, the band W.A.S.P., a city slasher, and a final post-apocalyptic battle that was clearly influenced by The Road Warrior (1981). Paul, of course, breezes through all of them with relative ease. It isn’t his peril that drives interest in the film; it’s watching him jump from one unexpected challenge to the next.
Richard Moll is clearly having fun hamming it up as Mestema, who comes across as less a savage foe and more like more old, lonely longhaired Goth who is desperate to be intimidating. Maybe Mestema was bullied as a teen? He sure has a lot of fun with his new digital powers of villainy. Mestema pops up between each segment to deliver monologues intended to crush Paul’s spirit, and none of them are better than his childhood cat story. Let’s just say it didn’t end well for the cat. Gwen gets in on the action, too, popping up in Paul’s slasher segment as an actress auditioning for a big role and delivering one of the film’s most hilarious lines – “I got the part!” – after almost getting mutilated by a murderer. The Dungeonmaster is a wonderfully inventive flashback to a time when films didn’t need to be “grounded” or “gritty” and instead just took a crazy concept and ran wild. Each of the stories here is directed with style and a real sense of fun. I had such a blast watching this movie, and I suspect anyone who grew up in the ‘80s will feel the same.
Note: this is the unrated version of the film, which contains additional (and quite welcomed) nudity. Enjoy.
That sense of elation isn’t likely to pass after moving on to Eliminators (1986). How could anyone not be sold on this premise? A mandroid (exactly what you think it is), betrayed and attacked by his villainous creator, teams up with a female scientist, a mercenary, and a ninja to get revenge on his evil old master before he can travel back in time to become to ruler of ancient Rome. This is one of those outrageously ridiculous plots that teenagers come up with after a night of getting stoned and thinking up crazy/awesome film ideas. And, yet, despite being so ludicrous it (mostly) works.
Aging scientist Dr. Reeves (Roy Dotrice) has created the perfect weapon with Mandroid (Patrick Reynolds), a half man/half robot that can change out his legs for set of tank tracks. Reeves orders his creation killed after a mission, but Mandroid breaks free and escapes thanks to the help of Dr. Takada (Tad Horino), who is killed during the breakout. Before he dies, Takada tells Mandroid to find Col. Nora Hunter (Denise Crosby), a scientist who may be able to help him stop Reeves. Mandroid and Hunter meet up and hatch a plan to storm Reeves’ hideout, which involves a deadly boat ride up river that only Harry Fontana (Andrew Prine, totally killing it) agrees to captain. On their lengthy journey (seriously, the boat trip takes up the entire second act) they also hook up with Kuji (Conan Lee), the ninja son of Dr. Takada. Together, the four of them take it to Reeves and harness all of their abilities to prevent him from becoming a time-travel overlord.
Other than the overly long boat ride, which isn’t terrible thanks to an abundance of action (the group clearly chose the world’s most treacherous river), this is a whiz-bang movie that breezes by and (coincidentally) will cause some viewers to feel as though they’ve traveled back to a time when a movie’s only requirement was that it made you and your friends marvel at one absurd scene after the next. I pity the viewer who can’t be positively giddy watching a damaged Mandroid fighting his elderly, breastplate-wearing equal in an attempt to stop him from conquering ancient Rome. If that isn’t enough, the film also has Andrew Prine’s scheming, sly merc, Denise Crosby’s gorgeous looks and a friggin’ ninja. Eliminators knows exactly what kind of film it is and fully embraces its weirdness.
And the final scream from Reeves is one for the ages.
I hope Scream Factory has plans to release every single Empire Pictures film. So far they’ve made a sizeable dent in the catalog; here’s to hoping they finish off the job. This is yet another totally killer double feature of two films that are so emblematic of what the ‘80s had to offer that they belong on the shelf of anyone who appreciates that era of filmmaking.
The visual similarities between both films are so close that these comments can apply to either one. The Dungeonmaster is framed at 1.85:1, while Eliminators is slightly more open at 1.78:1 (and featuring a new HD transfer), with both featuring 1080p pictures. Despite the low-budget nature of these productions, each looks quite good in high definition. Colors are nicely saturated. Daylight scenes offer up the best look at fine details, and the prints used for these transfers appear to have been kept in great shape. There are only minor instances of dirt & debris on screen. This may not be a massive improvement over what DVD can offer, but there are definitely moments where it’s clear the films have benefitted from HD.
Both films feature an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track – mono for The Dungeonmaster, stereo for Eliminators – and both get the job done without issues. The patently ‘80s electro score for Dungeonmaster rules, and the greatest strength of Eliminators is the frequent action (even if it isn’t exactly weighty). Dialogue is clear and well-balanced on both films. Subtitles are available in English.
“Interview with Director Peter Manoogian” – Typical of Scream Factory interviews, this covers not only the two films in question but also Manoogian’s career beginnings, collaborators, aspirations and so forth.
A theatrical trailer for The Dungeonmaster is also included.
- NEW Interview with director Peter Manoogian
- NEW High Definition Transfer (Eliminators)
- Theatrical Trailer (The Dungeonmaster)