Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ragewar (1984)

aka The Dungeon Master

80s science geek (that means he wears glasses, but with a HUD) Paul (Jeffrey Byron) has invented what seems to be some sort of super computer - talks, understands, knows all - that just happens to look like a home computer circa 1984. Paul's love life isn't quite as great. While he's in a relationship with dancer Gwen (Leslie Wing), his attempt at proposing marriage only results in a "you love your computer more than me" lecture.

Because nobody actually cares about this stuff, a demon/black magician/Satan calling himself Mesteema (Richard Moll) teleports the couple into a low-visibility set with lots of open flames and foamy rocks, chains Gwen to one the latter and challenges Paul - or as Mesteema prefers to call him "Excalibrate" (not to be confused with "Exacerbate", "Excruciate" or "Exterminate") - to some fun and games. Otherwise, Messy'll do unspeakable things to Gwen, and seeing as part of his hobby throughout the film is to put her in one ridiculous outfit after the next, these things won't be pleasant.

With that starts a series of random vignettes - broken up with some ridiculous discussions between Paul and Messy - in which Paul is harassed by little people, fights a giant stop motion Indonesian idol, duels various unfrozen criminals in Messy's ice museum, fights heavy metal band W.A.S.P. and does a bit of mad maxing in an episode where Gwen also suddenly turns from damsel in distress into post-apocalyptic ass kicker. At least Messy is a fair opponent and provides our hero with a) a particularly ridiculous outfit and b) a bracer of shooting lasers and talking to one's computer +10.

All of these vignettes are written and directed by a horde of different people from Charles Band's Empire stable (hooray for pre-doll-fixation Charles Band), and it really shows - there's no characterisation, and no plot throughline to speak off. The writers couldn't even be bothered to get on the same page about what Paul's computer can and can't do, except for the laser shooting part, but since this is a film where everything shoots lasers, from stop motion statues to the guitars of W.A.S.P., that might just be coincidence too.

So, obviously, if you're looking for coherence, even the lightest characterisation or character development, suspense, thematic resonance or a script that does anything more than throw out random nonsense, this is not the film for you.

If, on the other hand, you want to see one of the most 80s of movies ever made in the 80s or beyond that still finds time to steal most of its "ideas" (those that aren't directly ripped off from the genres of the day - sword and sorcery, post-apocalyptic action and metal panic horror) from old episodes of Star Trek and The Twilight Zone this is certainly the thing to see. There's horrifying fashion (making its bad guy some sort of demonic hobby fashion designer and even joking about it really pays off for the film), rubber mask zombies, rubber mask monsters, more cartoon laser beams than in a weird fu movie, that surprisingly awesome stop motion statue, a soundtrack that hits all the 80s film music spots from dumb semi-orchestral loudness in the credits to disco beats to synth funk to heavy metal, scenery chewing while being made up like a five year old's version of a bad magician by Richard Moll, sets so threadbare you want to give Band a dollar so he can double the budget, the list of beautiful things goes on and on. Plus, Paul says "I reject your reality and substitute my own".

While nothing of this is done particularly well (he said politely), I can't help but be delighted by the sheer mass of stuff that's in here, with no genre left behind, as if Band's merry band (sorry) were making a highlight reel from a TV show that never existed.

I'm also quite in awe of the childishness of the whole affair. The film feels exactly like the sort of thing my eight-year-old self could have made up to my own great satisfaction in '84, with nary a hint that the people who made this were actual grown-ups who should have known better. Of course, if Band had known better, he never would have built his own private cheapass movie empire out of cardboard, imagination, the blood of many a doll, and people with more talent and enthusiasm than sanity, leaving us without a whole lot of unwatchable crap about killer dolls, but also without some really great movies, and others - like Ragewar - that are not great in a way that I can't help but love.


No comments: