Scream Factory pairs two neglected Empire Pictures entries for their latest double feature Blu-ray with THE DUNGEONMASTER and ELIMINATORS.
Paul Bradford (Jeffrey Byron, METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED-SYN) is a computer wiz who has been able to "link in" to his intelligent computer Cal and control virtually every aspect of his life; that is, with the exception of his relationship with dancer Gwen (Leslie Wing, RETRIBUTION) who is jealous of his relationship with his computer. His vivid dreams of Gwen in peril become a sudden reality when the couple are beamed to the outer dimensional netherworld of THE DUNGEONMASTER's Mastema (Richard Moll, EVILSPEAK) who holds Gwen hostage and challenges Paul and his "magical machines" – dubbing him "Excalibrate" after Cal's full name X-Cal-BR8 – to a series of seven challenges for their freedom. Each challenge is a sequence directed by a different filmmaker in Empire Pictures' producer Charles Band's effort to piece the production together as funds became available. In "Ice Gallery" from Rosemarie Turko (SCARRED), Paul and Gwen find themselves among a museum of Mastema's literally frozen former competitors, including Jack the Ripper (Cleve Hall, effects artist on Scavolini's NIGHTMARE), Einstein, and the Wolf Man (PUPPET MASTER scribe Kenneth J. Hall) who prove dangerous when Mastema turns the heat up. Paul battles zombies whose souls have been collected by underworld caretaker Ratspit, an amusing puppet creation by John Carl Buechler in his own segment "Demons of the Dead" while Band helms "Heavy Metal" in which Gwen is menaced on stage by heavy metal rockers W.A.S.P. (performing "Tormentor"). Paul nearly gets squashed when battling an Indonesian giant in stop-motion artist David Allen's "Stone Canyon Giant" (which features TROLL's Phil Fandacaro and his brother Sal as a pair of dwarf natives). Byron penned "Slasher" by fellow actor Steven Ford (THE RAGE: CARRIE 2) in which Paul must prevent Gwen from becoming the victim of a serial killer even though the police have arrested him as the prime suspect. Paul is then drawn into a forbidding cave by Gwen's voice and encounters the "Cave Beast" in the directorial debut of assistant director Peter Manoogian (THE SLAYER). Paul and Gwen encounter MAD MAX-esque bandits (including Felix Cilla, THE ADDAMS FAMILY's Cousin Itt) in "Desert Bandit" helmed by editor/future SUBSPECIES creator/director Ted Nicolaou before Paul finally challenges Mastema mano y mano.
Made to cash in the popularity of the role-playing board game "Dungeons and Dragons" (and possibly the popularity of Disney's TRON), THE DUNGEONMASTER is entertaining at best and painless at its worst. Byron and Wing are likable protagonists and Moll makes for a wonderfully theatrical villain, amusing at first but downright disturbing with his monologue about his childhood treatment of a cat (quite a contrast to NIGHT COURT towering but sensitive bailiff Bull). Even if the episodes are not consistent in quality, cinematographer Mac Ahlberg (HELL NIGHT) lens them some visual consistency while Richard Band (THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW) and Shirley Walker (GHOULIES) give the film an epic sound with the help of The National Philharmonic Orchestra. Besides the usual effects work of Buechler and Allen, the animated dragons summoned by both Mastema and Paul were created by Disney's photographic effects unit with additional opticals by Van der Veer Photo Effects (a company that started out on STAR TREK and THE OUTER LIMITS). A sequel was planned but left unfinished with the demise of Empire Pictures, although it became a segment of PULSE POUNDERS which included a short TRANCERS sequel and the Lovecraft adaptation THE EVIL CLERGYMAN. The anthology was shelved but the latter two shorts have played separately and the DUNGEONMASTER one is planned to premiere on Full Moon's streaming service.
In ELIMINATORS, wealthy recluse Abbott Reeves (Roy Dotrice, AMADEUS) – who has been sustaining his existence with grafts, transplants, and transfusions – has finally perfected time travel by using his matter transfer device to transport his half-human, half-robot "mandroid" (Patrick Reynolds) to and back from Ancient Rome. When he orders colleague Dr. Takada (Tad Horino, GALAXINA) to dispose of the mandroid, the doctor feels compassion for its human side – a pilot critically wounded in a crash down river of Reeves' Mexican jungle compound – and effects the mandroid's escape (dying in the process). His circuitry damaged in the escape, the mandroid seeks out Takada's colleague Colonel Nora Hunter (Denise Crosby, PET SEMATARY) who recognizes his components as her own design for a space service droid. Angered that the supposedly dead Reeves has bastardized her own work, Nora repairs the mandroid – who she christens "John" – and insists on accompanying him back to Mexico on his mission to avenge Takada by killing Reeves. Nora's hiring of guide Harry Fontana (Andrew Prine, SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES) to help them find John's crash site – with the help of Nora's robotic scout SPOT – as a starting point on the trail of Reeves' compound brings trouble down on them in the form of Harry's rivals lead by Bayou Betty (Peggy Mannix, THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS). Even more dangerous are Reeves' hired hands Ray (Peter Schrum, TRANCERS) and Luis (Fausto Bara) whose lives are on the line after having failed to kill the mandroid during his escape. When John and SPOT are separated from Nora and Harry, the latter are captured by Neanderthal-like locals while John runs into Kuji (Conan Lee, GYMKATA) who is out to avenge his father Takada's death as well.
Far more entertaining than Band's later reworking of the concept for the Full Moon production MANDROID (lensed in Romania by Jack Ersgard who had previously helmed one of the few Swedish commercial films THE VISITORS before heading west for more mainstream work), ELIMINATORS boasts an entertaining script, personable performances (particularly Prine and Crosby), and some good effects for the budget (courtesy of Band regulars Buechler and Allen, along with artists from the higher end effects company Fantasy II Film Effects). In his only lead role, Reynolds (grandson of R.J. Reynolds and a smoke-free advocate) makes for a tragic and pitiable character even though he looks ridiculous in his mobile unit or hiding his android body beneath a hat and pancho. Under an equal amount of effects appliances, Dotrice is an effective if underused villain as the good guys spend more time shooting guns and lasers at various Spanish stuntmen and extras. Bob Summers (THE BOOGENS) is a reasonable substitute for Richard Band, contributing a lively score, while cinematographer Ahlberg gives the film some respectable gloss.
Released theatrically by Band's Empire Pictures and on tape by Lightning Video in a PG-13 edit, THE DUNGEONMASTER appeared in other territories as RAGEWAR (as seen here) in a more explicit cut that included some full-frontal nudity from VICIOUS LIPS' Gina Calabrese. This cut first appeared stateside on cable courtesy of MGM before Scream Factory released it in a two-disc, four film set with CONTAMINATION .7, CATACOMBS, and CELLAR DWELLER (the latter two upgraded to Blu-ray in a double feature earlier this year). The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen Blu-ray encode looks good for the most part after the filtered opening sequence, although almost all of the visual effects seem to have been composited on an optical printer in need of cleaning. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track gives added presence to the National Philharmonic Orchestra-performed score and the many laser sound effects. THE ELIMINATORS' 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 transfer has not been cleaned up with cue marks and some minor grit during the reel changes and a lot more during the optical effects. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track
The disc's two extras appear on THE DUNGEONMASTER side starting with an interview with Manoogian (32:30) in which he spends the first half discussing his beginnings with Roger Corman's New World Pictures (HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, GALAXY OF TERROR) before taking an assistant director role on Band's 3D revival film PARASITE as an opportunity to learn how films are made (Band preselling the film to Avco Embassy presumably lead to Manoogian's second unit stint on THE HOWLING). He recalls THE DUNGEONMASTER as his first opportunity to direct, and realizes that his concept did not really fit in with the others (and was further shortened and deemphasized in editing). After that, he turns to ELIMINATORS which originated as part of a two picture deal with J. Larry Carroll offering to line produce a film of his if Manoogian did so on his Empire Picture GHOST WARRIOR. Although Carroll did not hold up his end, Band recalled that he owed Manoogian a picture and gave him the mandroid concept which he had presold with advertising artwork (a common practice for Band who poster artwork designs preceded the story ideas). Although Manoogian wanted to write it and banged out a concept, Band had already given the job to Danny Bilson (ZONE TROOPERS) and Paul Di Meo (TRANCERS) and left it to his father Albert Band (ZOLTAN, HOUND OF DRACULA) to tell Manoogian they had no interest in his script without reading it. Of the production, he recalls how it was originally set in the Florida Everglades but Band pulled out of the original deal because he felt like his partner would own too much of the picture and instead turned to a production partner in Spain, presumably HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB director Carlos Aured who had retired from directing in the mid-eighties and produced the Italian co-production MONSTER DOG and the American production THE FALLING/ALIEN PREDATOR (the experience on that turned him off to producing after he was stuck with the costs when the production went over-budget). He recalls that the production crew was not accustomed to working on sync-sound films, and that Ahlberg was largely responsible for keeping the production on track (even though the Super Speed lenses he had imported to shoot the night scenes were stolen by another production). The included theatrical trailer (1:57) sports THE DUNGEONMASTER title. (Eric Cotenas)
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