Bad Movies Beware!
Time for another indie!
I was at Congregate this past July and spent the entire time speaking on panels when I wasn’t at the table selling books. One of the panels I sat on covered independent film, and I got the pleasure of meeting JR Ralls, who happened to have copies of a film that he wrote and produced called Dark Dungeons. I’d never heard of it, but it sparked my interest simply by his description: “It goes off the premise that the religious hysteria of the 80s concerning RPGs was real. Gateway to Satan and people dabbling in magic.”
Sign me up!!
I grabbed a copy of the DVD and spent the next day at home giving it a look. By the way, craft beer goes well with this movie.
Hell, craft beer goes well with EVERYTHING.
The film opens with a dark castle and several robed figures standing in a room filled with candles, creepy statues, and computer monitors. They discuss everything they’re doing to help bring the Dark Lord back to our realm: tarot cards, homosexuality, politics, and so on. One declares that they need a final sacrifice to bring the Dark Lord back fully and mentions RPGs.
Cut to a college campus where we meet Debbie in her cute little pig-tails, and Marcie, Debbie’s bespectacled childhood friend. They attend the college in hopes of evangelizing to as many people as possible while they keep up with their studies. They also attend a freshman orientation class where a boy named Mike talks to them about joining the Christian organization at the school. They watch a video that REEKS of the fifties and ends with a thunderous warning to stay out of the steam tunnels.
Afterwards, they encounter the campus “Bad Kids.” Mike warns them that the crowd, the RPGers (is that even a word), is bad news and warns Debbie and Marcie to steer clear of them.
Debbie and Marcie decide to go to the RPG frat house and proselytize to them, and they get swept up into drinking and partying the second they walk in the door. The party quickly changes into a massive RPG session headed up by Mistress Frost.
Debbie is reluctant, but Marcie dives in and creates her character, the thief Black Leaf. Debbie goes with it and creates her cleric character, Elfstar. They end up winning the evening and go back to their dorm room deciding that RPGs aren’t so bad, and maybe just one more game won’t hurt.
You know, because they can quit anytime.
Before long, Marcie and Debbie are flunking out of college, and Debbie starts getting proficient with magic. Okay, gonna cut it right there. This movie is only about forty minutes long, and I’ve got you roughly fifteen minutes in.
VERDICT: Deserves every bit of a look!
I’m gonna do some real talk here, people: this movie was a LOT of fun!
Let’s break it down.
Dark Dungeons is actually a film adaptation of the Chick Tract of the same name. Chick Tracts are a series of short evangelical stories that preach fundamentalist Christian values in comic format. The tracts discussed the evils of the Catholic Church, role-playing games and popular stories, music and film that the evangelicals believe create a doorway to Hell for unsuspecting Christians who fall to the temptation of sin.
You know: fun, happy readings.
Dark Dungeons shows that playing RPGs actually will lead to people dabbling in magic and witchcraft, and eventually lead to the rise of the Dark Lord (in this case, it’s Cthulhu). The film comes off as satirical, showing the absurdity of the idea that RPGs can actually grant people magical powers and so on.
What plays it up is the performance by the actors. The script is written in the language makeup of the tract, so it tends to be a bit far out. Let’s be frank: no one talks like that. So, because of the writing, the acting seems forced and overblown, which gives it a goofy feel at times. Add in the small nods, gestures, and ad-libs from the actors, and it adds to the satirical feel of it all. Marcie, for example, has a bit of a lesbian crush on Debbie. It’s incredibly subtle, and the actress does an excellent job at keeping it as an undertone and doesn’t play it up to the point of being groan-worthy. So, good job to Anastasia Higham on that one!
Tracy Hyland, the actress playing Mistress Frost, is the centerpiece here, really. Her facial expressions are overplayed perfectly, her eyes widening overdramatically when she talks about the game and her more sinister looks when it comes clear that she has it in for someone. She’s the perfect combination of overacting and devilry all rolled into one package. It’d be a shame to exclude her should there ever be a sequel or offshoot.
The camerawork is great. It has a bit of the documentary feel to it, almost like those “Life Lesson” videos they used to show us in school whenever the television cart got rolled into the classroom. The cinematography is all very close quarter, so don’t expect any wide shots. Then again, since most of the movie takes place in confined spaces, long-range shots would’ve been wasted camera time.
If I have any complaints, it’s minor stuff. The CGI looks like something you’d have seen while playing a PSOne game, and the monster towards the end is very much on the cheap. But, when doing these movies, money is always an issue. Every shot costs money, so there are times where you work with what you’ve got and roll with it to make it look the best you can. Trying to be bigger than it really is tends to be the nail in the coffin for indie films along with bad writing, which isn’t the case with Dark Dungeons. The writing is great, and doesn’t force the story unnaturally in directions where it shouldn’t go. I can’t, however, ding it on being too short. It’s one of the few films that’s as long as it needs to be, and uses its time wisely.
All-in-all, I’m gonna go ahead and give Dark Dungeons two Piles of S**t. Despite small things here and there, it’s certainly worth the watch. Set aside forty minutes, crack open a cold one, and give it a look. Even better if you’ve got friends over. It’s not so long that people would lose interest and not so short that it doesn’t convey the story effectively. If you want a copy, hit the link below!