Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Movie Review: Dark Dungeons

What are the general guidelines for disclosure when you're about to review something you backed on Kickstarter? I doubt anyone really cares, but consider that information disclosed.

I suspect a lot of people at this blog are already familiar with Jack Chick's comic tract, Dark Dungeons. Like Reefer Madness, it's a cautionary work that gained cult status among the group it was created to oppose. Dark Dungeons warns readers against the Satanic, seductive lure of Dungeons & Dragons, urging its readers to call on Jesus for salvation. To say its portrait of the game and subculture are misleading is an understatement of Biblical proportions.

If you'd like more context, there's no better source than the short comic itself, which you can read here.

The comic is somewhat legendary in gaming circles, the source of numerous in-jokes and references. Back in college, I used to run a D&D tournament called Deathfest. One year, as characters died, I apologized to the players and handed them a copy of the tract. I think I've still got a bunch of extras around somewhere.

It's not at all surprising that someone had the idea of doing a live-action version. What is surprising is that he was able to receive permission from Chick to make it an official adaptation.

The movie's producer, writer, and promoter is JR Ralls, who has insisted all along that the movie is a serious adaptation, not a parody. I've had a great time reading some comment threads over the past few months from gaming enthusiasts who took that at face value without watching the original Kickstarter video. He made a similar pledge there, but between his tone and the readings of lines from the tract, it was pretty clear his appreciation of the tract was, at the absolute least, multifaceted.

I find it difficult to imagine anyone with a D&D background not appreciating the finished project. As promised, it's a faithful adaptation of Chick's work, albeit one with a bit more comedy than Jack might have wanted. The tone is certainly comedic, regardless what the producers claim. But make no mistake - it's a great comedy.

The actors, all of them fantastic, deliver the lines with a mixture of sincerity and camp. The characters are either astonishingly true to the original comic or re-imagined in ways that added layers of humor to the premise. Ms. Frost is particularly impressive: the comic's least grounded character is brought to life completely. The other two leads, Debbie and Marcie, were likewise fantastic. I also found Nitro, a new character, a lot of fun. I could easily keep going - the cast was universally great.

The quality of the movie was also impressive, particularly given the movie's budget. The effects were silly and clearly inexpensive, but - like most great low-budget productions - they managed to turn this from a weakness to a strength by utilizing them to their fullest.

I also want to mention the movie's brilliant closing song, performed by "Of the Book." I'd be shocked if it doesn't become a favorite of gamers along with the movie.

The movie is available as a digital download or on DVD here. It's pretty much guaranteed to become an RPG classic.

1 comment:

JR Ralls said...

As far as I can tell, this is the first posted review of Dark Dungeons the movie. Thanks!