The Dungeonmaster / Ragewar / Digital Knights (1984)


The UK version of Ragewar (The Dungeonmaster in the US) from 1984 starts with a dream. It is a strange sort of dream because it has little to do with the rest of the film except possibly foreshadowing the abduction of Gwen. That, and the curious ability of Paul Bradford (Jeffrey Byron), the hero of this adventure, to wake up in different short films. Still, even in an anthology film with the most tenuous of ties to the overarching narrative, a foreshadowing dream sequence is strange.

In the dream, our hero is following a woman (Gina Cabalbrese) in a flowing red gown. They move in slow motion on and around and then into an abandoned military facility.

She is always just out of reach, and a good chunk of the opening is them moving in slowly and awkwardly first along the outside of the facility and then into the narrower, more claustrophobic hallways of the interior.

Then, once inside the facility and within the confines of the Unrated version of the movie, dream girl removes her clothing and climbs through a hole in the wall. He follows to find her laying on a mattress. The PG-13 version foregoes her losing the red dress and stranding in her naked, diffusion filtered red-gel glory. While she is nude in the PG-13 version of the film, she is shrouded in shadow with close-ups rather than body shots.

I bet Paul’s girlfriend Gwen wishes he were dreaming about sexy time on a mattress in an abandoned military facility with her instead of this girl.

Then some creatures open the security door nearby and drag her away from him. The monster closes the door.

Who is this woman? Why was he chasing her? Why was she running? Why did she get naked on a mattress next to a creepy watertight door? Why wasn’t she naked in the US? These questions will undoubtedly be answered since dreams usually foreshadow things to come. Right?

Paul wakes up next to his computer in his apartment. From here, the dream is forgotten as if it were only released in the UK, and with it the only foreshadowing that his girlfriend, Gwen (Leslie Wing) will be magicked away by an evil being later. Neither the dream girl nor the monster that took her make an appearance in the rest of the movie. 

Paul works as a computer technician, and is regarded as the best one at work. This is largely due to his Smart glasses, which are (somehow) linked up to his computer at home. The computer, CAL, provides him with information to help him do his job perfectly every time. 

Everyday he runs home, and on this day he passes this newsstand with Dec ’83/Jan 84 issues of computer magazines. Compute!, Compute Gazette, Nibble, Personal Software, Softtalk, inCider, oh my!

As he runs, he uses a button on his smart glasses to change traffic lights, because his computer has obviously hacked the city electronics grid. As with most things in these movies, don’t question it. Computers are magic, which is kind of the point of everything that happens shortly.

At a dance studio, Paul’s girlfriend Gwen is doing dance aerobics. It is obvious she is not naked dream girl lying on a mattress in a military facility. As someone who lived through the lycra decade, dancercise was all the rage back in the day. Every 80s movie had to have an aerobics scene, and if it did not have one, it was blacklisted by the Richard Simmons fitness gestapo.

He sees a flower girl (Alanna Roth), but does not have any cash on him. He goes to an ATM and pushes the button on his glasses. CAL withdraws $20 for him, and he buys the flowers. He continues his run home where he plops down at the table as CAL lets him know his account is overdrawn. At least we know he isn’t abusing his tech superpowers with CAL. We also get the establishing shot of why CAL is called CAL.

And then there is a shot of Paul’s workstation area, which is a trip back to 1983/4 when the movie was filmed. From the home computer kit to the Defender poster on the wall, this is a great apartment.

Gwen comes through the door with groceries because she knows he never has anything in the fridge. She tells him he owes her $26, though. He gives her the flowers and a kiss.

He mentions CAL and Gwen gets sullen. She doesn’t like competing with a computer for his affections. He makes dinner and they hang out on the couch, sipping wine. She tells him it was a nice meal and he tells her CAL found a recipe in Better Homes & Gardens. And boom, she’s not happy again because of the computer. Trying to save the previous mood, he gives her a ring and asks her to marry him. She is reluctant because she will always be secondary to CAL. To calm her down, he has CAL run some stats on marriage, because that’s exactly what a woman who already hates the computer wants in an argument.

She stomps off to bed and he follows. Later that night, as they sleep, Flames appear in Paul’s glasses. And suddenly he is in a dream again. Yes, another one, but this time Gwen is there, too. A sexy Gwen cavorting under a Blue Lagoon waterfall. 

He awakes in a forest dressed in strange garb. He wanders through the forest and finds Gwen swimming around under a waterfall.

She seems to be having a good time. If she had gone all Tanya Roberts bathing in Beastmaster here, this would have been even higher on my list of movies I loved as a kid but probably shouldn’t have been watching. Still, two thumbs up from young me. Leslie Wing is a hottie. Hell, two thumbs up from now-me.

Suddenly, he cannot get to her. There is an invisible wall and the harder he hits it, the less effect he has. In fact, his skin starts bubbling as he hits it. She continues to swim, not even knowing his flesh is melting off of his body.

Paul wakes from his dream, his nose bleeding for some reason. I would assume it is because the dream was kind of real what with the flames in his glasses earlier, but if that were the case, why isn’t his flash all melty? He was not bleeding in the dream, just melting. This is much more confusing than it was when I was a kid.

Gwen is not in bed with him. He goes into the living room to see if she is there, but there is only a smoke machine. He is suddenly whisked away to another world as happens in anthology films with smoke machines.

The ground is cracked, and Gwen is chained to a rock above him. Then, a dark figure appears. The figure identifies himself as Mestema. He zaps Gwen with magic from his finger and her clothes change from the t-shirt and panties she wore to bed to a toga-like wrap. He then zaps Paul as well, changing him into the sci-fi outfit from his previous dreams. But he also has a Power Glove-like gauntlet now, and that gauntlet is plugged into CAL, or X-CALBR8. You know, like Excalibur from 1981 with Nigel Terry, Helen Mirren, Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson, and Patrick Stewart, but with a lower budget and Bull from Night Court.

Mestema believes Paul is a worthy adversary because of his “magical machines.” There are seven challenges, and Paul can use CAL to help him figure them out. At this point, CAL looks pretty cool. Later the illusion is shattered and it looks like a pretty cheap armband. But here it looks sweet. This was the kind of thing my young mind needed in 1984: a computer on your arm that would do your bidding.

Paul and Gwen protest and Mestema decides to send them off to the first challenge. When this was released and I was watching it on cable, I had no idea it was an anthology film with each of the challenges being a short film. The first challenge was written and directed by Rosemari Turko, and was called “Ice Gallery.”

Paul crawls through an icy cave, calling for Gwen. She is there, but he cannot see her. He is determined to find her, though. In their separate areas of the cave, there are a variety of historical statues frozen in time. Most are murderers and rather horrible people. Albert Einstein holds an icy crystal and seems out of place among the other statuary.

As they look for each other and check out the statues, Gwen starts to freeze into place, becoming one of the statues. Then Mestema’s voice booms through the chamber, saying he will “warm it up.” The gel in the lights switch from steel blue to a burning red. Then the frozen figures start to wake up and attack our intrepid heroes. Paul electrocutes Genghis Khan by blocking his katana with the CAL gauntlet quite by accident. Paul has not yet discovered his one-trick-pony laser function.

They find each other as the historic villains attack very, very slowly and only slightly threateningly. Einstein is the only one who hasn’t unfrozen, it seems. They run behind him, and Paul yells about the ice crystal Einstein is holding. He picks it up and throws it at the enemies.

There is a flash of light and Paul and Gwen return to Mestema’s hellscape. He is impressed that Paul succeeded at such a difficult challenge. I was impressed that without any context clues, Paul thought to throw the ice crystal to somehow break the spell. It seemed like the ice crystal was keeping things frozen, but no, that was Mesterma since he had warmed the simulation up. The crystal was in charge of the entire thing it seems. Boom. I guess they…win?

Mestema taunts Paul a little bit, but when pressed about Gwen’s whereabouts, he tires of Paul’s questions and sends him to the second challenge: “Demons of the Dead,” written and directed by John Carl Buechler.

As has become characteristic for Paul thus far, he wakes up in a new area. Whether dreaming or being whisked around by Mestema, Paul cannot seem to stop falling asleep and waking up in weird places.

As soon as he wakes up, two zombies appear. He grabs a sword and cuts off one of the zombie’s head. He then cuts the arm off of the other one with a satisfying cartoon blast as his sword rends the limb from the body.

But the zombies are not dead, just limb/headless. They are still coming. Paul runs into another section of the cave and sees a creepy little goblin sitting on a throne. It introduces itself as Ratspit, lord of the dead.

It summons more zombies to attack Paul, and he uses CAL to shoot lasers at them. Still, they will not die since they are already dead.

Now in full puzzle-solving laser shooting mode, he shoots the jewel on the scepter Ratspit is holding. The zombies disappear. Ratspit commends him on solving the problem of the zombies, but warns that he cannot fix his own death. A zombie steps out of the shadows, and it is a dead and zombified Paul.

Ratspit tells him that this is his future as Mastema has prophesied. Paul looks the zombie over and crosses his arms. Ratspit watches, questioning why Paul is just standing around. Then zombie Paul disappears, and Ratspit cries out in frustration. How could Paul have won? Paul pontificates that it is just one of many possible futures, and not the one he chooses to believe in.

“I reject your reality and substitute my own!” Philosophy bros FTW.

Boom! He has won the challenge once again! He is transported back to the hellscape. Mesterma is hanging out up near Gwen and taunting Paul. He feels her up as she squirms away. Paul pushes some buttons on CAL and shoots a laser at Mestema, who backs off. He then summons a magical dragon in the air. Paul programs one on CAL and they begin to battle.

Mestema tires of this makes the dragons go away. Showing off more, music fills the area and Mestema brags that he composed it. Paul programs CAL and 80s synth-pop starts playing. Mestema does not like the music, and with the fury of a Gen-Xer screeching against cancel culture while writing scathing Facebook comments promoting the cancellation of Cuties from Netflix, Mestema zaps Paul off to his next challenge: “Heavy Metal,” written and directed by Charles Band.

Paul makes his way through the heavy metal crowd at a W.A.S.P. concert.

Blackie Lawless, the lead singer of W.A.S.P. opens the Tormentor box to reveal Gwen hanging inside as the band plays.

This has sexy Pyramid Head from Silent Hill vibes. Even today, I’m down with a sexy Pyramid Head.

Paul makes his way towards the stage, passing mildly threatening extras from the W.A.S.P. music video currently in progress.

He climbs up on stage to rescue Gwen, but Blackie Lawless, naughty heavy metaller that he is, smacks Paul with his magic guitar.

Paul falls to the floor and Blackie goes over to Gwen. He pulls out a machete and threatens her. Paul realizes Blackie is really Mestema in disguise.

CAL buzzes and Paul checks his gauntlet. It has a message to DISINTEGRATE with high frequency audio. Paul decides this sounds like a plan and points it at Blackie and Gwen. Luckily, Gwen is unaffected by disintegration noises, but Blackie’s guitar explodes and he disappears. 

Paul is transferred back to the barren plane of hell.

Angry, but excited to try out his laser, Paul shoots at Mestema, but a shield appears around him. He tells Paul that his powers protect him. Mestema waves him away to the next challenge: “Stone Giant Canyon” by David Allen.

Once again, Paul is passed out in a weird area. Some little people find him and pull off his gauntlet.

As he starts to wake up, they run off with the gauntlet, leaving him defenseless without CAL. He chases them through the rocky landscape and sees them up ahead. They have left the gauntlet on an altar under a large temple. On top of the temple is a large statue sitting on a throne. Surely nothing could go wrong, right? Particularly nothing that would require a laser to resolve. Right?

Paul runs up to the altar and puts on the gauntlet, excited to have it back so he can face whatever challenge appears. As he walks away, the stone giant comes to life, most likely upset that the offering from the little people of the land was stolen from the altar. Yes, this is my own very small, very niche Ragewar fanfic. The statue pursues him as he runs for the rocky outcroppings to avoid the energy blasts the statue fires from the stone in its head.

Ever the expert at finding the weak spot on a boss, Paul shoots a laser at the stone. He actually misses the first time because one of the little people has decided to drop stones on him from above. The second time, he shoots true, though. It explodes and he completes the challenge. Whoo-hoo! Another laser challenge!

Back in the hellscape, Mestema offers Paul gold to give up on the challenges. Paul does not accept and Gwen cheers for him. Then Mestema gets dirty and offers Paul three women, or “three for the price of one.”

Paul does not accept, much to Gwen’s amazement. He looked like he was thinking about it there, which makes sense since he was dreaming about some dream girl instead of Gwen at the beginning of the film. At this point, it seems Mestema wants Gwen more than he wants Paul. Mestema is angry at Paul for not taking the bribe so Gwen can co-star on Night Court with him, and sends him off to another challenge. I may have gotten that last part wrong. Anyway, here’s “Slasher,” which was written by Jeffrey Byron, the actor who plays Paul, and directed by Steven Ford. It is probably the most coherent short in the bunch, too.

On brand, Paul wakes up in a new place. This time it is an alleyway. He picks up a newspaper near him and sees the headline. A psychopath is on the loose and he apparently killed Gwen!

He sees a body under some cardboard boxes and goes to investigate. He pulls back the box and is relieved to see it is another woman. Mestema’s voice over tells him that Gwen will die in an hour if he cannot save her. Just then a police car pulls up and some cops get out. They wonder what some freak in a weird gym outfit is doing hanging out in an alley.

When they find the body, they arrest Paul. They cuff him and put him in the car to take to the station. While he tries to figure out how to get out of the cuffs, he sees Gwen on the street.

Now frantic to get away and save her, he pushes a button on CAL to start lasers burning the keyholes of the cuffs. Intercut between Gwen going to an audition and Paul trying to get out of the cuffs, the killer is getting ready to go out. He prepares his scalpel for the job.

Paul gets out of the cuffs, uses CAL to unlock the electronic doors, and runs to another alley where he hides behind some garbage as a completely different cop than the ones he just escaped looks for him. Sometimes when I read back what I just wrote, I’m like, “this movie was a rollercoaster!” I have to say, though, Jeffrey Byron writes like the actor he is. He knew he was getting a cool computer arm prop that he had to use to do things, so he used it in ways none of the other writers did for the film.

He has CAL run logistics on where to find Gwen, and after getting more than one result, narrows it down to a dance studio. Maybe because of the dance aerobics earlier? It’s not like he knew she was trying to find auditions. Anyway, Gwen finds the space and goes in to audition after meeting a stranger on the street.

Paul runs to the studio to save Gwen. He goes inside and happens to see her struggling with someone in the dance mirror. He uses the mirror to reflect his laser and shoot the killer.

He runs over to her and CAL finishes the countdown to the hour and they disappear, teleported back to hell. The killer swipes at the air where they were standing, and the cops who had captured Paul run in and arrest the killer. 

Mestema summons a demon, and Paul shoots it with a laser from CAL. Shooting things with a laser is the answer to all of the problems the devil can create. Mestema sends Paul off to another challenge: Cave Beast by Peter Manoogian.

As expected, Paul wakes up once again, but this time he is on some rocks. There is a cave nearby that beckons him. He is about to turn away from the cave when he hears Gwen calling for help. Against his better judgment, he climbs down into the cave. Inside, there is a goblin creature waiting in the back of the cave for him.

He tries to figure out a way to shoot the creature with the laser, but cannot find the right angle. The beast throws a crystal at him, which breaks and shoots a laser around the cavern. Paul notices dirt falling from a hole in the top of the cave and moves to a different spot. He beckons the creature to throw a crystal at him. The lazer explodes and flies up the hole, causing a cave-in on the creature.

It lays under the rocks, and suddenly changes into the form of an angel.

She tells him that he could have won by not entering the cave like he had originally thought. She had been trapped here, but was now free. She disappears and he is transferred back to hell.

Mestema is seated on a throne. He tells a tale about covering a cat in tar and lighting it on fire as Gwen and Paul are horrified. He then sends them both off to the final challenge: “Desert Pursuit” by Ted Nicolaou.

They appear in a wasteland near broken airplane wreckage.

Then two vehicles drive up and soldiers and a small bandit get out to approach them.

They knock Gwen and Paul to the ground, pulling the gauntlet off of Paul’s arm. They lay there defenseless as the little bandit excitedly says he wants to shoot them. One of the soldiers smacks him on the head, so the bandit runs back to his car and drives off.

Paul asks CAL if the laser is still operational while the soldiers are holding the gauntlet. CAL confirms that it is. He gives directional data for targeting the soldiers and tells CAL to fire. Boom! All the soldiers are dead!

They get in the car and begin driving. They are pretty excited to be free from the soldiers and, for the time being at least, Mestema.

A car appears on Paul’s side, and it starts shooting at them as he tries to maneuver away from the shots. Then Gwen notices the little bandit on her side, so he grabs a gun and starts shooting it at the bandit. Her aim is slightly off since she closes her eyes when she shoots.

But finally, through closed eyelids, she hits the bandit. Then she stands up and opens the top of the vehicle to shoot at the other car chasing them. She blasts it as well. Without any other threats, they seem to be home free to win the challenge. But then Paul realizes he cannot steer the car they are in. CAL says that it is remotely controlled, and Paul realizes Mestema has rigged the game so only he can win. Mestema sets them up on a collision course with another vehicle.

They crash and are transported back to Mestema’s domain.

Paul begins to taunt Mestema because he knows that the devil is bored and will most likely not find another challenger like him for a millenia. So he proposes duking it out, which is a weird flex, but okay. Paul throws the gauntlet on the ground and the fight. Mestema throws him over a hill. They roll down it to a pit of fire as Paul holds the devil over the pit.

Sensing he cannot win, the Mestema uses magic to make the earth fall to take Paul with him. But the use of magic breaks the mano-a-mano battle, so CAL lights up buttons and creates a force field bar. Mestema falls into the lava to his death and Paul grabs the bar to maintain his balance and place at the mouth of the pit.

He rushes back to Gwen and unchains her. They embrace and are teleported back to the living room. The smoke machine is still operational.

They embrace and she says she will marry him. He asks about Cal, and after all they’ve been through and how much CAL saved them, she thinks everything will be okay.

And thus, Ragewar (aka. The Dungeonmaster) comes to an end.