Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Dark Dungeons: The Movie Takes Us Into Dark Imaginations…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 25, 2014

DarkDungeonsMovieMainWhen I was a kid and first starting to get into Dungeons & Dragons, it was riding a double wave of fad-like popularity and backlash from certain quarters for being dangerous or downright evil – which only added to its popularity. While I didn’t face too much direct opposition from authority-types over playing the game, it was an ever-present threat. We tended to play during lunch in the cafeteria at the school, and we’d heard about schools and districts in the region that had banned the game over fears that it led to teen suicide.

Never mind that the people cited as examples had a history of depression, drug abuse, and a host of other issues long before they tried D&D. Nope, the game was always to blame. After all, it was new and popular. Authoritarians will use any crisis to justify control, and will manufacture one if necessary.

So I grew up pretty defensive about my hobby. Fortunately, the obsession over its imagined danger waned as its popularity declined, but the damage was done. When the second edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was released, it was watered down over concerns for the “angry mother syndrome,” losing any semblance of ad-hoc edginess of the earlier editions. No, in second edition, TSR was so afraid of angry mothers that they didn’t even use the words, “demon” or “devil,” and forced modules into family-friendly guidelines that mandated evil’s incompetence. But that’s another story.

darkdungeons_panel4Near the tail-end of this anti-D&D hysteria… the point where it jumped the shark… there was a religious tract called “Dark Dungeons,” which told a story in comic book form of the horrors associated with role-playing games. Oh, yes… occult, witchcraft covens with pentagram floors, teen suicide, it’s all there… with the joyful resolution wherein the heroine tosses her game books into a raging bonfire.

It was completely insane stuff, to the point where gamers actually embraced the tract with ironic glee. I guess it was because it was evidence that those who were most violently opposed to RPGs were living in exactly the nightmarish fantasy world they accused us of being in. My wife and I, years later, would joke about when we’d finally learn the “real power” since we’d hit level eight dozens of times over the years.

Well, some folks decided to make an official movie based on this deranged little world. To his credit, the creator of the tract, Jack Chick, provided the license for free. The movie-makers, partnered with Zombie Orpheus Entertainment (the makers of the excellent movies, “The Gamers”),  worked to elaborate on this thirty-year-old comic about the occult evils of D&D.

As it is an officially licensed movie, they play it absolutely straight. I questioned this approach, thinking at first that it would be more of a parody. But really – the original comic strip was an unwitting self-parody. How do you parody that? The answer is, of course, that you don’t. You embrace it, and milk it for all of its unintentional ridiculousness as possible. The result is wonderful and terrible – terrible in that I may have hurt myself from laughing so hard.

So what you’ve got is a deliberately poorly-acted (I know, I’ve seen these people do far better…), over-the-top elaboration of the original comic tract, with some word-for-word dialog and panel-for-panel framing at key points. Yeah, some things have changed… but in a way that one could imagine applying in the creator’s dark imagination where D&D was a phenomenon created by evil witch covens.

DarkDungeonsMovieIn this world, the cool kids play role-playing games, an activity that has such an overwhelmingly powerful appeal that nobody – NOBODY – who starts playing has ever been able to quit. Helpful senior Mike tried to get them banished from campus but they were just too popular. Frat parties are clearly evil dens of sin and alcohol with predatory overtones (well, okay, maybe that part is legit… 😉  )  with drinking, dancing, and cavorting! But they culminate in the main event that everybody goes to these parties to really enjoy… a role-playing game! Yes! As a spectator sport!

And it gets more awesomely over-the-top from there.

Now, I am actually a pretty religious guy myself. Of course, my own religion has been warned about in Jack Chick tracts as well. So I feel like I’m in good company. Christianity in the movie is pretty true to how it is portrayed as it is in the tract – a good ol’ book-burning bastion against the fiendish legions. In Chick’s world, this faith is about as over-the-top and nightmarish as role-playing games. It’s hard to imagine anybody would take this movie’s depiction of religion, witchcraft, or role-playing games seriously. But the world is full of very strange people, and I’m sure there are those who will take the earnestness of the advertising campaign, mirroring the earnestness of the anti-D&D jihad of the 1980s that made this tract so notorious, at face value.

I guess some of the defensiveness that I used to feel back in the day never really died… that frustration of trying to deal rationally with irrational people who absolutely refuse to get it. In that respect, this film is a little bit cathartic. I’m sure many of the cast – who weren’t even born yet when the tract was first released, or who may have never been gamers themselves – may only get that in a secondhand way. But in its heart, this is a movie by gamers, for gamers, even including some in-jokes for the audience, like attacking the darkness with magic missile, and a battle against a gazebo. The filmmakers got permission from gaming companies to burn their specific products in the bonfire in the end (yes, Pathfinder books go up in smoke! Guess they’ll have to print some more). It’s a delirious delve into a dark fantasy, but not the one the original writer had in mind.

It is a bargain – and DRM free – for a download at only $5. If you have ever played a tabletop role-playing game… or ever wanted to… get this movie!

Dark Dungeons: The Movie

Filed Under: Geek Life, Movies - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

  • Mephane said,

    Similarly, someone once tried to get the Harry Potter books banned because they would “promote sorcery”.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yep – in modern society, with a population size we have, you can pick any bizarre, extreme, illogical position you can come up with, and you can be guaranteed there will be people out there who will embrace it – if only to be perverse (trolls).

  • Cuthalion said,

    To make matters worse (for my eternal destiny, at least), I’ve recently been enjoying the heck (oops. pun?) out of a D&D / Harry Potter crossover fanfic called Harry Potter and the Natural 20. I’m pretty sure that’s at least three things I’m doomed for. Oops.

    I don’t know if I’ll be able to watch this movie! It might be too cringe-inducing, but I may have to give it a try.