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Satan, Bad Acting, and Dice

Adam Gauntlett | 8 Mar 2011 12:32
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Let me tell you about Skullduggery.

Fittingly, the place where we rented it has not merely gone out of business; it has vanished utterly, and only weeds grow where once it stood. That should give you an inkling of where I'm about to go with this little folktale, but just so we're all singing from the same hymn sheet, Skullduggery is a blisteringly awful movie. It is worse than bad. It is drinking game material. However enthusiastic I may become in the course of this retelling, please bear that in mind.

You should also know that I loved it.

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I was in awe of it. I had no idea what surrealism was back then. In the mid-80s, Salvador Dali wasn't even a mustache to me. I had no frame of reference for what I was watching, so when the cigar-smoking ape showed up, when the guy in the grey overalls with the naughts-and-crosses game on his back became a recurring character, or when the harlequin doll gets killed by an imaginary bow and arrow, these things gave me food for thought.

Skullduggery is a 1983 Canadian film written and directed by Ota Richter, whose career was deservedly short. It stars Thom Haverstock as clueless dolt Adam, a gamer driven insane by his dungeon master, and Wendy Crewson as his platonic love interest, Barbara. This movie, along with Mazes and Monsters, was a stepping stone on the path that led to Crewson becoming a moderately famous Canadian. The rest of the cast sank almost without trace.

This was the era of Jack Chick and Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD). Roleplaying games were evil and roleplayers were one step away from Satanism. The 80s was a decade of moral panic and hysteria that went well beyond roleplaying games. Satanic Breeders: Babies for Sacrifice was a big TV hit for Geraldo, and therapists made their bones with recovered memories in ritual abuse cases. Owning the Dungeon Master's Guide was probably enough to get you exorcised in certain parts of the States. While this all sounds hilarious in retrospect, it wasn't funny at the time. Mazes at least pretended that the Tom Hanks character was deluded, and the worst thing he did was attempt suicide. In Skullduggery, Adam is controlled by the Devil himself, and sent forth on quests to murder as many nubile young women as possible.

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