GenCon attendees will be the first to see this dark satanic gem of a movie.
First it was a dream inspired by a $1,000 lottery windfall, then it became a Kickstarter success, and now it's a movie: J.R. Ralls' Jack Chick adaptation Dark Dungeons will screen today at GenCon. If you backed it, a copy's out on its way to you, and if you didn't, here's why you should seek this one out.
The story is exactly as you'd expect, bearing in mind the source material. It opens on Da Villains in their dread fortress of doom as they plot horrific destruction for all humanity. Astrology and tarot card sales are up, the One World Government is on its way, homosexuality's on the rise, and role playing games are spreading far and wide across the land. So far so good, but Da Villains aren't in the mood to wait: if Cthulhu's to rise and crush all in its path, they need a couple of suckers to usher in the apocalypse.
Enter Marcie (Anastasia Higham) and Debbie (Alyssa Kay), two naïve young Christians who've left home for the first time and are determined to spread the good word at college. Before long Marcie and Debbie are face to face with the RPG gamers. "We've been trying to throw them off campus for years," wails student counsellor Mike (Trevor Cushman), "But they're just too popular!"
Too popular? Yeah, I remember those happy times, and that's the point. Everything's so loopy that you can't help but love it. Da Villains huddled in their fortress like something out of Super Friends, Ms. Frost (Tracy Hyland) ruling over everything like a demented praying mantis just waiting for her chance to bite someone's head off, Debbie and Marcie's descent into RPG madness; it's all funny in its own right, but if you were an 80's kid and played those games - or maybe just read one too many episodes of Knights of the Dinner Table - it has an extra slice of joy for you.
Higham and Kay deserve special mention as the double act that sets everything in motion. Gawky and goofy, they plunge in like a pair of puppies hoping to save the RPGers from themselves and bring them back to the Light. Besides "if you and I don't go," says Debbie, "we'd be spending all Saturday alone together in our dorm room, and how much fun could we have doing that?" Cue naughty thoughts that Jack Chick probably wouldn't approve of. The two work well together, and Higham adds that extra bit of vulnerability that pays off big time when Black Leaf later fails her save against poison.
It's the little things that get to you. When Debbie nearly flunks out because she's been spending too much time at the table, unaccustomed twinges of guilt began to surface; I remember coming close on a couple exams too, for much the same reason. Unlike Debbie, my only solution was to study harder. However the one thing that a lot of people may have a problem with is the ending, which is exactly as you'd expect it to be given the source material.
Some may hate it, and that's okay. Ralls had to be faithful to the source, but that doesn't make it any easier to watch. That said, I can't summon up any real resentment against Chick, any more than I can hate a 99-year-old Aunt who gibbers about the dangers of communism. Those days are dead, the fight's pretty much over, and the only people who take it seriously are so out of touch they might as well be living on Mars. If that ending is the price I had to pay for everything that came before, then so be it.
Hell, if anything Dark Dungeons succeeds precisely because it does play it straight. Jack Chick is one of those crazies that you really have to see to believe, and if Dark Dungeons had succumbed to temptation and turned his work into a parody, this movie wouldn't be nearly as much fun. You can't parody madness, only portray it.
Zombie Orpheus deserves praise for stepping in, since without it Ralls would never have been able to make anything like as good a film. Yes, Cthulhu's still just one step above a sock puppet with glowing eyes, but you expect dodgy effects when the budget's just about enough to buy a used Sedan. Zombie Orpheus brought expertise to the table, and it shows.
"If the audience has one tenth of the joy watching this film that I had making it I know I will have done my job well," says Ralls. "No joke, making this film was literally a lifelong dream for me." If you want to see what that lifelong dream looks like, it'll cost you $5. For those of you on the fence, there's an 8 minute preview to help you make your mind up.