Anti-Dungeons & Dragons hysteria gets a modern-day facelift with Dark Dungeons film
Don't touch these, they're evil!
If you were born after, say, 1980 and/or you didn't grow up as a huge geek, you probably have no idea that, for a brief time, RPG hysteria was a very real thing. That's right, for five or six years in the early to mid-'80s (and probably to this day among the hardcore lunatic fringe), fantasy role-playing games, particularly Dungeons & Dragons, were considered to be an existential threat by a certain portion of the religious right.
And why wouldn't they be? After all, the game is full of wizards and witchcraft, demons and dark gods and other shit that must have seemed pretty scary to people who believe in talking snakes and a boat capable of serving as a home for two of every animal on the planet (minus dinosaurs, of course) for an extended period of time. If your mindset incorporates the idea that Satan is real and constantly trying to win control of your soul through any means necessary, the idea of your precious children playacting at being barbarian kings and chaotic aligned necromancers must have seemed pretty scary.
Now, you'd think a quick look through an actual, real-life copy of the Dungeon Masters Guide might have dissuaded these folks, given the fact it has more in common with a statistics textbook than an actual, magical grimoire (supposing, of course, that such a thing existed in the first place). But when has religious hysteria ever been dissuaded by something as simple as facts or reality?
There's little doubt it would have sucked to be one of the poor bastards from religious families who no doubt had their first-edition Monster Manuals confiscated and burned at Sunday school, but for the rest of us, who came from sane families, the ludicrous wave of anti-gaming hysteria resulted in two wonderful pop-culture artifacts. The first is the Mystery Science Theater 3000-worthy TV movie Mazes and Monsters, which, in typical TV movie-of-the-week fashion, misrepresented a real-life event to exaggerated effect in an attempt to get suburban moms everywhere to clutch their pearls and gasp in abject horror. We'll never know if it succeeded in that (unless your mom was an '80s suburban mom, in which case you could just ask her) but we do know it succeeded in one way -- it introduced the world to a man named Tom Hanks, in his second most ridiculous role (Bosom Buddies still holds the pole position of shame in the Hanks filmography).
Keep reading for a second anti-Dungeons & Dragons resurrection.
The second, and arguably more important, was a little Jack Chick tract called Dark Dungeons , which presents us with an evil DM by the name of Ms. Frost who uses her privileged position of Dungeon Master to seduce poor innocent Elfstar (nee Debbie) into a life of evil, witchcraft and, though it's never explicitly spelled out, probably lesbianism (that Ms. title is pretty suspicious in the world of the religious right). This Chick tract is the apotheosis of unintentional humor via religious lunacy, single-handedly proving Poe's Law decades before it was even postulated. Among those who appreciate the unsubtle lunacy of Chick tracts, Dark Dungeons has long been a favorite, but soon the fabled comic will making a great leap forward with what looks to be a faithful film adaptation.
Yes, really. Have a look:
The man behind the film insists it's neither parody nor satire, but the over-the-top acting, decades-out-of-date fear-mongering and general stupidity of the subject matter suggest otherwise. But whether it's attempting to be serious or not, much like the Chick comic that spawned it, Dark Dungeons should be a handy source of amusement for both RPG fans and, supposing they actually exist, real demon worshippers. For everyone else, it's a handy reminder that as dumb as some of the shit that comes out of the religious right seems these days, those fools were once stupid enough to believe that kids rolling twenty-sided dice and pretending to be half-elven thieves were summoning real-world spirits and demons.
Find me on Twitter, where I tweet about geeky stuff and waste an inordinate amount of time: @casciato.
Get the Arts and Theater Newsletter
Weekly information keeping you in the know when it comes to the art and theater scene. Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events.