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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

The Dungeonmaster Blu-ray Review

Arrow Video

Blu-ray Release: June 27, 2023 (as part of the Empire of Screams collection)

Video: 1.85:1/1080p/Color

Audio: English LPCM 1.0

Subtitles: English SDH

Run Time: 77:59 (Pre-release Version), 77:23 (Ragewar International Version),

73:35 (The Dungeonmaster US Theatrical Version)

Directors: David Allen, Charles Band, John Carl Buechler, Steven Ford, Peter Manoogian, Ted Nicolaou, and Rosemarie Turko

Note: This Blu-ray is currently only available as part of Arrow’s Enter the Video Store: Empire of Screams five-movie collection, which also includes Stuart Gordon’s Dolls (1987) and Robot Jox (1989), John Carl Buechler’s Cellar Dweller (1989), and Peter Manoogian’s Arena (1989).

A young computer programmer named Paul (Jeffrey Byron) finds himself forced into a cosmic contest of wills against a demonic wizard called Mestema (Richard Moll). Paul faces a series of seven challenges in hopes of returning home and saving his girlfriend Gwen (Leslie Wing) from the forces of darkness.

Once upon a time, a boy named Albert Band and his Jewish family fled from France to the United States to escape the oncoming Nazi occupation. They settled in Los Angeles and Albert developed an interest in filmmaking. As a young man, he worked as an assistant under John Huston and eventually made his directorial debut with the 1956 western The Young Guns. He spent the next two decades working in the Italian and American markets as director and producer*. Then, in the mid-’70s, Albert’s son Charles began producing and directing his own movies and discovered his niche in B-horror and sci-fi for the video market. Albert produced Charles’ third feature, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn (1983) and helped his son develop a new genre-based studio, Empire International Pictures. Additionally, his son Richard became a sought-after film composer, who worked on both his father and brother’s films. According to release dates, Empire’s first movie was The Alchemist (1983), which Charles (hereafter referred to as Band) himself directed, though it was technically completed in 1981, two years before Empire Pictures existed. The first movie made with Empire in mind was The Dungeonmaster (aka: Ragewar: The Challenges of Excalibrate and Digital Knights, shot in 1983, released in 1984). Dungeonmaster was a group effort made up of seven shorts from seven different directors arranged into an anthology-style story, bookended by a plot device stolen from Steven Lisberger’s Tron (1982), where the hero is sucked into a video game-like situation to face off against a powerful, demonic entity (the original Ragewar title was later changed to Dungeonmaster to cash in on the Dungeons & Dragons phenomenon). Each section is directed by a different filmmaker and, at the time, most of these people were special effects artists or worked in some similar technical capacity for Band, aside from Band himself, who directed the section Heavy Metal, guest starring shockrockers WASP, and the wraparound sequences.

For example, Dave Allen did stop-motion animation effects from a variety of films, from Larry Cohen’s Q: The Winged Serpent (1982) to Stuart Gordon Empire productions Dolls and Robot Jox. His section, Stone Canyon Giant, is, naturally, built around a battle with a Harryhausen-esque stop motion creature. John Carl Buechler created make-up and creature effects on almost every Empire film and eventually worked his way up to directing Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1987) for Paramount. His section, Demons of the Dead, features zombies and a creature puppet reminiscent of the ones that appeared in Troll (1986) and Cellar Dweller, which he also directed for Empire. Peter Manoogian (Cave Beast) developed his skills as a second-unit guy and Ted Nicolaou (Desert Pursuit) was an Empire editor who graduated into direction. Of these, only Steven Ford** (Slasher), and novelist Rosemarie Turko (Ice Gallery) are the only two that didn’t direct again after Dungeonmaster.

Dungeonmaster’s closest kin aren’t standard-issue horror anthologies, where one director oversees each section of the film, but other independent group efforts from specialized artisans, like Heavy Metal (1981) and Equinox (which Allen actually worked on, too, 1970), or jam movies, like the VHS and ABCs of Death series. The overall effect is spotty, but works like a Ramones concert, as in, don’t worry if you don’t like the song playing right now, because they’ll start playing a different one in a couple of minutes. The choppiness is anchored by better-than-average performances of Jeffrey Byron as the main hero and Richard Moll as the shiny-eyed villain (doing the same voice he’d use to portray Two-Face on Batman: The Animated Series [1992-’94]). A sequel, Pulse Pounders, was directed by Band, but shelved when Empire went bankrupt. Many years later, less-than-ideal tape masters of the film were slowly digitally restored and released short by short. I actually saw the 2011 premiere of The Evil Clergyman at Chicago Flashback Weekend with both Bands and actors Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton in the audience (it was alright).

* It’s outside the purview of this review, but Albert Band was a semi-important figure in the history of spaghetti westerns. He produced and co-directed Massacre at Grand Canyon (Italian: Massacro al Grande Canyon, 1964) with Sergio Corbucci, which was released a few months before Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (Italian: Per un pugno di dollari, 1964). He also produced Corbucci’s The Hellbenders (Italian: I crudeli, 1967) and Franco Giraldi’s A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die (Italian: Un minuto per pregare, un istante per morire, 1967).

**According to Jeffrey Byron, Steven Ford wasn’t the actor/son of former President Gerald Ford, as he is credited on Wikipedia and IMDb, but his brother Steven Stafford working under a pseudonym. Supposedly, this Steven Stafford, but I don’t know for sure.


Dungeonmaster was initially released on VHS in 1985 Lightning Video missing a pre-credit sequence that was trimmed from the US theatrical release to secure a PG-13. That scene was reinstated for Shout Factory’s DVD debut as part of a four-movie collection with David Schmoeller’s Catacombs (1988), Buechler’s Cellar Dweller (1988), and Joe D’Amato/Fabrizio Laurenti’s Crawlers (Italian: Contamination .7, 1993). Shout Factory then debuted the film on Blu-ray double-feature with Manoogian’s The Eliminators (1986). Arrow is now reissuing the film as part of their Empire of Screams collection and their disc features a new 2K scan of the original negative, as well as three different cuts of the film – the shorter US cut using the Dungeonmaster title, a longer international Ragewar cut, and an even longer pre-release cut of Ragewar. I’ve included a couple of comparison sliders alongside screencaps to illustrate the minor, but not insignificant differences between the Arrow and Shout Factory transfers (1.85:1 Arrow on the left, 1.78:1 Shout Factory on the right).

Basically, the rescan creates tighter detail and the remaster has warmed up the colors a tad. The main side effect is that the grain levels, while more natural, are also more aggressive, so some scenes appear snowier on Arrow’s disc. Otherwise, either transfer is inherently inconsistent between chapters/sections of the anthology. Fortunately, the project’s sole cinematographer, Mac Ahlberg, helps maintain some visual cohesion. Blotchy process FX shots and purposefully soft focus sequences are built into the material. The new transfer slightly allays the issue.


Dungeonmaster is presented in uncompressed LPCM and its original mono sound. This is a quiet and understated kind of mix, despite all the wacky sci-fi and fantasy going on throughout the film. Musical duties were split between Charles’ brother Richard Band and Shirley Walker, who went on to collaborate with Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman, and who was the mastermind behind Batman: The Animated Series’ music and the music for other subsequent DC cartoons. I can’t be certain, but I think Walker is responsible for the symphonic cues and Band for the synth numbers. The music is pretty big and rich for a mono track and gives the otherwise unremarkable mix a bit of a boost.


  • Commentary with actor Jeffrey Byron (pre-release version only) – A new, remotely recorded commentary moderated by Schlock Pit’s Matty Budrewicz and Dave Wain. Byron discusses his career and work with Band (including this one and Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn), the logistics of shooting Dungeonmaster, his family’s history in acting, working with the seven directors and rest of the cast, and writing the Slasher segment.

  • I Reject Your Reality and Substitute My Own (15:07, HD) – Byron sums up his thoughts on the film, cast, and crew in this new interview, which is basically a compacted version of what he discusses during the commentary.

  • US theatrical and alternate trailers

  • Image gallery

The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.

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