Thursday, March 6, 2014

Mazes & Monsters Film Review

Mazes & Monsters is a made-for-TV film that originally aired in 1982 about a group of friends who engage in a Dungeons & Dragons type game called Mazes and Monsters. The film stars a then 26 year old Tom Hanks. It seems like this film might have been the linchpin that started his career, as it was the first feature he front-lined before Splash which came out 2 years later in 1984. As a made-for-TV film Mazes and Monsters seems to be the transitional role in his career that led him away from TV to feature films. In the film Tom Hanks character Robbie Wheeling—a troubled kid—takes the game too far and confuses fantasy and reality leading to dangerous consequences. You can buy the film on Amazon here. It was based off a novel by same title by Rona Jaffe.

Also in the film is Chris Makepeace, who you will likely know as Rudy, the ostracized kid from Meatballs. He was also in My Bodyguard. A few other notables in the film are Murray Hamilton, best known for his role as the doubting Thomas skeptic mayor from Jaws. His role here as an investigator is very similar. Wendy Crewson plays the female lead and I kept thinking she was a young Kelly McGillis but I was wrong. Vera Miles from Psycho is also in the film.

My interest in the film came about recently with my desire to read and absorb any and all D&D and RPG related material. AD&D and anything from my 1980s youth has been of particular interest for me, mostly because of the nostalgia factor but also my desire to play the old AD&D game. I vaguely remembered the existence of Mazes and Monsters, but I'm not sure if I ever actually saw it. If I had, I did not remember any of it.

The film is pure 1980s cheese. It's bad. It's poorly written. The acting is, mostly, bad and overly affected. Still, whatever the film was in the 80s and whatever its intended audience and/or message, today, I see the film much as I do when I watch other old B films—as totally charming and sentimental. Clearly my current frame of mind and nostalgia for the 80s is clouding my take on it, but perspective is everything. Films are almost like living things, and what we bring to them is almost as important as the construction of the films themselves.

Older Tom Hanks on the DVD
despite the fact that he was 26
when he made the film.

So now, here in the year 2014, 32 years after the fact, I greatly enjoyed watching this ultra-bad mess from 80s TV. I found it charming in a way I'm sure was never intend by anyone. I mocked up a wacky module style poster (see above picture) and posted it on  a few of the Google+ D&D groups I belong to. The responses regarding the film were varied. Some people were amused by memories of this old oddball film. Others were not so amused. Some had bad memories of the film as it swayed their parents to limit or destroy their D&D material back in the day. This was the most surprising thing to me.

You never realize how good you had it as a kid until you hear someone else tell you the torture they endured to put things in perspective. I know everyone has wacky shit their parents did. My childhood was no exception, but I do have my father to thank for teaching my brother and I to think for ourselves. He never liked others telling him what to do and then blindly complying. Thankfully he instilled that in us. With kids of my own now I try to teach them as he taught me. And I always question what is being communicated from authoritative sources like the news, government, etc. Also back in the 80s everyone was aware of the D&D paranoia, the suicides, the satan crap, the dangers of Heavy Metal music, etc. I'm not sure why none of our parents ever reacted. Maybe it was because myself and almost everyone in my community was Jewish? Jews don't give much thought to satan or satanic influences as a general rule. I also lived in Queens, and while NYC is no utopia to be sure, NYC, at least then, was a progressive and open-minded place. This is all speculation though, of course. I'm not sure about any of this. If anyone from any background wants to share D&D restriction/parental paranoia stories or speculate, please, post away. I'm curious. Despite there being no D&D or RPG restrictions for me or my friends, I was not allowed to see Blood Beach, or go to a Def Leppard concert. My childhood was far from perfection.


Original CBS Ad for
Mazes and Monsters
Mazes and Monsters came out during the height of D&D popularity.  This also coincided with the parental paranoia over D&D that resulted when a few troubled kids committed suicide.  Back then anything negative that a kid did that was tangentially associated with D&D seemed to equal D&Ds full culpability in the matter. There were more than a few controversies over this back then and the game was even toned down and Gygax grilled a bit on the subject.

60 Minutes did a segment on it. You can find the segments here. If they seem dated now Imagine how our news will seem to people in 30 years. Paranoia continues today but with D&D off the hot seat video games and electronics are the new pariah.

In addition to the Mazes and Monsters film/novel there was also a book called Dungeon Master: The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III. The Mazes and Monsters novel seems to be based of the book, and the book based off the paranoia. It's all wacky. Naturally I ordered both books.



Here are a few articles/blogs on the D&D nonsense at the time:

Dungeons & Dragons controversies

Back When People Thought Dungeons & Dragons Was Satanic

The Panic Over Dungeons & Dragons (in 1985)

Here is part 1 of Mazes and Monsters on youtube. I'm not sure how an entire copyrighted film can be posted on YouTube. Maybe it's because no one cares about this film.  All the remaining parts are on youtube.

Remember perspective is everything. What once caused the country to flip out can hopefully now be looked at lovingly. Enjoy!





———ADDITION———

I just found this on another G+ members page. Over at Blog of Holding there is a Mazes and Monsters RPG. Of course. Seems obvious now. For all we know, the TV movie might have started LARPING

So check out this blog post on a Mazes and Monsters RPG. Supercool. Just remember not to take it too far!