Steven Hilliard Stern’s Mazes and Monsters

Steven Hilliard Stern’s Mazes and Monsters (1982)

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Based on a book of the same name, Mazes and Monsters is another entry into the extremely rare genre of D&Dsploitation.  It is perhaps the most pure example of the few films exploiting the 80’s moral panic surrounding Dungeons and Dragons because of it’s direct relationship with the narrative most commonly referenced during that time.  The story is loosely based around a major disappearance and later suicide that was largely blamed on the game, though right away the panic narrative begins to fall apart.

The plot of the film concerns a number of young university students who all play Mazes and Monsters, an obvious D&D analogue.  They are all defined by their emotional baggage and needs which are being fulfilled by the game.  Among their number is a young Tom Hanks as Robbie who has a past history with the game which made him neglect his studies.  This is where the whole moral panic parable completely falls apart because Robbie is the only one who has a psychological breakdown and even as it is presented in the movie, assertions that it is because of the game seem patently absurd.

In fact the rest of the characters seem much improved by their time with the game and how it brings them together.  One particular character, defined by a rich, overbearing mother and wide collection of hats, contemplates suicide in a series of tunnels only to be inspired to invent Live Action Role Playing instead.  Beyond that the movie is just people walking from place to place and dispensing terrible dialogue about their problems to each other, until the climactic Tom Hanks freak out that is.  It all just crumbles under the weight of it’s own absurd morals, it’s not a well a constructed story, it’s a flat parable about an absurd theme.  1/5

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