Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Mazes and Monsters

Splash. No, wait. Bachelor Party. Yes, I'd say Bachelor Party has always been my favorite film starring the great American actor, Tom Hanks. Replete with exotic dancers, pill-popping donkeys and of course Tawny Kitaen, Bachelor Party has easily got to be the finest showcase ever created for the Gump-talking, Oscar-winning, A-list superstar. That is, until I remembered this little gem of a turd called Mazes and Monsters.

You see, a long, long time ago, studying at MSU, there was a 16 year-old, drug-addicted, clinically depressed, child prodigy named James Dallas Egbert III who, in 1979, decided to take his own life in the steam tunnels under his school. When the suicide didn't take, the kid flipped out and fled the campus, ultimately making his way to Louisiana, after which he attempted to kill himself a second time before succeeding on the third. I'm not going to retell the entire story as you can just read that here: James Dallas Egbert III on Wikipedia, however suffice it to say that the kid's apparent disappearance was never adequately explained to the public and instead, a theory put forth by an investigator was erroneously recirculated by the press which eventually became the de facto answer to the mystery. The theory held that since James had played Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) back in high school, he must have entered the school's steam tunnels during a live-action version of the game and somehow gotten lost. In fact, the investigator later discovered James living in New Orleans but as a favor to him, promised he would never reveal his true fate, and thus everyone would go on to believe that the boy was just an unfortunate casualty of an evil, evil game.
Now, never let it be said that Americans can't find great opportunity in a terrible tragedy because a couple of years after the incident in the MSU steam tunnels, novelist Rona Jaffe decided to set pen to paper and create a story based upon the theories and myths that had sprung up around James' disappearance, not knowing, of course, the boy's true fate. Her book was called Mazes and Monsters, in reference to the game that was supposedly to blame, and it garnered her a bit of attention in the wake of the moral panic over role-playing games that was beginning to take hold in the U.S. in the early 1980s.
One year after Jaffe's book was published, the inevitable cheese-ball TV adaptation (starring a budding young actor named Tom "Houston, we have a problem" Hanks) was produced by CBS, and served as a further warning to nervous parents everywhere about the unknown dangers of these twisted and demonic fantasy games. Ironically, CBS would go on to produce the successful Dungeons & Dragons children's cartoon series one year later.
Since I hadn't seen the original flick since its first airing in '82, I decided to rewatch as much of it as I could stomach, and folks, I'm delighted to say that it is gloriously bad. Like Refer Madness bad. Keep on scrolling to watch a clip of Tom Hanks have a psychological freak-out in the face of an imaginary Gorn-like creature deep in the bowels of a paper maché cave, or you can watch the entire movie if you like. Pick your poison!



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