Mazes & Monsters (1982)
aka Rona Jaffe's Mazes & Monsters
Directed by Steven Hilliard Stern
Written by Rona Jaffe & Tom Lazarus

Cast yourself back, if you will, to a long-forgotten time when which Chris Makepeace (Meatballs, My Bodyguard) was top-billed over Tom Hanks. Mazes & Monsters (or as we knew it then, Rona Jaffe's Mazes & Monsters) occupied a towering position in the pantheon of 80s movies during the 80s, but in subsequent years it has become a curio that no one would recall nostalgically as they do, say, a Weird Science or even a The Wizard. Is Chris Makepeace to blame? For My Bodyguard, too, is a film that will garner nothing but blank stares if you bring it up while your friends are guffawing about Porky's and Mannequin.

But then, Mazes & Monsters never had much in common with the more iconic movies of the 80s. It has more in common with River's Edge or Ordinary People than Less Than Zero or The Goonies. Of course, its period trappings (a hilarious Anne Murray-esque theme song, for example, repeated several times, almost like this is a Blake Edwards movie) don't help. Yet 80s cinema left few unheralded gems as enjoyable (both genuinely and ironically) as M&M.

Surely there were other "dorksploitation" flicks back then, right? But this one raises the clarion call against playing "Dungeons & Dragons" – the danger is very real! Kids who play D&D will become addicted and lose their ability to separate fantasy from reality!!!

In retrospect, the worst that happened to any D&D dork I knew was becoming a lawyer. So the Reefer Madness-esque hysteria of M&M is undoubtedly over the top. But I have to say, as purely out-of-touch as the film's intent is, its execution is captivating, and strangely resonant.

Makepeace is memorable as the requisite "quirky" kid, with his funny hats and talking bird "Merlin." Hanks is earnest as the guy with the D&D … er, "Mazes & Monsters" problem. The fearmongering storyline is cheesily engrossing, pointlessly warning parents about the dangers of old-school RPGs. The climax – set in the World Trade Center – gives the film quite a bit more heft than it probably would otherwise have had.

It's a very enjoyable, albeit pretty ridiculous, film. The only lingering question I'm left with is: Who the hell was Rona Jaffe and why did she get name-above-the-title billing above Chris Makepeace and Mr. Tom Hanks?!

Review by Dieter Dorshorst