Among the many religious comic book pamphlets that have made cartoonist and Christian evangelist Jack Chick an infamous and enigmatic figure in the cultural underground, perhaps the most well-known is Dark Dungeons, published in 1984. Out of the hundreds of Chick tracts that have been churned out over the decades, Dark Dungeons is by far my personal favorite. The storyline features a character named Debbie who plays the tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons, which Jack Chick sincerely believes is a dangerous gateway to demonic powers and that players are liable to be infected with evil spirits. When Debbie’s D&D character reaches level 8 in the game, the Dungeon Master tells her, “I think it’s time that you learn how to really cast spells.”
A panel-by-panel critique of Dark Dungeons can be found on the online counter-apologetics wiki Iron Chariots. The commentary makes a great point about this pivotal scene:
Although D&D deals with a world of fantasy and magic, many roleplaying games have entirely different themes. What happens to a player who reaches a high level in a superhero themed game? Do they immediately learn how to fly and burn things with their eyes? What about science-fiction characters? Are they issued futuristic laser guns? Do they get to captain their own starships?
No, D&D players will not acquire real magical powers upon reaching a certain level in the game, but at least they can look forward to seeing a movie this summer in which that very thing happens. In what appears to be a deliberately comedic venture, an indie film company called Zombie Orpheus Entertainment is now raising funds on Kickstarter that will go toward making a movie adaptation of Dark Dungeons, scheduled for release August 2014. As of this writing, the project has more than doubled its initial Kickstarter goal of $12,500.
Although some sources have misinterpreted the film as a sincere Christian project, this is not the case. The Dark Dungeons movie is not intended to be serious, a fact that becomes fairly clear by reading the FAQ page on DarkDungeonsTheMovie.com. While the script plays Jack Chick’s original comic completely straight, that faithful translation from panel to screen is itself the joke. This is a brilliant idea. The cautionary message Chick built into his comic is indeed one he presented in earnest, but as with all of his comic pamphlets, the premise and storyline of Dark Dungeons is so over-the-top and ridiculous that it could have been written by an atheist satirist.
The teaser trailer for the movie has just recently been made available by Zombie Orpheus Entertainment. In it, we see two young women walking up the steps to a building and pausing at the double doors. “I can’t believe you talked me into coming here, Marcie,” says one. Marcie (played by Anastasia Higham) replies, “If we want to spread the good news at this university, then we have got to fit in to college life.” Her friend Debbie (Alyssa Kay) still looks hesitant to walk through the doors. “Come on,” Marcie urges, “we’ve got to socialize.” Debbie finally assents. “I guess you’re right.”
Next we are treated to a view of what’s happening inside the building. Against a backdrop of eerie gothic music, sinister looking people who are dressed up in amazing cosplay and LARPing outfits are seen rolling dice of many colors and sides in pools of blood, writhing around on the floor, and participating in creepy-looking occult rituals.
Finally the trailer cuts back to Marcie and Debbie right before they enter the building. “What could go wrong?” Debbie asks rhetorically. And that’s all we get for now.
This could be the beginning of a brilliant new film genre: fake Christian movies that do not even need the element of parody or satire in order to showcase bizarre religious beliefs that make the movie good for a laugh. If the Dark Dungeons filmmakers are successful in treading the subtle and often indistinguishable line between tongue-in-cheek storytelling and insane religious paranoia, and if they are sufficiently deft in playing both sides, perhaps they can manage to rake in money from the fundamentalist Christian community. Who knows, maybe they already have. This, of course, would be hilarious.
In any case, I am very much looking forward to seeing Dark Dungeons this summer.