Back in 1984, the notorious Jack Chick turned his attention to fantasy role-playing games. "Dark Dungeons," a Chick comic book tract, quickly became a gaming collectible for its ridiculous, unrealistic, and sensationalistic representation of gaming and its dangers. In 2014, Zombie Orpheus received sanction from Chick himself to adapt the tract into a short film. I do not know if Chick failed to understand they were mocking him, or simply believes that, whatever the filmmakers' intentions, his message will still get out. Regardless of the reason, we now have a Chick-sanctioned satire of a Chick tract, in which a pair of ingenuous college students begin playing a role-playing game, and find themselves sucked into the world of the occult. It received its public premiere at Gen Con in Indianapolis in August 2014, and can be purchased online.
The tract quickly narrated the story of a group of high school students and the dangers they draw upon themselves by playing Dungeons and Dragons. The film moves the characters to a college setting where, apparently, the RPGers are popular party-animals. The good kids have been trying to get them banned from campus for years, but they're "just too popular." Into this world come frosh Debbie (Alyssa Kay) and Marcie (Anastasia Higham), two God-fearing gals who attend a frat party hoping to witness to the unbelievers. Besides, Debbie remarks, "If we don't go to this party, you and I would be spending all Saturday along together in our dorm room. And how much fun could we have doing that?" Marcie's reaction, clearly indicating she would really like to spend Saturday alone with her room-mate, indicates the tone of the film and the levels of subtext it has added to the source material.
Before long, the key events of the tract have taken place, and Debbie finds herself drawn deeper into darkness. The film also features material taken from other Chick Tracts, and H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. The events are watched over by a group of "shadowy figures" who clearly represent Satan's interests on earth. Like the rest of the cast, the shadowy actors perform their parts in a deliberately over-the-top manner that suits the script.
Zombie Orpheus has surprisingly high production values for a small company. The effects are competent and cheesy—and I imagine that is the point.
While I enjoyed "Dark Dungeons," I'm glad it runs less than an hour. This kind of smug satire can grow annoying after awhile. Despite actually existing, Chick comes as close to a straw man as I can imagine; it takes little effort to make him seem ridiculous. Given the years that he has grossly misrepresented and virulently attacked a broad range of groups, however, I cannot feel too bad about the film's mockery of an old man and his beliefs.
It's not as though Chick is alone in having them.
Stay out of the steam tunnels
Directed by L. Gabriel Gonda
Written by JR Rails
Based on the graphic novel by Jack T. Chick
Alyssa Kay as Debbie
Anastasia Higham as Marcie
Tracy Hyland as Mistress Frost
Trevor Cushman as Mike
Jonathan Crimeni as Nitro
Kaleb Hagen-Kerr as Preacher
David Anthony Lewis as Professor