Tom Hanks month 4 – Mazes and Monsters

While Splash is generally considered to be Tom Hanks’s breakout performance (along with several others), it’s not his first starring role. Before Splash, he landed the starring role in a made-for-TV film, Mazes and Monsters. This movie was part of the scare around role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons back in the late 70’s/early 80s. This scare hasn’t completely gone away, but is mostly only kept alive by Christian Fundamentalists from the 80s. For those who don’t know about this scare, people accused games like D&D of promoting Satanism, witchcraft, suicide and murder. There are worse movies tied to this panic, including Skullduggery, in which a player starts killing people, and it’s revealed later that a professor by the name of Dr. Evil is an actual sorcerer directly serving the devil. Yeah, that’s how insane the panic got.

Mazes and Monsters in particular is adapted from a book by the same name, which itself was based on inaccurate newspaper stories about the disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III from Michigan State University, back in 1979. Newspapers wildly speculated that his disappearance was directly tied to D&D, which is actually part of what helped the game reach national attention in the first place. In truth, he was a depressed child prodigy who entered the University at 16, attempted suicide a few months later due to loneliness, parental pressure, a drug addiction, and more. He moved several times, ended up with his uncle in New Orleans, and ended up shooting himself after a second failed suicide attempt. While he did play D&D, if anything, that would have been one of the few healthy outlets he had.

I don’t know how the Mazes and Monsters movie relates to the book, so let’s only talk about the movie. Released in December of 1982, it stars a then 26-year-old Tom Hanks as Robbie Wheeling, who joins a group of three other players of a pen and paper role playing game called Mazes and Monsters. Calling the game M&M would just sound odd considering that’s the name of a candy I handed out tonight, so I’ll shorten the game to Mazes from this point on.

All four members of the group have their own personal issues. Jay-Jay (played by retired Canadian actor Chris Makepeace) has a completely insane mother, who among other eccentricities, regularly redecorates his room without his permission. He spends most of the movie wearing different silly hats in each scene. Kate (played by Canadian actress Wendy Crewson) has a long history of failed relationships, and suffered from her father abandoning her and her mother when she was young. Daniel (played by David Wallace, who mostly played small TV parts and also works as an electrical engineer) has parents who reject his dream of becoming a video game designer. As for Robbie, his older brother Hall disappeared several years ago, and his strict father and alcoholic mother fight constantly.

Even though this movie is part of the moral panic behind games like D&D, it’s unintentionally proving the point that real-life issues are actually causing the problems here.

Anyway, Robbie moves to college at the fictional Grant University, after being kicked out of his previous college because he became too obsessed with Mazes. He meets the other three, who are already into Mazes, and reluctantly starts playing once he gets romantically involved with Kate. Jay-Jay, who feels left out by the others (partly because he’s 16 in University) at one point to make it a real life location to play out Mazes in costume in a real setting. In short, he invents larping. In the group’s next play session, he intentionally kills off his character, and then suggests this larping idea to “live out their fantasy”. Despite it being against school policy to explore the caves, due to people frequently getting lost inside, the others agree.

Sorry for the low quality of this clip. Hard to find good quality clips for some of these scenes.

While in the caves, Robbie suffers psychotic episodes where he hallucinates killing an actual monster. From that point on, Robbie loses his mind, believes he’s actually his character, the cleric Pardieu. He breaks up with Kate to maintain celibacy, although assures her that he still loves her. For the rest of the movie he loses himself to Pardieu more and more. In a dream, he is told by “The Great Hall” to go to the Two Towers, and he goes missing shortly after. In short, he completely loses his mind.

The rest of the movie focuses on his friends trying to find him, while also being interrogated by Lieutenant John Martini of the police (played by late character actor Murray Hamilton), who latches on to Mazes as “a far out game”. He suspects that one of the three murdered him, inspired by this “far out game”.

“Mazes & Monsters is a far-out game. Swords … poison … spells … battles … maiming … killing!”

“Hey, it’s all imagination!”

“Is it?”

This movie has the subtlety of a brick to the face. That said, this movie doesn’t suggest that the game itself is the problem, and this investigator is portrayed as a bit out there with his obsession. The movie does imply that everyone playing Mazes tend to have serious psychological problems, with Hanks’s character in particular suffering from either schizophrenia or some sort of multiple personality disorder.

After a scary moment in the movie, where Robbie almost jumps off the top of the Twin Towers in New York City, intending to cast a flying spell and join the Great Hall, he’s sent to the loony bin. The movie ends with the friends visiting Robbie at his parents’ estate, hoping to resume their friendship. They find that he’s in regular counseling, but will probably live out the rest of his life believing he’s Pardieu. He believes that he’s staying at an inn, paying with a magical coin that re-appears in his pocket every morning. He tells his friends of “a great evil” living nearby, and even references Jay-Jay by his character name, Frilik.

“Frilik! Aren’t you dead? Didn’t you die when you leapt into the pit? It is you Frilik, you have been resurrected to the living! Whoever did that is a great holy man, a greater holy man even than I.”

Despite his obvious insanity, the group decide to larp with him one last time, instead of trying to help him remember his true self. Kate narrates the closing monologue with.

“We saw nothing but the death of hope, and the loss of our friend.”

That’s not the full closing narration, but that’s all that’s needed for this review. This is not a good movie. The performances aren’t worth talking about all that much, because the cast doesn’t have anything to work with. Even Hanks, who was a great actor even early on, delivers several cringe moments in this movie. His panic when he briefly snaps to his real name and realizes he’s in New York sounds more like he’s mocking someone who’s crying hysterically than any kind of real panic. That said, when he believes he’s Pardieu, he’s convincing as someone who’s in a deep trance.

Would I recommend Mazes and Monsters? Not if you’re looking for a good movie, and not if you’re a fan of pen and paper RPGs who is genuinely bothered by the moral panic. On the other hand, if you’re looking for something cheesy and dumb, or are curious enough to see Hanks in his first ever starring role, it’s not a terrible movie. There are some amusingly silly moments. It’s also easy to watch for free. You can watch it ads on YouTube, Tubi, and several other free streaming services. I’ll link it below.

Next month will be War Movies month. I’ll be looking at four movies about four completely different wars. I haven’t fully decided on which ones, but next week, I’ll start with the WW1 movie 1917. The WWII movie is between Dunkirk, A Bridge Too Far (1977) and Fury. There will be a movie about an ancient war, in which I’m split between Troy and Braveheart. The fourth movie will be about a war fought since WWII, although I’ve already picked that movie. I won’t spoil it. As for the choices for WWII movies and ancient wars, I’m open to comments on which ones you prefer.

In any case, while many will read this late, Happy Halloween.

About healed1337

I am a relatively new comic book fan writing this blog for other new comic book fans and/or people who are interested in comics but don't know where to start. I've always been interested in writing, to the point where I have a college Creative Writing Certificate and I'm currently a year 2 Journalism student. I also have another blog where I mostly make fun of bad movies - As for how I got into comics, I've always had a passing interest in superheroes: most notably Batman, Spider-man and the X-Men. Until February of 2011 (I think,) my only experience with any of these franchises came from the movies and video games. Shortly after I bought Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 however, I decided to check out X-23, Wolverine's female clone. I ended up reading her Innocence Lost origin story and enjoyed it. From there, I started reading various X-Men comics and it quickly exploded into my newest hobby. My other interests/hobbies include video games, movies, music, playing sports, my dogs and weird news.
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