Shitty Movie Sundays: Mazes and Monsters

This isn’t the trailer. This is the climax. Go ahead and watch it. You will have missed nothing of consequence in the rest of the film.

I enjoy seeing movies from the early days of a star’s career. Not all stars were fortunate enough to burst onto the scene out of nowhere, but rather had to put in the low level, unglamorous grunt work that us normal people must endure when starting out. That’s how we got such historic performances from George Clooney in Return of the Killer Tomatoes, Kevin Bacon in Friday the 13th, and Jennifer Aniston in Leprechaun. Watching these films, there is no indication at all that these were future stars. I can now add another film to the Shitty Movie Sundays athenaeum featuring a then-unknown star.

Mazes and Monsters really had no hope from the start. It’s a made-for-TV flick from 1982. I don’t know how many readers remember television’s past. When critics and others say or write that we are living in a golden age for television, they’re not joking. Going back and seeing what the networks fed us 20, 25, 30 years ago or more, the product is barely recognizable compared to what is on television now. Television today is cinematic in its visual quality and has narrative complexities those in the business decades ago could only dream of. TV from the past looks like the work of rank amateurs by comparison. So, even if Mazes and Monsters had been an above average example of television of the day it would still have a hard time here in 2017. Guess what? It’s not an above average example of contemporary television.

Mazes and Monsters, an adaptation of a novel by Rona Jaffe, tells the story of Robbie Wheeling, played, in an early leading role, by Tom Hanks.

Hanks has had an interesting career. The 1980s were a time when he seemed to alternate between success and obscurity. There were flashes of the talent he had, as his performances elevated films like Splash and Big. But then something like The Money Pit would come out and all the goodwill audiences had for Hanks would evaporate. He was a reliable goofball lead, but that limited his opportunities. He crawled out from being typecast in this way one film at a time in the early 1990s, culminating with his Oscar-winning role in Philadelphia. All of a sudden Tom Hanks wasn’t so funny anymore, and the rest is history.

My personal favorite performance from Hanks’ early days was when he played an alcoholic who guzzled vanilla extract on a very special episode of Family Ties. This flick might have had a shot at eclipsing my fond memories of that melodramatic claptrap, but it’s just so bad.

Hanks’ Robbie Wheeling is just your normal, everyday young man starting college. He has parents, friends, and a love interest. It’s all very middle class. But like the real middle class, there are some things happening in Robbie’s life that aren’t so sunny.

Wheeling has a budding mental illness that causes a break from reality after playing a dungeon-crawler board game called Mazes and Monsters. The game is a moral panic-type objet d’art of the times. What are these teenagers up to? Why are they so different than we were at their age? Et cetera, et cetera.

Anyway, Wheeling loses touch with reality, believing he is a character from the game, on a quest to slay monsters and some such. His friends then spend the remainder of the film trying to find Robbie before he jumps off the roof of the World Trade Center. I’m not joking. That’s how the film climaxes. But before that good stuff, there’s an hour and a half of deadly slowness.

I often point to pacing as one of the things I love about this or that movie in a review. It can be hard to convey what makes for good pacing and poor pacing. A viewer will know good pacing when they see it, and this flick has none. Early into this dog I checked to see how much runtime had gone. I had thought I was 20 minutes in, when, in reality, only seven minutes had gone by. Seven. The slow setup in this flick is brutal.

And it gets no better from there. The sound quality is poor and the musical soundtrack sounds like public domain chamber music, with the occasional contribution from a Captain and Tennille tribute band. When the film finally did reach that 20-minute mark, I still had little clue as to where the plot was going, and my attention was already waning.

Mazes and Monsters is an artifact. Unlike other films of even lower quality that I’ve reviewed for Shitty Movie Sundays, I enjoyed none of this flick. It was a slog to get through and didn’t have nearly enough ridiculous lines of dialogue to keep me laughing. I’ve seen this flick, now you don’t have to. Mazes and Monsters is a far worse film than Alien: Resurrection.

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