In 1984, Jack Chick, of Chick Tracts fame, warned about the dangers of Dungeons and Dragons in a comic book that, among other things, depicted players of the entirely imagination-based role-playing game casting actual spells and joining the occult. The pamphlet is kind of a high water mark of cultural fearmongering for those of us who are into that sort of thing. And now that tract is a film, apparently, because good things can still happen in this world we live in. A trailer for the film came out this week.
You've probably been offered a Chick Tract at some point in your life. They've been in production for decades, and tackle pretty much every topic from global warming to other religions to sports players, all with a very evangelical, very End Times-heavy message for the reader. Each pamphlet ends with a call to pray to Jesus, as they are intended — and used as — evangelical tools for lay Christians and for clergy. Chances are, you have ignored the proffered pamphlet in your path. I am here to tell you that you should not: Chick Tracts are astonishing artifacts of one particular, reclusive, man's fear of the world, channeled through his religious belief. They are themselves cultural treasures, despite the fact that this is certainly the opposite of what Chick would like. Anyway, in case you're not familiar with the pamphlet, the Chick Tracts site has the entire thing available for reading online, here. This is a sample panel:
Based on the trailer, Dark Dungeons plays it entirely straight, presenting Chick's earnest warning from the comic strip of the same name as it was written in 1984, and letting its unintentional comedic genius shine through, like light from heaven:
Yes, it's a little low budget, but only a little. The film is a Kickstarted project from Portland-based filmmaker JR Ralls, who said on his successful funding page that he started working on the project after winning a modest bounty in the lottery. Somehow, he also convinced Chick to give him the film rights to this pamphlet. Eventually, Zombie Orpheus Entertainment got involved, which brings us to today's trailer.
As Wired noted in its write-up of the film, Jack Chick was hardly the only person warning about the "dangers" of Dungeons and Dragons in the 1980s, or even today. Pat Robertson has echoed Chick's narrative, for instance, on his "700 Club" show, suggesting that Dungeons and Dragons contributes to teen suicide. But Chick remains one of the most imaginative and fascinating marginal figures of the so-called "culture war." Chick, and I mean this lovingly, is so singular that he is beyond parody, as the filmmakers here seem to understand.
The full-length film premieres in mid-August at GenCon.