Skullduggery (1983) is so mindnumbingly bad that I had to watch it two times having subconsciously blotted most of it from my mind. Yes, it really is that bad, so bad that the poor transfer from VHS to DVD neither adds nor detracts from the movie, while the production values remind me of my junior high gaming friends’ attempts at making our own movie. The camera work is decent stuff, but the writing and plot are horribly inane.
I began by writing “the movie only has two semi-redeeming features”, but that would be giving the acting and the comedy of Skullduggery too much credit. The best bit of acting in Skullduggery is when the some of the characters do a good job of poor acting in a play during an odd talent show. The other “redeeming” feature is the rather sparse comedy sprinkled throughout and by comedy, I mean the funniest line in the movie is, “Listen, I’ve got a raccoon in my pants, want to set it free?” If that doesn’t get you, maybe an old woman in her 70s in a ballerina’s tutu will make you laugh? No? Then you should read this review of Skullduggery, complete with the theme song, video clips, and screen captures. It’s much more humorous than the actual Skullduggery. This review is less humorous, but also captures Skullduggery well. Anyone stating that the movie is good should be distrusted. Every honest review of Skullduggery should have the words “worse” or “worst” in them. However the movie does depict some gaming on screen.
The Gaming Aspects
In character creation Adam rolls up a Warlock, getting a 180 IQ. a 12 Commonsense, 18 Stamina, and a 7 Charisma, prompting Barbara to gush “That’s the highest score I’ve ever seen. You couldn’t have done much better than that, Adam.” They play with a castle in the middle of the board with one GM and four players. The board is slightly reminiscent of the Talisman 3rd Edition board with a tower in the middle (with apologies to Talisman for the comparison).
The second session features Mike coming in with an arrow through his head saying “We are two wild and crazy knights!” as the GM face palms. The GM has a new “scenario” though, “there is a girl somewhere near who’s gaining enormous powers. A high level sorceror wants to hire you to kill her.” The black player has one of his few speaking lines in the film, questioning who she is. “A sorceress dressed in white,” the GM answers. The group will get 100,000 pieces of gold for completing this mission. We also learn that Barbara plays a magic nymph.
While there are several other sessions, they have few, if any, game mechanics in them. At one point Adam’s Warlock is one square behind the White Sorceress, so they have some sort of grid movement on the board. Adam sums it up pretty well “It’s hard to say where the game begins or life ends. Sometimes I feel like one of those figurines on the board.” Starting a new game in the last sequence of the movie, the GM says “Now all the figurines are on neutral territory.” There is no actual role-playing as the characters, but instead the GM paraphrases for the villains or the wizard offering the bounty on the sorceress, though they do use a dagger in the game. The GM always assumes the party’s cooperation. Actual in-game combat is not depicted.
The world is a dark, dark place and always horribly lit. A warlock in 1382 gives thanks to a demonic puppet, the Spirit of Evil, having said earlier “Diabolus nos adjuvet. So the Devil help us”. He quickly kills two royal guards and holds up his hands innocently which did have me laughing both times. The king is both poisoned and stabbed and then the warlock explains the premise of the movie so quickly and briefly that it may be easy to miss. The king broke his promise to give his soul to the warlock, because of this the warlock claims the soul of the Queen’s unborn child and puts a “spell on him and his offspring for generations to come. Diabolus me adjuvet. So the Devil help me.”
“The weirdest part is that all of a sudden the sight of blood really gives me the creeps.”
Cutting to Trottelville, USA in 1982, the odd Adam (Thom Halverston) glowers about on the street. He is joined by his friend, the nerdy nurse Barbara (Wendy Crewson). When they get to their poorly-lit gaming session, the demonic puppet is on the wall. The GM who is called Chuck late in the movie is played quite well by David Main. Adam rolls a Warlock and sees a red electronic light in the miniature castle on their game board. He invokes the demonic puppet, which falls to the ground and then there’s the first taste of five or more sequences of a mysterious man putting together a puzzle of Adam and Eve with a horrible brassy jazz score that appear throughout the movie. If you watch this movie, which I strongly recommend you don’t , you can know how much more awful you’ll have to sit through by how complete the puzzle is. The game session is wrapping up and then begins the lengthy Trottelville Junior College talent show.
“I can suck a Greyhound bus through a garden hose.”
A stage magician makes his appearance and seems to work real magic in the girl’s dressing room. No, even though it came out in 1983, there are no hijinks in the girl’s dressing room… yet. The silent magician works through a number of tricks on stage as Adam scowls. Thom Halverson is really good at scowling and has even mastered delivering lines in monotone. The puppet reappears. Then there is a student-written play in the talent show with Adam substituting in a guard’s armor costume. His initial efforts to murder the play’s princess are thwarted. Naturally Adam is next seen in the girl’s changing room where the actress playing Eve asks for “someone” to rub oil into her back, unaware that it is Adam rubbing the oil in. Acting in talent shows obviously is very hard on the muscles. Another woman appears and calls Adam a lecherous creep and he flees. He appears later, glaring at Eve, as she is strangled by a constrictor on stage.
“It’s almost as if I’ve lived other lives before this one.”
Adam and Barbara reflect on the woman’s death in her father’s costume shop before Adam goes to see a fortune teller. She astounds him by knowing about his left armpit wart and does a tarot reading. Adam doesn’t take too kindly to the discovery of his wart and stabs her. There’s another game session, where the party takes a commission to kill a white-dressed female sorceress. Adam rolls 6-6-6 on his dice and is alarmed by this result! Except the dice look more like runes in this dark and odd shot. Cut to the hospital!
The Hospital Scene
By this point, forty minutes have passed. The hospital actually has some lighting which helps illuminate the stupid shenanigans. A nurse moans behind a screen, “Don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop. Oh doctor, you’re the best! In this room, at this time.” The doctor is wearing a gorilla suit and likes to do Humphrey Bogart impressions. Adam nets another victim. He also slips, but not on a banana peel, though I get the feeling that might have been in the script.
“You know, Adam, it’s a match made in Heaven… Are you gay, Adam?”
Adam is taken to a different white-clad nurse’s home owing to his fall. She’s very straight forward with him, finding his dark features irresistible. The feeling’s not mutual as she questions Adam’s sexuality. She’s into a bit of roleplay herself, wanting to play kinky mother and son games with him. I am not making this up. Fortunately Adam hears a voice “There’s a girl who’s gaining enormous powers.” He drives her off with the steam from an iron, which was pretty hilarious. This was my wife’s favorite part too. By this point, I started cheering for Adam.
“Slay them. Violently. One after another.”
It’s also at this point that it becomes very clear that this is not a movie about the dangers of role-playing, but instead an attempt at a farce. Adam gets another kill and turns in his proof of killing “the sorceress” at the game session. His group thinks he’s nuts, but the GM doesn’t put a halt to the game. A woman comes in wanting a costume for a party and then Skullduggery goes very Donnie Darko. Switchblade-wielding rabbits are pretty deadly. This was in 198X, over a decade before Darko. Adam loots her entry ticket to the costume contest and then it’s back to the RPG session where the party’s been challenged by the Apostles of Hell, a nefarious group, led by the Devil himself. The password to gain entrance to the Villa Evel where they can be found is “Skullduggery”.
Evel Villa and Dr. Evel
Gaining entrance with “Skullduggery” also elicits some faster paced electronic music. The movie is two thirds of the way through and into the action as the “Skullduggery” theme plays. Partiers revel. Dr. Evel strolls about. Adam is introduced to the beautiful Irene who offers him an apple. Serpents, apples, Adam and Eve. There might be some symbolism here. Adam lays into Irene with a butcher’s knife, but she is soon replaced by another model. She offers him darach, blood, almost as an aphrodesiac. “I want you too, my brother,” she tells him. He again invokes the Devil for help and just when it seems like he’ll knife her, he instead steams her, leaving a skull. Adam’s killings are just getting warmed up. The two bouncers try to rape a Hawaian girl and all three get treated to Adam’s skullduggery as he runs them all through with a single thrust of his spear.
“Elementary, my dear Watson.”
It’s the Evel Villa, so there are four women lounging around as one puts razor blades into an apple, preparing for Halloween. Adam takes her hostage with a sai, but she manages to get away, resulting in a long and drawn out chase through the villa, even by Skullduggery standards. Adam performs a feat of magic for the attendees, the puppet is shot by a mustachioed man’s imaginary arrow, and the police come the next day to investigate the murders with the inspector doing some Sherlock Holmes acting. Dr. Evel turns Adam in as the murderer. The police track him down to the costume shop. Hopes that the police might put Adam (and the viewer) out of misery are dashed as Adam kills some of the police off in the costume store. Director Ota Richter doesn’t even try to take advantage of the costumes in the ensuing fight. Somehow Adam dies. They kick open his suit of armor and there’s a demonic puppet inside.
The Joyful End: “Don’t forget that Adam was a Warlock of the first Order of Power or possessed by the Devil.”
The end is actually one of the better parts of Skullduggery, not just because it ends the viewer’s misery, but because the last gaming session involves the GM having Adam’s armor propped up in an odd tribute. Adam will get one last game in. This is a really compassionate gaming group. They place the dice in his gauntlet and Adam “rolls” 6-6-6 again and then his armor lunges forward with a dagger, killing the GM! Since I like the Phantasm series I do appreciate this last stab at violence on the part of Skullduggery. Since I can’t spoil what is already rotten, the GM was none other than Dr. Evel!