Looking for a TV movie incarnation of a 1980s moral panic? Check out the infamous Mazes and Monsters, produced during the ramp-up of the 1980s ‘Satanic panic’ hysteria over role-playing games, especially Dungeons and Dragons. Adapted from Rona Jaffe’s novel based on inaccurate and hyperbolic newspaper stories about the 1979 real-life disappearance and eventual suicide of 17-year-old Michigan State University student James Dallas Egbert III. These news articles were based in part on specious speculations of a private investigator that Egbert’s playing of Dungeons and Dragons was a contributing factor in his disappearance. Jaffe cranked out this book in days to capitalize on the media hype.
Opening with a stern on-site reporter educating the viewers at home on Mazes and Monsters, the movie then flashes back six months to focus on college freshman Robbie, one of a group that plays the role-playing game Mazes and Monsters. Robbie experiences breaks in reality which causes him to assume the personality of his game avatar. The film culminates atop the south tower of the World Trade Center where Robbie blubbers almost incoherently “what am I doing here??” The viewer is of course left to infer the game is responsible for Robbie’s behavior, instead of his mental illness.
The 1982 CBS TV movie broadcast was interestingly sponsored by Proctor and Gamble, another victim of the 1980s ‘Satanic panic’ in the form of a nationwide rumor that the company supported Satanism and it’s logo contained occult symbolism. Perhaps in order to be viewed as critical of the occult, they sponsored this TV movie which only served to further the ridiculous moral panic that they themselves were a victim of.
Teleplay by Tom Lazarus (Just You and Me, Kid-1979; Stigmata-1999) and directed by Steven Hilliard Stern, responsible for other salacious TV fare such as Anatomy of a Seduction, Portrait of an Escort, and Portrait of a Showgirl, Mazes and Monsters is also known for giving us actor Tom Hanks as Robbie in his first lead role. Chris Makepeace also stars. Mazes and Monsters streams free on YouTube Movies.
Look for a more fleshed-out article on this coming soon here on Second Union.
Socially Distant Cinema is a column that will regularly point you to content from the 70s/80s currently available on various platforms that may bring you some entertainment during these periods of physical distancing.