[24 July 2012]
At a conceptual level, and only a conceptual level, Monster Brawl is like a child’s daydream come to life. What does a horror-obsessed adolescent want more than to pit classic movie monsters against one another in a mano-a-mano cage battle? Every kid who spent his Friday and Saturday nights watching scary movies envisioned this scenario at least once. Monster Brawl sets the stage and gives you a ringside seat.
This is certainly a worthy idea, and Monster Brawl is nothing if not a hardcore fan’s love letter to the genre. Too bad the film never lives up to the potential inherent in the scenario, and the execution is nothing short of terrible. At times this is a truly excruciating film to watch. You’re annoyed five minutes in. After ten minutes you’re not sure you can make it through the entire 89 minute run time. You lose track of time somewhere around the 15 minute mark and start daydreaming about skipping chapters on the DVD, watching the remainder on fast forward, and wondering if anything will ever actually happen.
Spoiler alert: nothing happens. You could watch the entire film at double speed without missing a single thing.
Monster Brawl is framed like a pay-per-view wrestling event. It starts with inane banter between a pair of commentators—Dave Foley of Kids in the Hall, chewing every bit of scenery, and Art Hindle (The Brood)—and follows the same format step for predetermined step. The biggest difference between Monster Brawl and a Wrestlemania is that the wrestling has a more compelling story line.
There are no characters, no story, no tension, and no plot. Featuring eight contestants—Cyclops, Werewolf, Swamp Gut, Mummy, Lady Vampire, Witch Bitch, Zombie Man, and Frankenstein—the movie follows the same repetitive formula for an hour and a half. They introduce the monster, give a quick background, and show a fight. Time is wasted at every turn. Every scene should have been at least a couple minutes shorter, and the result is tedious.
Still, given everything else, all the monumental problems with Monster Brawl, you hold out hope that the fights would be good. But they couldn’t even give you that, and disappointment rears its ugly head, again. Each brawl is a jumbled mess of sloppy edits and weak fight choreography.
What’s worse is that the film ignores the essential nature of its combatants. What is a witch’s greatest power? Magic, right? You’re not betting on a witch to win a fistfight. But in Monster Brawl she neglects her single advantage against a bigger, physically stronger opponent. Only silver can kill a werewolf. Not in this realm. The zombie is swift and agile. Even so-called “fast zombies” can’t climb the ropes and execute acrobatic feats off the turnbuckle. And so it goes.
Sure, every film is going to take chances and change things and play with tradition. That’s a given. And you can deal with that, but where Monster Brawl goes off the rails is by disregarding the fundamental origins of each creature.
Monster Brawl might have worked as short film, but that’s really all the plot it has. It’s a textbook case of a film with a good idea that doesn’t have enough content to back it up or fill it out. Again, you can sense the motivations behind the film, you understand them and can get behind the project, and that makes you want to like the movie. You hope it’ll be good, but that makes it that much more of a let down when it fails on every level.
Externally, the folks at Image Entertainment put together a nice looking package for Monster Brawl. The cover is a cool, distressed poster that harkens back to grindhouses and drive-ins, as do the titles and the credit sequences. For the miniscule amount of money they had to work with, Monster Brawl looks good.
The Blu-ray comes with a solid collection of bonus features, which are more interesting than the actual film in a lot of ways. A 23-minute behind the scenes featurette and a feature length commentary track with writer/director Jesse Thomas Cook, and producers/janitors/jacks-of-all-trades Jason Geddes and Matt Wiele, both accomplish the same things. They give an inside look at what goes into a no-budget movie and, like the film, you can sense the heart and enthusiasm coming through. It makes you wish the finished product was better, it really does. Obviously these guys love what they’re doing, unfortunately they’re not doing it very well.
There’s also a six-minute reel of Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart outtakes. Only Jimmy Hart outtakes. Most of them aren’t traditional outtakes like flubbed lines and the like, it’s primarily Hart talking a mile a minute about whatever topic springs to mind, and includes some mockery of the unnecessary bikini models who serve as pseudo ring girls.