Reviews

Like a Child’s Daydream Come to Life: 'Monster Brawl'

A faux pay-per-view event pits mythic monsters against each other in a wrestling wring.


Monster Brawl

Director: Jesse Thomas Cook
Cast: Dave Foley, Art Hindle, Kevin Nash, Lance Henricksen, Jimmy Hart
Distributor: Image Entertainment
Rated: NR
Release date: 2012-06-12

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.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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