OCTOBER 1, 2011
As with yesterday’s Opus, The Monster Of Belmont Avenue was an enjoyable entry in a genre that I’m fairly sick of, in this case the comedic horror movie that was probably inspired by Shaun of the Dead. As is usually the case, our heroes are two lazy dudes who frequent a bar and come up with idiotic plans to avoid the problem at hand before finally springing into action (and bettering their lives in the process), but luckily that’s where the similarity with Shaun ends. A surprisingly strong ratio of hits to misses with regards to the laughs and a cool monster elevate this one above many its peers, most of which had a lot more money to deal with.
Now, I only point that out because I have grown tired of producers or filmmakers claiming that their low budget was the result of their movie being underwhelming. While it can certainly be blamed for poor effects or other technical issues, having two lead characters that are enjoyable to watch and worth caring about costs absolutely nothing, as does a decent story. In fact just a few minutes ago I read a new article about Primer, one of the best films of the 00s and shot for about half of what I make in a year (hint: not a hell of a lot at all) – more proof that blaming the budget alone is a bullshit excuse.
And hey, they even got Robert Englund to appear as one of the residents of the run-down apartment building, plus SNL/Police Academy vet Tim Kazurinsky as a homeless guy that they attempt to offer to the monster as a sacrifice so he won’t eat one of their paying residents. In fact, if I had a single real complaint about the film, it would be that they don’t get enough use of their supporting cast, all of whom just disappear (via a joke, not the monster) for the bulk of the third act, which is a bummer. They took the time to create a bunch of colorful characters with distinct personalities, but then dropped them all in one fell swoop (basically, they all refuse to help battle the monster and exit the movie) – just seems like a waste.
By "they" I refer to Mike Bradecich and John LaFlamboy, who wrote and directed the film as well as star as the pair of brothers who run the building. I can’t recall two actors playing siblings who have looked LESS alike, but they make up for their lack of any physical similarity with terrific chemistry. They both play the Costello role, which would be disastrous in most cases but actually works well here; rather than constantly having the more responsible one be the butt of the lazier/funnier one’s jokes (i.e. Dante and Randall), they’re equally dim and lazy, though Bradecich might have gotten a few more laugh out loud lines. They’re also not the only funny ones; a random guy who is in their band got a few chuckles out of me, and the funniest line in the entire movie comes from their female bartender, reacting to a character’s out of nowhere dismissal of one who had recently died.
The titular moleman was cool too. The movie as a whole sort of reminded me of Bubba Ho-Tep, and in turn the monster sort of had a mummy-esque appearance (or Darkman in bandage/crazy homeless guy mode). It doesn’t really appear in full much, which I didn’t quite get as it looked cool and should have been shown off more (as opposed to some horrid CGI creation that is best kept hidden as much as possible), but at least they make it count when he does. Most of the time we just see him in long shots or in closeups of its hand/claw reaching through a vent to steal a resident’s pet to eat. On that note, it’s a testament to the movie’s quality that its able to get away with the (off-screen) deaths of several cute cats and dogs – not always at the hands of the monster – and still retain the goodwill of the audience.
I was also impressed how tight the script was. For example, late in the movie we learn how the Moleman ended up in the walls, and it actually ties into a throwaway line from the first scene that we were meant to understand as exposition about a completely unrelated issue. I love stuff like that; so many movies have obvious and clunky foreshadowing dialogue for things like this, it’s a wonderful surprise when you see a movie that actually gets twice the mileage out of one setup. Just because a movie is essentially a one joke, simple idea doesn’t mean that it can’t be well-written.
Now, if they want to blame the budget on the look of the film, I can accept that without question. It’s not a particularly good looking film – everything looked slightly out of focus, and they weren’t using the best cameras in the world. However I'm pretty sure the screener they were using was a bit lo-res (the trailer looks much better), so hopefully an eventual DVD release will be OK. It would be a real shame if folks missed out on the movie because they assumed anything that looked so cheap wouldn’t be worth their time. It’s actually a fairly accessible movie, especially when compared to the other movies I saw at the festival, but general audiences might not be as forgiving of (or used to seeing) a lo-fi presentation.
But who cares? It’s a charming, well-paced, and very funny indie horror flick – a group of words that rarely goes together without major caveats. Hopefully it gets picked up and Bradecich and LaFlamboy continue on this path together.
What say you?