JUNE 17, 2012
It’s rare to see a movie and think “I wish this was a TV show instead”, but that’s something that continually ran through my head while watching Monster Brawl. The movie has no real plot beyond a series of fights (five total) between eight monsters more or less inspired by the classic Universal lineup – a mummy, a vampire, a werewolf, etc., and while it entertains at times, as a movie it’s a bit of a tough sell. Without any narrative thrust or variety to the intensity of the fights, it coasts on novelty alone, which unsurprisingly doesn’t sustain its 90 minute runtime.
However, as a TV show it might work. Each week they could introduce the monsters, give their backstory, explain their rivalry (the film is heavily inspired by WWE wrestling and such), and then let them kick each other’s asses for the rest of the episode. Popular monsters could be brought back week to week, audience voting could play a part… it’d definitely be a fun guilty pleasure. It would also allow for new monsters, and any new horror movie that came along could sponsor an episode and have their Jason or Freddy type villain fight one of the Monster Brawl regulars... Dammit, someone make this!
Anyway, it’s that lack of variety that kills Monster Brawl as a movie. The first fight is just as “exciting” as the final one, and it’s always a one on one in the same ring. Plus they’re not particularly interesting battles – the monsters just execute a few standard wrestling moves before whipping out their special powers (like Swamp Gut – a Black Lagoon style swamp monster – puking acid on his opponent) to finish the fight. Then we get a couple of comments from the two announcers (Dave Foley and Art Hindle) and host Jimmy Hart, and then it’s off to introduce the next two monsters so the cycle can begin anew.
These bits are a godsend, since they’re the only break we get from the small sets that make up the ring/announcer areas. In fact the little origin stories are the highlights of the film – seeing how the werewolf was turned from a human or how the mummy busted out of his crate is vastly more entertaining than their often dull fights, and again, the scenery is finally changing. The movie works in some exposition to explain why there’s no crowd watching the fight, and the one thing that could have provided some variety to the battles is removed instantly – the ref who is on hand to make sure they don’t cheat is killed in the first fight and never replaced.
Even when things seem like they will be mixed up a bit, the filmmakers hold back. At one point a half dozen or so zombies rise from their graves (the ring is in a dusty old cemetery), which I thought would result in a big fight with the current monster (Frankenstein), but instead he just wanders away and the zombies are quickly dispatched. One bites Hindle, who deteriorates into a zombie over the next 15 minutes or so, but otherwise their appearance has no function or value at all – it’s just padding. And there’s not even really a climax – the winners of two fights face off for the title, but they don’t do much to elevate it visually or creatively to give us any more reason to care (they also pick the “wrong” winner, if you ask me). I was hoping things would culminate in an actual, er, BRAWL (a brawl has more than two fighters, by the way), with tag teams and just pure chaos, but nah. The final fight concludes, a thought dead opponent rises as a zombie, and as they begin to fight we cut to Foley looking a bit shocked, and then the movie ends.
Now, to be fair, it doesn’t seem that writer/director Jesse Cook is even interested in making an actual movie here. He seems to be inspired far more by staged wrestling events like Wrestlemania than the actual monster movies the characters were inspired from, hence the lack of a strong narrative thrust. But come on, even pornos build to something. And besides, the fights aren’t exciting enough to make up for the lack of any reason to care about what’s happening throughout the film. If they were dynamic, high octane fight scenes like the big battle in Freddy Vs Jason, sure – this would be awesome. But they’re pretty bland, either because of the budgetary limitations or the heavy makeup preventing anything too crazy. It’s like, Airplane has a pretty stupid story, but the movie is so damn funny no one cares. Same thing here – if your focus is simply the mindless fights, fine – but make them the best fights ever.
I was impressed on the technical level, however, especially after going through the extras, which unsurprisingly focus on putting the movie together, the makeup, etc., without the word “script” mentioned once other than in passing. The small crew and severely low budget meant everyone had to pull double duty - some of the actors play 2-3 of the monsters, in fact. The production’s schedule is sometimes a bit too evident in the film itself – such as the fact that Foley and Hindle shot all their scenes separately, which keeps them from ever interacting with any of the monsters or Hart (I couldn’t even really figure out where they were supposed to be in relation to the ring), but all things considered, it came out alright in that department. And I love that Lance Henriksen played the voice of “God”, interjecting things like “Outstanding!” after particular moves during the fights and also narrating the tournament’s backstory.
If you really dug the film, or enjoy hearing about DIY filmmaking, by all means check out the commentary by Cook and two others who wore many hats on the production. They give everyone their due and talk at length about their production limitations without ever getting whiny or defensive, so that’s a plus. Same goes for the making of, which has some overly serious voiceover but otherwise is an enjoyable and impressive look at the set building, monster makeup design, etc. Some outtakes with Hart and the trailer round things out – it’s a respectable bonus feature set, but all it did was reinforce my theory that they should be thinking about a TV show. The sets are built, they have a good lineup of monsters… and they wouldn’t have to worry about keeping things entertaining for 90 minutes. Just 40 or so! Commercials do part of your job!
What say you?