FTP: Book of Monsters (2019)

DECEMBER 22, 2022


Given the success and – more importantly – inspiring nature of Evil Dead and its first sequel (after that they had real money), it’s not all that surprising to see some of its plot devices end up in independent genre films. But sometimes these films can be grating, especially if they try to force memorable catchphrases down our throats in hopes of creating the next “Groovy” or whatever (made worse when you consider how many of them feature actors with nary an ounce of Bruce Campbell’s charm. So I admit I wasn’t expecting much from Book of Monsters, which was clearly about an evil book unleashing hell on a group of friends, however I’m happy to say it was actually quite entertaining and bodes well for the creative team’s future endeavors.

Part of what helps it along is that it doesn’t waste too much time getting to the gory/goopy stuff; there’s an opening kill (our heroine’s mother) followed by 10-15 minutes of introductions and establishing the character dynamics: the now teenaged daughter of the woman killed in the opening is about to celebrate her birthday, but a small gathering with friends turns into a big party (where her bully shows up, of course). It isn’t long before the promised monsters appear, and there’s a surprising variety: a plague mask wearing creeper, a sultry shapeshifter, little worm like things, etc. As we learn on the behind the scenes doc, this was a crowdfunded film, and while not without some blemishes (none crippling), it’s actually got more production value than some traditionally financed films of late. Whatever they raised from the online funding, it’s certainly all on screen.

Of course, a bunch of costumes and splatter effects wouldn’t matter in the long run if the characters were insufferable, but that’s not the case here. The creative team of Paul Butler (writer) and Stewart Sparke (director; both produced) wisely opted to not only center on their lead and treat everyone else as fodder. Sure, birthday girl Sophie gets the limelight, but her bffs Mona and Beth all have their own complete adventures/arcs that are just as engaging as Sophie’s story, and there’s also a pair of party guests (Gary the nice guy who turns out to be a capable monster fighter, and Jess, who is Sophie’s crush) that won me over. FIVE characters in a modern horror movie that I liked enough to hope they survived until the end? That’s (so sadly) unprecedented!

It also doesn’t beat us over the head with its homages/references. Even though the Evil Dead-ness is apparent, the most blatant it gets is a tape recorded message from Sophie’s mom, on an old-school reel to reel deck, which they find next to a chainsaw. Nowadays, with everyone so quick to judge something as a ripoff, moments like this are almost necessary, as if the filmmakers are acknowledging their influence but don’t want to turn it into a Family Guy episode where they’re just rattling movie names and quotes. It’s the best way to do such things, and I encourage it.

The disc comes jampacked with features, including the aforementioned making of which runs an hour long and is chock full of anecdotes and “how we did this” explanations, many of which revolve around the fact that they were working with limited means (personal favorite reveal: a monster trying to bust down a door was played by the same guy who said monster was trying to get to on the other side). They also run a master class in how to run an effective crowdfunding campaign, which instead of focusing on useless perks like fake producer credits or signed crap you’ll never look at (if they even send it), they offered contributors a chance to directly influence parts of the film, including choosing the role of “the uninvited guest” character (among other options, “male stripper” won out) and what types of monsters would appear. There are also two commentaries; one with Butler and Sparke and the other with the cast, and if you are familiar with such things you’ll know that the latter is less interesting, but still has some fun reveals and shoot memories. Deleted scenes, a gag reel, a short film, the crowdfund video, etc… if you enjoyed the film, you’ll have about five hours of extra time to spend with it, thanks to those who agree with me that bonus features are a valid enterprise despite the preference for streaming.

The crew and some of the cast are now in production on what sounded like a sequel (titled How To Kill Monsters) but per the IMDb the returning cast members are playing different characters, so it is perhaps a Fish Called Wanda/Fierce Creatures kind of deal instead. Which is weird, since the end of this one has a setup for more adventures, but perhaps the film didn’t meet the level of success they were hoping for (I have no idea how well these Dread releases perform, but I DO know that unlike discs from other specialty outfits like Shudder and Arrow, they don’t show up inside brick and mortar retailers like Best Buy, only through their online delivery services, which presumably limits their exposure and amount of blind buying) and they had to switch gears. Either way, I look forward to what they do next, and encourage those who enjoy low budget creature flicks to give this one a look.

What say you?


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