Galaxy of Terror (1981)

Galaxy of Terror (1981)

ALIEN was the beginning … Hell Has Just Been Relocated!

After contact is lost with the crew of a ship on the planet Morganthus, a military vessel is sent to investigate. But after homing in on the distress beacon, the ship crash lands, stranding the crew on the planet as well. Investigating the remains of the other ship, the crew find themselves being picked off one-by-one by malevolent forces that they do not understand.

 

Galaxy of Terror was the first of producer Roger Corman’s 80s double-dip into the world of Alien knock-offs and whilst the film shares little with Ridley Scott’s classic (in that there isn’t one alien going around killing people), the whole ‘slasher in space’ similarities can’t be ignored especially once the crew arrive on the planet and explore a very similar-looking oval-shaped room with something nasty lurking inside. Think of it as a lower budget version of Event Horizon (long before that was made I might add) but a lot more confusing and you’ll get the general feel for Galaxy of Terror, a film which is as frustrating as it is fun.

Made for the rumoured sum of $700,000, Galaxy of Terror belays its meagre budget and it is a credit to everyone involved for making it look as good as it does. The optical effects for the spaceships and planet look top notch, there are some really good matte designs (in particular the towering alien structure) and the ship set designs, whilst being made with what looks like egg cartons, manage to convey the futuristic setting admirably. Fun trivia: a certain production designer/second unit director named James Cameron received his big break on this film. The rest, as they say, is history. Cameron’s touch of class is unmistakable here, as is that of a number of hungry, talented individuals who have since gone on to lengthy careers in the business thanks to Corman giving them their big breaks.

Unfortunately Galaxy of Terror has one major, major flaw that stops it from cult classic status and that it is there is hardly any story whatsoever. The ship crash lands on this strange planet and as soon as they go out exploring, characters begin to get killed off in bizarre circumstances without any real explanation. It isn’t until really late in the film when one character explains all that you realise the crew are being killed off by their fears. Even the final revelations and obligatory twists and turns make little sense in the grand scheme of things. It’s all very vague and very hokey so you just have to go with the flow. But there is a nice psychological terror undercurrent flowing throughout and even if there are few ‘boo’ scares, there’s still plenty of stuff to get under your skin and freak you out.

Surprisingly, Galaxy of Terror is extremely downbeat. Almost everything that happens is as worst case scenario as possible. There’s not an ounce of hope for anyone to survive this planet and you get the feeling that you’re watching a load of characters get served up a smorgasbord. Suspense is a rare commodity here. Instead the film trades in the currency of gore….and lots of it. From charred bodies screaming in last gasp death throes, to limbs being hacked off to exploding (or should that be crushed) heads, Galaxy of Terror isn’t afraid to do the dirty.

The various creatures that the crew conjure up in their minds are particularly impressive too: a mixture of stop-motion, animatronics, miniatures and puppetry which gives it a nice old school ‘real’ feel. Perhaps the most infamous scene in the film involves one female character being raped by a giant maggot, having earlier confessed her fear of maggots. The scene throws in the token nudity but it’s a bit tasteless to watch! Other scenes including the aforementioned head explosion and charred body are much more terrifying and brutal in their appearance, making a more lasting impression for gore hounds.

There are  few familiar faces amongst the cast, in particular a pre-Freddy Kruger Robert Englund as a rookie navigator. Sid Haig, who would go on to more fame as Captain Spaulding in House of 1,000 Corpses as well as countless other cult films, is on hand as an apparently-mute alien who likes to throw his crystal shard weapons around. Rumour has it Haig was unhappy with the dialogue his character had been given and asked if he could remain silent. Future soft core maestro Zalman King (he of Red Shoes Diaries fame) also stars as a hot-headed soldier.

 

It’s a shame that the story is so weak and non-descript and the dialogue is atrocious because Galaxy of Terror is almost everything a low budget shocker should be. I just can’t fault the film for its production values because a lot of hard work has clearly gone into making it look as good as possible on its low budget. For schlock value it’s up there with the best B-movies. A cult flick though not the classic it should have been.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Forbidden World (1982)

Forbidden World (1983)

A Science Fiction Horror Adventure That’ll Blow You Away!

Intergalactic trouble shooter Mike Colby is given orders to head to a genetic research lab on a distant planet to find out why they sent out a distress signal. When Colby gets there, the science team informs him that their latest experiment has mutated into some form of bizarre life form which has an insatiable appetite for protein. In order to accommodate its needs, it starts infecting any human beings it comes into contact with, turning them into gelatinous piles of protein which it can harvest.

 

Infamous B-Movie producer Roger Corman pulls the purse strings for Forbidden World, his second foray into Alien knock-off territory after the slightly-more-ambitious- -but-less-entertaining Galaxy of Terror. Cheap schlock doesn’t come any more pleasurable than this one as Forbidden World wears its exploitative heart on its sleeve. At a lean seventy seven minutes long, the film sheds any real sense of originality and reverts to type: cheap monster attacks, buckets of blood and lots of naked flesh. In a sentence: the ultimate B-movie formula.

Though Forbidden World is obviously trapped within the confines of its low budget, a terrific job has been done to make sure that every ounce of cash has been used wisely. Instead of blowing loads of cash on space effects like in Galaxy of Terror, the terra firma approach works wonders, as the remote research facility makes for a suitably ominous location. In fact most of Forbidden World is ominous – originally featuring a lot more cornball humour, Corman apparently cut a lot out after a test screening and the results are rather sinister and depressing. This is not a film which trades on hope and happiness but rather death and bleakness.

The script is decent, way smarter than you’d expect for such a derivative title, and whilst the plot doesn’t really throw in too many twists and plays itself relatively predictably, the film never once threatens to bounce into tongue-in-cheek territory (again thanks to Corman’s cuts). On the flip side, it rarely manages to create any real scares and there’s a general lack of tension. But in the hands of low budget auteurs, such meticulous planning is thrown out of the window in favour of the easier-to-manage alternatives.

Let me tell you that Forbidden World thrives on the trashy essentials: gore and naked chicks. Effects guru John Carl Beuchler has worked on many horror films since this one and it’s easy to see why. The very nature of the alien wanting to turn the human scientists into food is guaranteed to make for some icky scenes: the particular highlight is the progressive wasting away of one character who, over the course of the film, is literally reduced to a pile of goo on an operating table. It’s a gross effect, one which even had me squirming around a little, and was reminiscent of the 80s remake of The Blob for its body-melting horror. There are plenty of other moments where the red stuff is squirted and sprayed across the screen with great abandon.

And as for the naked chicks, well the script dishes out a bum deal to the likes of Dawn Dunlap and June Chadwick. The only two females on the research station, it isn’t long before Colby (played as a rather useless character by Jesse Vint) manages to get them both into the sack for the requisite sex scenes. Then just to complete the circle, the females get cosy in an overlong shower sequence (possibly the most gratuitous sequence I’ve ever seen – they’re discussing how to communicate with the alien at the same time as soaping each other up too). It’s nudity for nudity’s sake and whilst you’ll get no complaints for me (as they’re both attractive ladies), its shamelessly cynical.

The alien design is solid enough to warrant it getting more screen time than the laughable monster in say Creature, but it is given a cumbersome, almost immobile body which renders is more or less static at times. It unfortunately sticks to the traditional ‘black skinned alien with long white teeth’ made so famous by H.R. Giger’s creature in Alien and there are plenty of close-ups of the head in action to reinforce this image time and time again. Though I guess with the body being too big to move around, head close-ups are about the best that could be hoped for.

 

Forbidden World isn’t a ‘good’ film by any stretch of the imagination but it is incredibly entertaining for what it is meant to be. The love and affection, and sheer skill to work on such budgets, is evident in everything from the sets to the screenplay and as a result, it turns into one of the best, if not the best, of the Alien knock-offs from the era. Embrace the sleaze and cheese and you’re in for a trashy trip into bargain bin territory. Ones of Corman’s best and arguably his most fun.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Star Crystal (1986)

Star Crystal (1986)

…In Space scientists have discovered a new life form…they are about to wish they hadn’t…

A team of explorers on Mars find a curious rock and take it back on board their shuttle, where the rock  opens up to reveal a crystal and begins to drip goo onto the deck, eventually forming into a small creature. Two months later, the shuttle comes to dock at space station Alpha Seven with the entire crew dead after their air supply was cut off. An investigative team heads on board the shuttle to find out what went wrong and repair it. But whilst on board there is a problem aboard Alpha Seven and it explodes, leaving the shuttle and emergency crew stranded. But that is the least of their problems as the creature is still on board and, now much larger and guided by the crystal, begins to kill them off.

 

OK I’m making the film sound way more fun and sinister than it needs to be with that last sentence. Truth be told, Star Crystal is anything but fun or sinister. One of a various number of straight-to-video Alien rip-offs that were released in the 80s (a time when basically any script got the green light!), Star Crystal sets about feeding the crew of a small ship to a gloopy alien monster in banal fashion. You’ll have been there, got the t-shirt and such like. But you’ll not have had a t-shirt quite like this.

It beggars belief at how amateurish it all comes off. There are low budget films, there are micro budget films and then is this. Star Crystal is easily the most low budget of all of the Alien knock-offs and whilst similar films were able to conceal their limitations as best they could (I’m thinking of the Roger Corman duo of Galaxy of Terror and Forbidden World), there’s no hiding from the lack of cash here. The shuttle is one of the smallest sets known to man – in fact there only seem to be three sparsely-decorated sets in the entire film. The production designer couldn’t even come up with a ship which featured proper walkways or corridors either. Instead, the characters have to crawl around in small shafts to get from one room to another. It’s a perplexing decision which means you’ll see a lot of crawling around as the characters go from room to room…and I mean a lot of crawling. I’m guessing that someone tried to mimic the claustrophobia ventilation shaft scene from Alien but they failed miserably.

The budget is the least of its problems though. Star Crystal has a glaring flaw with the way that its narrative unfolds. We get introduced to the explorers on Mars in the opening few scenes and you assume they will be the main characters and feature in the main story. But they are not long for this world and then we head across to Alpha Seven where more characters with speaking parts are introduced. Granted, a few films feature false starts and then get on with the real characters after the prologue so there’s no difference here. But then these characters are disposed off as well and we’re left with the crew on board the shuttle. So that’s a third set of characters within the first ten minutes. It’s not like the characters matter anyway as the acting is wooden and fails to garner any emotional reaction from the audience.

However, I will say that the creature design actually surprised me. I was expecting some large, black-skinned, multi-toothed acid-spewing monster which is the norm for this sub-genre – in fact the poster looks to feature such an alien. But what you actually get is a conceptually-decent idea which is ultimately let down by the shoddy special effects. This is a creature which is basically a pile of goo (or milk, if the first shots of it leaving the crystal are to go by) and needs organic material so that it slowly begins to construct its form, eventually taking on something we are more familiar with (two eyes and a mouth but still a large mass of gloop). It somehow manages to grow huge tentacles with claws on the end to hook onto its victims and the resultant deaths are bloody, in a nasty low budget way.

It’s at this point that I’d usually end my review as I don’t want to prattle on all night but there is more which warrants critiquing. Star Crystal features a nonsensical twist about three quarters of the way in. It’s insane. If you want to know more, then read on. If not skip the spoilers below and head straight to the final verdict.

 

***SPOILERS***

In one of the most bizarre twists I’ve ever seen, the alien is revealed to be called Gar and after reading through the ship’s computer and discovering the Bible, it becomes a born-again Christian and apologies to the two survivors for killing the rest of the crew! Then Gar asks to work with the humans so that they can both use the ship to get home. Cue loads of overblown soppy child-like music which wouldn’t seem out of place in The Neverending Story as the film shows us a montage of the alien and humans working and living together for the duration of their journey. It’s an utterly incomprehensible turn of events – did the two survivors just completely forget the horrible melting deaths that their friends suffered at this creature’s hands?

 

***END SPOILERS***

 

Star Crystal was dead on arrival anyway but that final third twist is just so insanely out of this world that it would take a complete madman or genius to think of it. I can’t suggest anyone sit through this to see what I’m referring to so you are better off just reading my spoiler section! It would save you a lot of hassle. The worst of the Alien clones by a warp factor.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Creature (1985)

Creature (1985)

It’s been sleeping peacefully on a moon of Saturn for 2000 centuries … until now!

Two competing Earth corporations have sent spaceships to explore the moon of Titan. The German vessel arrives there first but contact is lost and the rival American expedition attempts to set down. But they crash on the surface, stranding them on the moon. Here, they discover that the Germans accidentally freed an alien creature which had been kept on the moon as part of another species’ ‘intergalactic pet collection.’ The creature wiped out the German team and now it has made its way on board the downed American ship to continue its carnage.

 

Fresh off trying his own monster movie with a Giger-like creature in 1981′s Scared to Death, director William Malone took to the stars for a second blast at aping Ridley Scott’s classic sci-fi horror Alien in Creature, arguably the most blatant of the numerous rip-offs that were produced in the 80s home video boom. Not only is there a tall, dark and deadly alien lurking around a spaceship stalking an expendable crew but this one introduces the shady corporate element too. It all amounts to what is essentially the reason people like me watch these cash-in films: we love the films that they’re ripping off, we know that these knock-offs are going to be rubbish but we need our fix of whatever made us love the originals so much in the first place and watch these in the futile hope that they deliver temporary satisfaction. Creature delivers about as much as you’d expect it to, which is a lot of not very little.

Creature has suffered pretty badly over the years and whilst it’s always been in print in the UK, the quality of the transfers has always been atrocious. Not that a decent transfer would help it in any way but it doesn’t really need a grainy picture to add insult to injury over what is already a poor film. A lot of the scenes are badly lit and whilst the film attempts to convey the sense of darkness on the moon, it doesn’t make for a great watch when you need to squint to see what is going in on some scenes.

Special effects are not Creature’s strongest selling point. Whilst the ship sets look as believable as they are entitled to make them look and the moon’s weather is given the wind machine/strobe lighting stage effects, it’s the quality of the monster that is the film’s biggest flaw. As the poster is at great liberties to put across, the alien looks like, well, THE alien (black-skinned, long-narrow head, lots of sharp teeth, though without the acid blood). It’s something that has bugged me for years as I watch numerous alien-themed films and see the same type of creature designs being wheeled out time and time again, all built around Giger’s legendary and beautiful creation. Why can’t designers come up with something slightly unique?

In the grand traditions of old, the alien is kept off screen for as long as possible, with only brief glimpses of it for the most part until more of it is revealed in the finale where it, unsurprisingly, disappoints. Even here, as it throttles one of the male characters, can you see that it’s just a guy in a suit –not even that either as he’s only wearing gloves in some brief clips, so you can see the very-human wrists and arms of the man behind the mask. It kind of ruins an already trashy image of the alien but looking back I shouldn’t have built my hopes up for something scary or threatening. In other scenes it’s just a poorly animated puppet. Stare at the poster for a few seconds and you’ll see more of it than in the entire film. As a consequence of not showing the alien, the finale is such a let-down given that there had been a few moments of enjoyable cheese in the build-up.

Thankfully the gore quota is decent and there are enough people hanging around Titan to provide a good body count. Heads are exploded, faces chewed off, bodies are seen decomposing – it’s never going to compensate for the lack of characters, plot or any form of budget but it’s enough to momentarily lighten the load for the veteran horror fan.

Notoriously hard-to-work-with German actor Klaus Kinksi gets top billing on the film poster and he’s probably the best thing in Creature, albeit with a role that needed a lot more screen time. Kinski brings his trademark eccentricity and eeriness to the role of the survivor of the German expedition, literally chewing up his scenes in rabid fashion as he spends most of his screen time eating his lunch! Talk about an easy day’s work. Kinksi provides a much-needed injection of paranoia and intensity to the story in his short time on screen, adding a sinister third element into the hostile situation. Wendy Schaal does her best Ripley impression as the tough female who survives until the end, though she is infinitely better looking than Sigourney Weaver (Schaal was a regular face in 80s comedy with appearances in The ‘Burbs and Innerspace).

 

Creature is a cheesy riff on the classic ‘alien kills people in a confined ship in outer space’ formula which has been pulverised so much in the years since Alien. Thankfully, 80s efforts like this make up for their throwaway approach to the material and cost-cutting budgets by tossing in a load of gratuitous nudity and gore to keep things ticking over. Creature is not great but, as a derivative mild diversion, you could do a lot worse.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Target Earth (1954)

Target Earth (1954)

You’ll be paralyzed with fear!

A young woman who attempted to take her life with an overdose of sleeping pills wakes up the next day to find that the city in which she lives, Chicago, is deserted. The streets are empty. Cars won’t start. Electricity is off. And there are people lying dead all around. She encounters three other survivors who have no idea what is going on and decided to stick together in order to get out of the city. But their plans are thrown into disarray when they come across the reason why Chicago is deserted – killer robots from outer space have landed and commenced an invasion of Earth.

 

Made on a shoestring budget in the midst of the “alien invasion” films of the 50s, Target Earth is a film where the premise is actually a lot scarier and more effective than the eventual execution. Who wouldn’t be more than a little concerned and afraid to wake up one day and suddenly find that everyone in your town or city was gone? And even worse at the fact there are killer robots roaming the streets hunting down human survivors. It’s a scarier thought than it is realised in this middling sci-fi film. But I can’t go too hard on it. After all, this was a decade in which anything and everything from outer space decided to land and have a go, with varying quality and budgets. It will have worked back in the 50s, not in the 2010s.

Target Earth starts with great mystery – the eerie shots of a deserted Chicago will have you thinking of the likes of later films The Omega Man, Day of the Dead, 28 Days Later, I Am Legend and many more. Clearly some inspiration has been drawn from Target Earth in this respect. As the young woman, Nora, explores the city and eventually finds fellow survivors Frank, Vicki and Jim, the film keeps up its level of mystery. We know something has happened. We know something is loose in the city. But we’re not quite sure of what. Being out in the streets, we get the feeling that they are only one block away from finding out. So the film manages to keep its audience on edge, makes guesses about what has happened.

Unfortunately the whole film then crashes into the wall once the alien invaders are revealed to be killer robots and the first robot is first shown. More about that later but it’s at this point where the film sheds its mystery and paranoia. The characters then settle down into a hotel to wait it out for a bit and see what happens. And that’s pretty much where they spend the rest of the film. No searching the streets. No attempting to piece together what has happened. They just take refuge in the hotel, encounter a murderer and then the robot appears again. If one major criticism can be levelled at Target Earth is that it’s just too sparse. Hardly anything happens, though when it does it offers promise that the film could have been a whole lot better with a bit more action or problem-solving.

A secondary plot thread runs alongside the main one from the half-way mark, featuring a bunch of scientists and army guys trying to figure out how to stop the robots and conducting tests and experiments. It’s dull, adds little to the narrative and is only included to pad out the running time (and provide a suitably convenient ending for the film). Like most of these 50s sci-fi films, these scenes are so uninvolving and distracting, taking you out of the fantasy elements of the monsters and aliens and transplanting you into boring melodrama.

The budget would only stretch to building one robot and so you’ve got to suspend your disbelief and assume that this is just one of a massive invasion force. At its first appearance, the robot looks rather laughable – well basically any appearance, let alone the first. But there’s something unsettling about it – with no real ‘face’ to speak of, little in the way of clanking when it moves and a single-minded determination to hunt down the survivors. The robot is really only in two scenes but makes an impression in them both. I guess the film tries anything to keep itself away from showing us the robot. The addition of the scared Otis, who panics, cries doom and then inevitably is the first on-screen casualty, and then later the killer, Davis, who adds a cartoony villain presence and meets a fitting end, serve as nothing more than temporary stop-gaps to pad out the human-human conflict.

In the mid 60s, long-time horror director Terence Fisher would make a very similar-themed film in The Earth Dies Screaming which featured a post-apocalyptic England being overrun by killer robots. It’s the better film of the two but there are so many similarities between the two, it’s obvious that whoever wrote it had seen Target Earth.

 

Like many a 50s science fiction flick, Target Earth saw its best days many decades ago but that doesn’t mean to say that there isn’t some merit still lurking around. Though the story is a little threadbare and is pushed about as far as it can go without a bigger budget, there is still enjoyment to be had in a “pretty much nothing exciting happens” sort of way.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dead Man’s Hand (2007)

Dead Man's Hand (2007)

Sheer Terror! Bet On It!

Mathew Dragna inherits an old run down casino from his deceased uncle and enlists the help of some of his friends to go and check the place out. It turns out that the casino is haunted by the ghosts of vicious Las Vegas mobster Roy ‘The Word’ Donahue and his henchmen. Dragna’s uncle owed Donahue a debt and he is here to collect it.

 

Charles Band has more of a reputation for producing low budget horror films based on ‘little things killing each other’ than he does anything else (see Puppet Master, Demonic Toys, Dollman, The Gingerdead Man, et al) so whenever you pick up one of his other horror films, it’s a bit hit-and-miss what you’re going to get. Well more so miss-and-miss-further! Unfortunately despite some earlier success in the low budget field, Band’s name has come to represent something of a benchmark of poor quality. With a motto of ‘shoot fast, don’t ask questions later’ it seems that his films have now come to rely on one or two gimmicks but with budgets that wouldn’t even cover the cost of a stamp, it’s hard to bring such gimmicks to life in such constrained shooting schedules (most of his films shoot in less than a week). The Band of old would at least make a go of it. It seems like now he’s just phoning it in.

Dead Man’s Hand is one such example of a gimmick story that doesn’t work very well despite the premise of a haunted casino sounding pretty cool. That being if you have seen any sort of teenagers-in-a-haunted-house type film of any kind then you’ll be familiar with how this will play out: main character and their girlfriend/boyfriend will be safe whilst his unfortunate friends will fall victim to the ghosts as they explore the haunting setting. Despite the lure of some decent casino-themed scares, the film is woefully short of any sort of boo moments. William Castle would be turning in his grave if he knew how ‘haunted house’ films have let themselves go.

The opening prologue involving an estate agent and an unlucky janitor going to check the place out gives hope that the rest of the film will be as gory and cheesy. But alas after the blood has dripped down the door frame and the title credits have hit, it’s another forty-fifty minutes before anything remotely exciting happens. It’s a real shame as the casino setting looks really good. The sets are full of cobwebs and dust and there is a nice antique feel to the place as though it really has been closed for some time. The lights are kept low to avoid revealing too much of the set and it all makes for a suitable place to throw in some ghosts and gore.

But whilst the setting is good, I don’t need to see the characters exploring it for nearly forty minutes before anything decent happens. It’s typical padding from Charles Band, a man who more or less invented the term for use in his films. If people are milling around talking, then it saves money on special effects, animatronics, latex effects or whatever else costs money. And the characters here do plenty of milling around and talking. As there is so little story to go on, there’s nothing else for the characters to do. It’s only with the introduction of the ghostly mobsters and their casino lackeys that the film finally looks like it has some meaning. Dead Man’s Hand could really have done with introducing them a lot earlier.

I don’t need to tell anyone that the presence of genre icons Sid Haig (House of 1,000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects) and Michael Berryman (the original The Hills Have Eyes) is merely a catch to lure in potential horror fans. I’ve been around the block too long to know that slapping star names on the front of DVD covers is merely a cheap marketing tactic. I know how slyly these films work, teasing the viewer with the promise of ‘big names’ and then giving them little more than glorified cameos to play with. At least Haig and Berryman are on the screen a fair amount of time from the half way point, even if their resultant screen time just sees them standing around in suits looking sinister (and Berryman just repeats whatever people say in typical “hired goon/yes man” fashion, but they still get to do more than I expected.

Their eventual introduction into the film gives rise to the film’s best moments, of which you could count on one hand, as the group of friends are pitted off against the ghostly blackjack dealer and roulette croupier in a bid to win or lose their souls. For some reason both of the ghostly figures transform into weird CGI-effect apparitions with weird-shaped heads and big bulging eyes. But it’s a little too late and the big pay-offs are weak and rushed. The overall story is wrapped up to quickly and with little real conviction and that’s your lot. Band wheels out another quickie and they just get worse. If he actually combined the budgets for a few of these smaller films, he might be able to do something worthwhile. But it’s a big ask now.

 

Dead Man’s Hand is one awful hand that you really wouldn’t want to get stuck with. Time to fold my friends! You’ll just lose everything.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Monster Brawl (2011)

Monster Brawl (2011)

It’s the fight of the living dead!

Eight classic monsters fight to the death in an explosive wrestling tournament set inside an abandoned and cursed graveyard.

 

That’s about as much story as you’re going to get from Monster Brawl. It’s an ill-fated film with a one-note idea – that of some sort of WWE-style professional wrestling organisation featuring classic horror monsters doing battle with each other – but it doesn’t work as a feature film in the slightest and seems to have been aimed squarely at wrestling fans. Quite simply, this has no real business being classed as a film and it’s more like watching a pay-per-view wrestling event with a handful of matches on the card.

The entire narrative is strung together by the two commentators who attempt to keep the film somewhat cohesive. But there are no character arcs to follow, no plot threads which unwind and no real centrepieces to the film. This gives Monster Brawl a very weird pace but again, it’s supposed to be aping a typical pay-per-view event so you’ll get the big attraction matches every so often with a load of filler build-up in between, as interviews and backstage clips of the competitors attempt to build the next match. Whilst it’s all done with a good heart, it doesn’t make for compelling film. Even the monsters are just there or thereabouts – nothing much is said about them, they have no real back stories or characters. It all makes for a very disjointed film which has no pace whatsoever and no real hook to keep the viewer interested.

To begin with, and the film’s biggest weakness, is that Monster Brawl requires wrestling knowledge, thus immediately alienating a lot of its potential fan base. I am a wrestling fan so it wasn’t rocket science to me to know what is going on but for novices or those with no interest in the ‘sport’ it’s going to be a bit of an ask to understand all of the in-jokes, references and actually give two hoots about what is happening. Plus there is the glaring fact that there is a lot of wrestling! Whilst a film series like Rocky managed to turn its boxing matches into exciting spectacles that non-boxing fans could watch without fuss, it also had characters and story driving them along. There are no characters here save for the two commentators and given the nature of the film, there is never any intention to develop them. Therefore the wrestling matches look just like those you’d seen on television.

The roster of monsters for the film reads as follows: Frankenstein’s monster, a vampire, a swamp monster, a Cyclops, a zombie, a wolfman, a witch and a mummy.The old fashioned monsters vary in their appearance, though one would question the inclusion of such ‘famous’ monsters as the Cyclops as a bit of a cop-out. Where’s The Gill Man? Or even the Phantom of the Opera or Quasimodo? Frankenstein’s monster looks pretty bad ass and the intimidating man under the make-up, Robert Maillet, was a professional wrestler before he switched to making movies like 300 (as the Uber-Immortal).

In fact all of the people playing the monsters were or are wrestlers in real life. So at least the wrestling matches have some degree of choreography and suspension of disbelief to them.  Given that the costumes range from the cumbersome to the silly, the matches work better than they should do, though anyone expecting a Savage-Steamboat classic (commonly heralded as the greatest wrestling match of all time from Wrestlemania III) should perhaps think twice. At times the matches get embarrassing and really hammer home the ‘wrestling is fake’ stigma that many fans like me just cringe at hearing.

Wrestling alumni Jimmy ‘The Mouth of the South’ Hart and Kevin Nash appear in small roles, presumably questioning just how low their careers have dropped since the glory days of headlining main events in WWF/WWE and WCW. And the referee is played by real-life MMA official Herb Dean. Ironically the most famous wrestler in the film, Nash, doesn’t even get chance to bust out any of his famous moves and Hart is literally hanging around the ring for name recognition only and contributes nothing to the film whatsoever. But then again, nothing much does.

Speaking of plummeting careers, Lance Henriksen lends his voice to the film, reciting a load of voiceover soundbytes that could have been lifted out of a Mortal Kombat game. At least he didn’t have to appear in it!

 

Monster Brawl would have worked well as a series of Youtube vignettes but as a film, it’s just a non-starter. These are the sort of low brow gimmicked wrestling matches you might see at a circus or carnival where the novelty value will keep you entertained for one match or so but not for the entire show. As a wrestling fan, this was a major disappointment.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆