Monster Man (2003)
"On this highway, the roadkill is human"
Friends Adam and Harley head off on a cross-country drive so they can both confess their love to the girl of their dreams before she gets married. But an encounter on the road with a monster truck-driving maniac sends their trip spiralling into a nightmare.
Duel and Jeepers Creepers have more than a little influence on Monster Man, a horror-comedy which charts familiar territory for anyone who has seen either of the former, as well as a host of backwoods horror films like The Hills Have Eyes and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. A small, modestly budgeted production made by people who clearly have some understanding and love for the genre, it is low brow pandering to the specific demographic of its male audience but has plenty of heart to go along with the trash.
Monster Man opens with a brutal head-in-a-vice moment which threatens to set the stall of the narrative out seriously, but it quickly switches into its more relaxed buddy movie set-up. You will have to sit through a fair bit of character development to begin with before the film begins to move into gear so sit with it. The characters aren’t that great but they’re not ‘switch off the TV’ material. What follows is a succession of familiar set pieces in familiar locations – the rest stop outhouse, the redneck diner, the sleazy motel and the backwoods town all appear at some point. There’s no real originality here so the success of the film all depends on the manner in which the material presented. Thankfully, Monster Man delivers it with plenty of zest and energy, moving things along at a fast pace and offering plenty of entertainment in its running time without any major down time.
Monster Man cranks up the comedy purely by upping the gore and gross-out content. The script itself isn’t particularly funny, nor is the frat boy shenanigans of the main characters - it does have its moments – and runs more like American Pie at times, with plenty of predictable jokes about poo and sex. Putting them into a horror setting keeps them from becoming too stale because the audience knows that for all of the pratting around by Jack Black-wannabe Justin Urich, the situation the characters are in is deadly serious. The real comedy value in Monster Man comes in a Re-Animator or Bad Taste sort of way. Here, the laughs are from the situations the characters find themselves in and how they manage to deal with blood and guts on a regular basis. Particular bad taste highlights include one of the characters having an erotic dream without realising they’re actually tonguing a piece of bloody roadkill and another where the same character tries desperately to avoid touching a mangled corpse in the back seat of a speeding car as it twists and turns along the road. It’s hard not to laugh, even if you know you’ve lowered your standards for a bit!
Sadly, Monster Man never quite fully manages to read the horror and comedy line, falling down into the comedy side more often than not. When the film does try to play up on the terror, particularly during the final third, you’re half-expecting a gag or quip to come out and lower the tension just when it needed to stay serious. Though the film borrows a little heavily from genre conventions for the monster truck and its disfigured driver, they are still both intimidating presences which warranted a little more fear factor. The ‘monster man’ of the title wears a nice patchwork mask and has a bit of a limp walk, which adds to his otherworldliness, but his scariness is limited due to the antics of the characters he’s trying to kill. He looks like a threat and it’s a pity the script didn’t treat him a bit better in that respect. Once the horror kicks in and the comedy dies down, the film really has no gas left to run on and we’re left with a disappointing conclusion which didn’t make a whole lot of sense and gets a bit silly for it’s own good.
The cast do a decent job with the recycled material. As previously stated, Justin Ulrich will either endear himself to you early on or will grind on your nerves repeatedly throughout with his Jack Black-lite persona. His schtick gets tiresome quickly as you wonder why anyone would want to be this character’s friend so it’s a bit of karma when most of the nasty gore-related humour comes at his expense. Eric Jungmann is the dorky straight man, with his assortment of Velcro bum-bags (or fanny packs as Americans call them) providing for the odd moment of ‘Batman utility-belt’ inspired comedy. It’s the virginal character we’ve seen a million times before, so you know exactly how his character arc is going to develop. Star of the show is the delectable Aimee Brooks as the sexy hitchhiker the two friends pick up on their travels and then start to fall in love with. It’s easy to see why: Brooks is drop-dead gorgeous in her cowboy boots and tiny outfit.
Monster Man is a great timewaster, with humour and gore to satisfy its target audience quite satisfactorily, though I’m guessing non-genre fans would have a harder time in seeing the positives. It’s definitely a ‘beer and pizza with the guys night’ type of film and will not disappoint those seeking some low brow cheesy horror-comedy fun.
Director(s): Michael Davis
Writer(s): Michael Davis
Actor(s): Eric Jungmann, Justin Urich, Aimee Brooks, Michael Baily Smith, Joe Goodrich
Duration: 95 mins