Review for Monstro!
A bizarre thing about the movie industry is synchronicity. You’ll often find that when there is a movie out, it isn’t alone. Someone else has had the same idea at the same time, and given the production cycle of a film, it isn’t a simple case of jumping on the bandwagon. We’ve had Robin Hood movies come out together, Christopher Columbus movies, even as obscure a subject as Truman Capote has had more than one film come out at the same time. The same is true when it comes to watching films, at least for me. Once I hop on a trend, I wind up riding it as long as it keeps me entertained. This year I’ve been mostly watching stories about marine life invading the land. It began with the relatively benign Squid Girl, but quickly got more serious with Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack. By then, I was fully in malicious sea life mode, so when the opportunity to review Monstro! came up, and the blurb proclaimed ‘Crazy Vixens fighting a Beast from the depths of the ocean’, I had reflexively requested the check disc before my mind even registered the fact.
Beretta, Blondie and Snowball are the three crazy vixens, so crazy in fact that they need to head to an isolated village on the coast to lie low for a while, although they aren’t too discreet about how they get there. They’re not too discreet about how they relax either, as the friend who has set them up with a shack has helpfully stocked it with enough goodies to keep them partying till late in the night. That doesn’t sit well with their new neighbour, the wheelchair bound Joseph, and neither does their desire to cool off in the ocean. Joseph warns them, as he has warns everyone else, including his granddaughter Hannah, to keep out of the sea. But they didn’t heed the warning, they went and made something mad, and now that something’s come out of the ocean and started hunting. It will be up to Beretta, Blondie, Snowball and Hannah to deal with the devil from the deep blue sea.
Monstro! gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer on this PAL disc. The image is clear and sharp for the most part, beginning in a monochrome pre-credits sequence with good contrast and striking cinematography, before memorably switching to colour, where the digital filmmaking becomes more apparent, with overpowering whites and a little less detail. That said, the image retains its clarity even during darker scenes, and the film is never a chore to watch. The special effects are mostly practical and are effective in telling the story. As memorable as that transition from monochrome to colour is, there is a part of me that wishes that that the film was made in black and white in its entirety.
The sole audio track is a DD 2.0 English stereo track, which is good enough for the job. The dialogue is mostly clear, although subtitles would have been appreciated during the quieter moments. Where Monstro! really stands out is in its music soundtrack, as it captures a mood with its eclectic mix of vintage and sixties and seventies style music that really makes the film stand out, and enhances its visual approach. It switches from Pulp Fiction to spaghetti western for its climax which really works a treat. There’s some choice dialogue too from its memorable characters.
Monstro! loads up with extra features, but it isn’t exactly satisfying.
The retail release will come with a ten page booklet, and I’ve had a look at a pdf file of it. It’s a light and entertaining recollection of the making of the film, with some entertaining anecdotes, and it’s a useful addition to the film.
That’s especially so when the commentaries are as disappointing as the ones on the disc. The first is a Crew Commentary, with the director and staff, but the problem is that the audio is poorly balanced, and the film’s audio tends to drown out the commentary except during quiet moments. There aren’t too many quieter moments in Monstro!
The problem isn’t as severe for the cast commentary, but the cast do tend to talk over each other, lapse into giggles, and goof around a lot. Also, they forget to turn the audio of the film down as they watch it, which manifests as an echo in the commentary.
Otherwise you get a 4 minute making of featurette, 13 minutes worth of cast interviews, and 7 minutes of deleted scenes.
What I found most interesting was the addition of a couple of short films from director Stuart Simpson, fun little horror shorts that continue with the gory irreverence of the main feature.
Acid Spiders lasts 16 minutes, and shows that you really shouldn’t take drugs during an alien invasion.
Sickie lasts 7 minutes, and shows that loyalty to work can go too far...
There is also the trailer for Monstro!
Monstro! is a whole lot of fun to watch, it’s a perfectly paced, exploitation horror that blends the best of the sixties and seventies exploitation flicks (the sort of films that inspired Pulp Fiction), with the sort of low budget monster movie that turns out to be more fun than the CGI laden horrors that take up unnecessary space in the multiplex. I’d much rather watch Monstro! than something like Saw. There’s something to be said for practical effects, model making, make-up and fake blood, as it means that the filmmaker has to improvise, to be creative in telling the story. In that respect, Monstro! takes its lead from the best, Jaws, in that it leaves the big reveal of it fake-looking monster for the final reel, instead devoting the run time to building up the tension and suspense.
There’s a whole lot of homage, reference and genre cross-pollination going on here, with the three anti-heroes of the film escaping from a Russ Meyer movie, with their psychotic interpretation of girl-power taken to the extreme, while their style and appearance oozes seventies exploitation. They raise hell wherever they go, take no crap from anyone, and would make the toughest red-blooded Australian male (which is most of them), cross their legs and wince at the slightest glance. The first thing they do when they get to their hideout is corrupt the local innocent teenage girl Hannah, inviting her to their bacchanalia of hard liquor and cocaine.
Then you have the oodles of cheap monster flicks to draw on, and it surely isn’t the first time that the ocean has spawned an evil that will scythe through the human population. As always, there’s only one person who knows the truth, and no one takes him seriously. Hannah’s grandfather, is the one who warns everyone against going into the ocean. He fits the grizzled ornery old coot cliché to a tee, and the shame is that the budget didn’t spring to a larger cast to nay say him. As it is, the few locals are grudgingly accepting of him, and it’s only the newcomer vixens that really antagonise him.
While you can see many influences on Monstro!, the most natural fit to its tale would be the vampire movie, From Dusk Till Dawn, which also begins by introducing a group of anti-heroes, a reprehensible and lethal bunch of criminals, who encounter a couple of innocents and proceed to terrorise and corrupt them, only to be faced by a darker evil against which they alone will have the gumption, and the ability to truly fight. Yet the actual story is about empowering the innocent, with an initial trial of fire at the hands of the anti-heroes, before gaining the strength to stand up against, and defeat the monster. As it was in From Dusk Till Dawn, so it is in Monstro!
Monstro! is a little short though at just 73 minutes. It does mean that the characters, particularly the vixens are painted in the broadest strokes to tell the story as efficiently as possible. You get loud, brash, in-your-face, craziness with the full on exploitation vibe, but it would have been useful to have had a few more quieter moments than there were in the film to give the characters a little more dimension. Then again, dimension isn’t really what you look for in a film like Monstro!, you look for a hard quick, fix of cheap and cheerful horror, and you certainly get that here. You also get a whole lot of style and attitude that marks this film out ahead of its peers. Monstro! is a blast that is well worth a rent.