It isn’t uncommon to see movies at the After Dark Film Festival where you can tell others that the plot can be excused. Where the film may have lacked in substance and story, it made up for in bulk with a strong, lavish, dominating style. Monster Brawl, which aspires to be a mirror image of a televised WWE special, replaces the scary looking beefcakes with scary looking monsters (though nothing’s scarier than The Undertaker without makeup.) The film seems to have a better idea of what it wanted to be rather than how to really accomplish that. “The story didn’t matter” is a common thing to overhear at these events, but I gotta hand it to you, Monster Brawl, “I’m not really sure that was a movie” is a new one.
In a fog drenched graveyard, where Dave Foley is pinned as “Buzz Chambers” and Art Hindle as, apparently, a Sasquatch, await to ring the bell for eight different, generic monsters as they throw down to the death. A cyclops, a vampire (Lady Vampire), a mummy, a zombie, a werewolf, a swamp monster, Frankenstein’s Monster and a witch cleverly named “Witch Bitch” all take to the ring, two-by-two to trade blows and slowly, oh so slowly, finish each other off. There isn’t really a threading of plot, even if Monster Brawl acts as if one exists. Doom soothing done by the Cyclops and a skunky gravedigger never amount to much (the Cyclops just vanishes altogether) and drama pitted between the fighters rushes in mere moments before the fight.
Monster Brawl is rigidly structured. Before each fight two introduction videos give you some backstory on, say, what a mummy is or why vampires suck blood and live in mansions. These story segments are a drag, without wit and starved of creativity, the only one with any genuine cleverness abound is Swamp Gut’s, which larks on Planet Earth with an Attenborough impersonator guiding the footage of Swamp Gut killing the same hick twice. But in general they were wasted airtime, a missed opportunity that drags though a movie that already shimmies at a mere 90-minutes.
I haven’t seen Scarce, director Jesse T. Cook’s last film, but now I have a morbid curiosity. Things seems barely directed, on a kind of awkward auto-pilot. Fights are stale and flavourless, just bumps and slams to-and-fro until some brief gory finish, and the actors sway about and let the lines drip from their mouths without much conviction. The only time there seemed to be any gusto was when Dave Foley says “I’ve always hated mummies,” in a kind of dry, facetious Kids in the Hall tone, like a little voice angel decided to stop by and fire a flare for help. None of these ill words apply to Jimmy Hart, who plays himself, a bouncing ball of shrieking energy who would actually have to be directed to stop being animated. Lance Henriksen’s voice pops in and out as a barely-there narrator, who at most blurts out awkward, left-field Unreal Tournament-like victory/bloodbath blurbs that aren’t much cleverer than anything else in the movie. The makeup is sound, but the costuming rarely goes beyond a shirt with pants.
It is not as if this concept film couldn’t have worked. If things were mixed in a more dramatic fashion, if the intros were weaved together into a blended prologue, if we had some sort of backstage shenanigans, events of pathos or at least more gravity than the promise of gravity. Even if it just stuck to the facade of a WWE fiasco, the glitter and glamour, all the flair and finesse Monster Brawl starves to taste. It even ends on a cliffhanger that, very suddenly, seems to indicate you have now decided to give a shit about these characters. Nice try, Monster Brawl, you ain’t no winner, you ain’t no champ. Yer a chump, punk, and I will see you in Netflix hell.
Well okay, let’s not be mean. The fonts are nice.