Saturday, November 24, 2012

Monster Brawl (2011)

Written by: Jesse T. Cook
Directed by: Jesse T. Cook
Starring: Dave Foley, Art Hindle, Robert Maillet

There are some ideas for movies so obvious that it takes decades before someone realizes they haven't been done before and gets around to making them. Monsters have been popular movie subjects practically since the invention of movies, and the goofy, over-the-top version of professional wrestling as we know it today has been around in some form or other for very nearly as long. Although it was at the height of its popularity in the 80s, I think Tor Johnson's alter-ego, the Super Swedish Angel, would tell you it's been around a good deal longer. And both fans and the media in general have been comparing monster-versus-monster flicks, especially those of the Japanese kaiju variety, to WWF matches for ages. Now, I'll grant you that steps have been taken in this direction – most notably with the Kaiju Big Battel franchise – but to my knowledge this is the first time a movie has been made that is such a pure blending of the two.

The idea is pretty simple, and beyond giving a little backstory to the monsters for those who have been living under a rock and didn't know who the dude with the bolts in his neck was, the movie really does look like a wrestling pay-per-view event. This is both its greatest strength, and its greatest weakness.

There was a brief chunk of time when I tried to get into professional wrestling (as in, enjoying watching in, not trying to be a wrestler...that would end badly for me). With all the crazy costumes and ridiculous plot lines that far surpassed the silliest soap opera for insane melodrama, it seemed like it should be right up my alley. One time I saw a dude attack another dude with a leaf blower. But it never really stuck. From what I remember of it, however, it seems like Jesse Cook knows his stuff, and loves wrestling just as much as monsters. This movie is nothing if not a labor of love. Hell, it even features several professional wrestlers as well as manager/announcer Jimmy Hart (who is painfully annoying). Not surprisingly, they are the ones who seem most comfortable in their roles. They've had years of experience shouting threats and stomping around, and they sell it quite well.

Most notable among them is Robert Maillet, formerly Kurrgan the Interrogator, as Frankenstein (“Technically, he's Frankenstein's monster, if you want to be a dick about it”, as announcer Sasquatch Sid Tucker, played by incredibly prolific character actor Art Hindle, puts it). He only has a couple words of dialog among the roaring and stomping, but he has a very expressive face even through all the makeup and contacts, and gives easily the most credible performance of the movie. He even manages to give his character some sympathy and nuance, which is no small task when most of your lines are, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRGH!”

I expected a little more out of Dave Foley, who plays the other announcer, Buzz Chambers. Chambers swigs out of a flask throughout the movie, and while there are good little moments here and there, the generally phoned-in feel of Foley's performance makes me wonder if that flask didn't actually have some whiskey in it.

The monsters are all of the classic variety; vampire, mummy, witch, werewolf, etc. The inclusion of a cyclops was a little strange when everyone else was a take on a classic Universal monster (with the other exception of the zombie who was, of course, from Pittsburgh), and the melding of the gill man trope with Swamp Thing was a strange choice (although likely budgetary, since an amorphous blob of green crud is a lot easier to pull off convincingly than an intricately-scaled reptilian creature). The werewolf and Frankenstein monster makeups were, unsurprisingly, the best, since they were the ones who got the most screen time. The witch, in both performance and execution, was painfully bad. The thing is, when the performances or makeup looked cheap and stupid, I couldn't tell if it was just the result of this being a low-budget production, or if it was a conscious decision to make it seem more authentic as a wrestling PPV event. Probably a little of both.

I realize this probably sounds like I'm a lot more down on this movie than I really am. It's clearly a labor of love from both the wrestling and the monster sides, and there is plenty of fun to be had with it. I just wish it had been a higher-profile flick with a lot more money for monster makeups and stunts.

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