This review for the first Toronto After Dark Movie, Monster Brawl will likely be a fairly short review as I was not a fan of the movie and I feel that it really plays less like a movie and more like a pay per view event – the entire film is told in the language of character profiles, sports statistics and eventual the actual tournament matches with play by play commentary. I know this was what director Jesse T. Cook was going for, the film is an experiment as much as anything else, but I really felt the result was a tad hollow as a movie. We have announcers, Dave Foley and Art Hindle who are the high point for the film introducing and commentating each match. Prior to each match we get a short clip that details a bit of history about each of the monsters and that is it.
Lets first look at some of the good points of the movie. The costume design is extremely well done. Each of the monsters look perfect. The costumes are all done with practical effects and everyone from The Mummy to Frankenstein act, move and look like they should. Secondly, there are a few good jokes and puns throughout the movie. Most of these come from Hindle and Foley but there are a few jokes from the introduction clips and also the smack-down hyperbolic speeches that the monsters give that are quite funny, particularly if you grew up on the cartoonish rhetoric of the WWF. Third, there are a few good kills and having Lance Henrikson doing the Mortal Kombat FATAL-VICTORY voice was more amusing than it ought to be and puts Monster Brawl in as much territory as a Arcade up-right fighting game as it is mired in sports language. Somehow without being actually present on-screen Henrikson (in all his gravelly glory) is one of the films chief assets. Finally, while I have my complaints about the lack of an audience at the pay per view the wrestling set the graveyard is quite well done.
Now for the bad parts which greatly overpower most of the good ones. The intro sketches, kind of like back story in miniature are pretty forgettable. They are neither scary nor truly funny and just fall into being something that is completely forgotten by the time the actual matches start. The best of them being the Swamp Gut which is filmed like an ironic nature TV documentary. I really think Cook and crew missed an opportunity to really have a lot of fun with each of these characters during the clips, a few of them give the reason why the monsters choose to compete in the event, but others are just lazy exercises trafficking in well-trod cliches. The actual matches are often lacking. I really believe that this comes down to down to two reasons. First the actors, except for one or two, are not wrestlers. They do their best but it is really clear how much athletic ability and skill are needed to create a real wrestling match. Secondly the editing of the matches was really annoying. To make the action seem more frenetic cutting and I believe speed ramping was used to make them look more brutal. Finally, why was their no ring-side audience? Sure they give a reason for this within in the movie (although in their rush to wallpaper over things with exposition, they curiously skip over who and where are the camera operators. It would have been terrific to see the audience members reacting to the monsters and would have brought extra energy to the movie, and having the cameramen deal with the logistics of rampaging creatures and undead certainly offers a plethora of opportunities that the filmmakers chose to ignore. My guess is that budget limitations prevented having an audience and it would have been difficult to get friends to be extras over the course of the whole filming process but it would have improved the overall feeling of the movie to such a great extent that it would have been worth the hassle.
I will give Monster Brawl points for having a great concept that will totally appeal to the geek audience who either loves monsters and/or wrestling. Yet, I will never understand the good reviews that it is getting from genre fans. The movie is mostly flat and rather forgettable. What I would like to see is for someone to take this concept put in all real wrestlers, have it filmed in the same way that the WWE films and to come up with some really cool fun vignettes. Maybe a Monster Brawl 2 could refine what was started here into a better film, but it would take a fair number good reviews to get me back to ringside.