These It Came from the DVR articles are going to be a little bit different. As an early Christmas present to myself, I picked up a festival pass to the Toronto After Dark film festival. So the first difference is that these are new movies, on the big screen, instead of old ones and niche programming on the small screen. The second difference is that these are going to be short. I’ve got eighteen films to see in seven days (as well as dressing up for the annual zombie walk), so I’m not going to have a whole lot of time to write, and I want post these while the blood is still fresh.
Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration, but most of the films it showcases won’t see wide release – so in addition to extracting some rpg goodness from each movie, I’ll also give them a bit of a critique, so fellow gamers can know what they need to track down and what to avoid. I’ll try and keep spoilers to an absolute minimum.
I had planned to post a Monsters of the Hyborian Age article before doing another It Came from the DVR, but as is usual, life got in the way and I ran out of time before Toronto After Dark crept up on me. I’m working on Queen of the Black Coast, easily one of the best written Conan tales, and I want to do it justice.
Can there be a better pairing than Ménage à Monster and a festival that opens with a movie called Monster Brawl? The plot is simple. A lonely wrestling ring, set up in the middle of an abandoned hilltop cemetery, is host to the world’s first pay-per-view monster brawl; an extravaganza that brings together monsters from across the globe to fight one another in no-holds barred death matches in the name of glory and entertainment (complete with WWF style smack talk between the matches).
The matches are divided into two conferences, the undead (featuring the Mummy, Lady Vampire, Zombie Man, and Frankenstein) and the creatures (featuring Cyclops, Witch Bitch, Swamp Gut, and Werewolf), with the heavyweight champion of each conference facing off in a final match for the title belt.
An Unabashed, Fun B-Movie
Monster Brawl isn’t for everyone, but I have a feeling that if you’re reading this blog then it might just be for you. It embraces its b-movie nature and runs with it, not wasting anyone’s time with a lot of exposition explaining why the monster brawl is taking place or adding some kind of narrative that pushes the viewer into rooting for one monster over another (they are all given fairly equal screen time – though the Mummy, Frankenstein and Swamp Gut were clear crowd favorites at the festival). Director Jesse Cook knows exactly who his audience is, classic monster lovers who’ve ever wondered if a zombie or the gill-man would win in a fight, and he delivers.
Like many of us who grew up in the eighties, I was a huge wrestling fan, so it was nice to see Jimmy ‘the mouth of the south’ Hart (who was at the screening and absolutely hilarious in person) in the picture. Monster Brawl manages to capture the feel of those old WWF days, before wrestling began to take itself too seriously, by using larger than life (if 2 dimensional) characters, plenty of humor, and over the top action.
There’s also more than a little bit of Darkstalkers in the DNA of this movie. Not only is the set-up similar to the popular series of fighting games, Lance Henrikson’s disembodied voice provides videogame-esque commentary throughout the matches (“magnificent combo!”) – I half expected to hear him shout “finish him!” – but I guess that would have caused some problems with the Mortal Combat people.
The makeup and effects were decent, which is surprising considering the film’s budget, with really only the Cyclops’ big unblinking eye looking a little crap. Still, I’ll take imperfect practical effects and traditional makeup over the kind of on the cheap CGI that other low budget studios spit out any day of the week (I’m looking at you Asylum – Megashark vs. Crocasaurus was unwatchable).
In order to keep costs low, Director Jesse Cook edited Monster Brawl himself, but the editing could have been tighter, especially in the first half of the film, where the shots seemed to hang on for a few seconds longer than they should have. It might not annoy others like it annoyed me, but I’m a firm believer that editing is one of those things you should never notice in a movie when it’s done right.
I was also a little disappointed that the monsters displayed fewer supernatural powers than I expected. It would have been great to see the witch cast a spell or the vampire summon a swarm of bats. Again, I suspect it was budgetary concerns that kept that kind of thing to a minimum, but it makes you wonder why the filmmakers included a witch among the monster lineup in the first place.
Ultimately, Monster Brawl is best enjoyed in a party atmosphere, with lots of cheering and jeering, just like a live wrestling match. The Toronto audience was great (we Torontonians have a reputation for being a high energy, engaged audience at things like After Dark and the TIFF’s Midnight Madness screenings), but I worry the film would lose a lot of its fun if viewed at home alone.
Monster Brawl is recommended, especially if you can rustle up some friends and beer to enjoy it with.
Most DMs in a D&D campaign might balk at adding in such a recognizable ‘named’ monster as Frankenstein into their game (even though everyone knows Adam and Strahd from the Ravenloft setting are Dracula and Frankenstein). However, on Gamma Terra I think that a fight against Frankenstein’s monster would make a great encounter – especially if the GM wanted to incorporate themes from Frankenstein Unbound (and since the whole reality collapsing in on itself is what happened in Gamma World it’s entirely appropriate). Here are the Gamma World stats for your very own monster brawl (created by modifying the stat block for the flesh golem).
“Yes, if you want to be a jerk about it, it’s technically just called ‘the monster’. Try telling that to it when you’re being pounded into the ground like a tent peg.”
In countless world-lines crazed scientists searching for the secrets of life have created, re-created, and re-animated this misunderstood homicidal construct. In return, it protects the one who breathed life into its collection of parts, whom it affectionately calls father (regardless of the individual’s actual gender). Some believe the monster kills so its ‘father’ can use the raw material to construct it a bride. Whether or not such abominations could create offspring is a question best left unspoken.