Monster Brawl (2011)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2012-06-21 06:28

Written and Directed by: Jesse T. Cook
Starring: Dave Foley, Art Hindle and Jimmy Hart

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

It's the fight of the living dead!

It goes without saying that I love monster movies. From a young age, I was weaned on a diet of Universal and Hammer classics that shaped my love for the horror genre--but you probably could have surmised this already. What you might not know is that my side dishes involved professional wrestling. Growing up in the south, the sport was an institution with an inescapable gravitational pull that drew me into its world of flamboyant muscle-heads. There’s a real theatricality to professional wrestling that’s even works when you grow older if you allow it to work its charms, which I still do on occasion. I’m telling you this because if there was ever a mark for something like Monster Brawl--a film that combines both monsters and wrestling--I would be it, so believe me when I tell you that Monster Brawl does indeed miss the mark rather wildly.

The problem is that it never gets past its monster mash pitch, as the setup ends up being the head, the tail, and the whole damn thing: there’s a bunch of monsters in the world, and they’ve all been gathered at a hole-in-the-wall cemetery in Michigan, and they’re going to battle it out in the squared circle to see who reigns supreme. There are some stipulations--the monsters are split into “creature” and “undead” groups, both of which have their own heavyweight and middleweight divisions and whatnot, but the film is mostly 85 minutes of these creatures knocking the piss out of each other after they’re all introduced with short vignettes to fill in their backstories.

Even that sounds pretty cool in theory, but Monster Brawl manages to suck almost all of the life and energy out of its concept. It’s a movie that sounds wacky but moves lethargically and without any type of narrative momentum. Monster Brawl botches things on the wrestling end by failing to create any heels or faces--all of the competitors are just monsters, with the exception of the werewolf, who takes on the tragic wolfman shtick. However, his character is so thinly sketched that it’s difficult to really care, and the film has no real intrigue or stakes as a result. Well, there is a wooden stake that a mummy uses to stab a female vampire, but that’s about it; besides that, Monster Brawl has all of the intensity and excitement of watching a couple of buddies play Mortal Kombat.

In fact, that’s exactly what it feels like; it’s hackneyed to compare movies to video games at this point, but it’s difficult to ignore the parallels between Monster Brawl and the popular fighting game series. The fights themselves especially resemble the game, as you have this imaginative beings hurling various special moves at each other, and it is moderately intriguing to see how they’re going to finish each other off with their “fatality” maneuvers that serve as some nice gore showcases (heads get squashed, jaws ripped open, that sort of thing). Hell, even the disembodied voice of Lance Henriksen narrates the whole thing like Shao Kahn, as he doles out ethereal commentary with all the excitement a guy can muster up when he’s forced to describe how one monster just melted the face of another (and so on and so forth). In the end, there seems to be very little wrestling influence in terms of the choreographed fights, as, outside of a few maneuvers, there’s precious little familiarity to be found for fans of the sport.

They’ll at least see a few familiar faces in the way of Jimmy Hart (playing one of the film’s four announces if you count Henriksen), Kevin Nash (playing a zombie’s manager), and UFC referee Herb Dean. They’re decent lip service appearances, I suppose, as none really have much of an impact and are essentially playing themselves. In that respect, it’s difficult to even judge Monster Brawl on the level of performances, as, outside of these three and the two ring announcers, every one else is playing silly variations on well known creatures or their victims. The designs are neat enough, if not a little bland in the attempts to update the more classic designs of Frankenstein, the Wolfman, and even the Gillman (here re-imagined as Swamp Gut, a Bayou native) . Like the creatures themselves, the film is put together well enough; Jesse Cook is obviously working with a sparse budget, but his main venue is well-dressed and his photography slick.

However, it’s all at the service of a lifeless story, and even the fights lack any sort of ingenuity to their staging that could even make the film consistently watchable. Instead, the premise wears thin somewhere around the time you’ve seen one monster puke on another, at which point you’ll also have surmised that Monster Brawl has little interest in telling a story. One might scoff at professional wrestling, but even it usually has the courtesy to provide a compelling reason to care about two guys pretending to bludgeon each other. That Monster Brawl misses this point is its biggest downfall--it coasts on the familiarity of its characters and glorified cameos without doing anything interesting with them, and the result is another empty mash-up. Image Entertainment has at least done the film some justice on DVD, as the presentation is striking, and the disc features outtakes, a behind-the-scenes feature, and a commentary with Cook and his producers. Obvious fans of this sort of thing will want to give it a look, but they should know it’s not so much a movie as it is a gimmick. Monster Brawl aims to be a royal rumble, but it can’t even capture the fanfare and excitement of a local event at a high school gym. Rent it!

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