There has been a tendency among Australasian genre filmmakers to make a sudden shift from low-budget ventures to the mainstream. No doubt taking note of Peter Jackson’s eventual path from Bad Taste and Braindead to The Lord of the Rings and King Kong, the likes of fellow New Zealander Jonathan King and the Spierig brothers have quickly swapped modest audience-pleasing comedy horrors for much slicker prospects. King went from the so-called ‘splatstick’ of Black Sheep to the more outwardly respectable Under the Mountain, an adaptation of the popular children’s fantasy novel starring Sam Neill. As for the Spierigs they upgraded from the zombie/extra-terrestrial shenanigans of Undead to the big-budgeted vampire flick Daybreakers. One wonders whether Stuart Simpson, director of Monstro!, is next in line…
Monstro! (released in its native Australia as El Monstro del Mar!) is Simpson’s second feature and comes after a whole series of horror shorts and music videos. He made his full-length debut with The Demons Among Us (aka Demonsamongus) which was picked up in the US by famed schlock outfit Troma. In a nutshell this was a movie about a small town in rural Victoria that becomes a playground for a demon on a killing spree. It also made some quite obvious nods in the direction of The Evil Dead and, generally speaking, had a few too many ideas for its rather modest means. For his follow-up Simpson appears to have taken the experience on board, weighing up his budget against his ambitions and coming up with a cross-pollination of two ‘B’ movie greats, Russ Meyer and Roger Corman.
The Meyer connection is immediate from the off. Our leads are a feisty trio straight out of Faster, Pussycat Kill! Kill!, albeit with a few more tattoos. Later flashbacks also reveal that they’re just as murderous. Having just committed some nefarious act or other they’re taking the weekend off for a bout of booze, cocaine, general partying and swimming in the sea in their undies. It’s the latter which causes the most consternation with the locals; as the gruff wheel-chaired old-timer repeatedly tells them: “You don’t go in there!” And it’s here where the Corman influence comes in. Even at little over an hour in length, Monstro! keeps its titular beast hidden for the most part, just like the crab monsters in Attack of the Crab Monsters or the Creature from the Haunted Sea. Better to keep the budget down and tease the audience with a few ominous words.
Within this modest set-up Simpson acquits himself well. The low-grade digital photography lends an air of cheapness no matter how much tinkering with the colours is applied, but he coerces a bunch of game enough performances out of his principal cast members and clearly has a great deal of fun with the monster and gore effects once they come into play. His music video background also shows given his attention to both the soundtrack and the sound design. Just as The Demons Among Us made fine use of Clare Whitcombe’s compositions, so too Monstro! builds its mood around its music, in this case old soul and blues numbers. They help lend a veneer of quality to proceedings, not to mention throwing back to an Americana past, much like the Meyer connections. Indeed, save for the accents, there’s curiously little that feels distinctly Australian here.
Monstro! comes to the UK via Eureka’s Monster Pictures sub-label. The all-region disc houses both the main feature and a host of additions, some more worthwhile than others. In terms of presentation there are no issues worth mentioning. The film comes in a ratio of 1.78:1 (anamorphically enhanced) and looks completely pristine. Detail is strong and the colours are seemingly in line with the filmmakers’ intentions. Any flaws would seemingly be inherent in it having been shot digitally. As for the soundtrack here a DD2.0 offering copes perfectly well with both dialogue and musical numbers and poses no problems. Be aware, however, that optional subtitles are not available.
Two audio commentaries are available among the extras, one with Simpson and various crew members, the other by his leading ladies. Frustratingly both suffer from terrible sound recording, particularly the former. In that instance the movie plays way louder than any of the speakers, some of whom are practically inaudible. The cast commentary fares a little better, though sound levels differ for each participant. In both cases it’s difficult to last the duration. Elsewhere we find just over three minutes of behind the scenes footage (some outtakes, some B roll, some material from a screening in Austin, Texas), 16 minutes worth of cast interviews (which ask innocuous questions like ‘What’s your favourite part in the movie?’) and five deleted scenes which were, presumably, cut for pacing reasons. Most interesting of the extras are two shorts by Simpson. Acid Spiders sees an all-female punk group drop acid and then get terrorised by the titular beasties (from outer space, no less), whilst Sickie concerns itself with a flesh-eating virus and concludes on an especially bizarre note. Rounding off the package is the trailer.
Low-budget Aussie horror thrills.