Starring Norman Yemm, Nelli Scarlet, Kyrie Capri, Karli Madden, Kate Watts
Directed by Stuart Simpson
Distributed by Monster Pictures
Three Russ Meyer-esque super vixens square off against a gigantic creature from the deep in director Stuart Simpson’s Aussie throwback Monstro! (aka El Monstro del Mar). Opening in black and white on a lonely outback highway, Monstro! introduces us to rockabilly styled trio Beretta (Scarlet), Blondie (Madden) and Snowball (Watts) as they jovially deal with a little car trouble. When a couple of ill-fated dudes stop to offer assistance and a little flirtation, Simpson pulls a startlingly impressive move as the flick switches to bloody living colour. You see, these chicks aren’t friendly – no sir-ee!
The promise of these opening moments slowly evaporates, however, as these hard-talkin’, hard-druggin’ ladies take off to a nearby coastal town to engage in a spot of relaxation and partying only to come across the wheelchair bound Joseph (Yemm) and his innocent granddaughter Hannah (Capri). Exerting their corrupting influence on Hannah, the girls ignore the warnings of the protective, yet weary, Joseph and take to the local waters with behaviour that predictably rouses the interests of something very old, very huge and very, very hungry. When one of their number turns up mortally wounded, the scene is set for a cabin-based standoff between the gigantic, slimy, multi-tentacled aquatic beast and the remaining girls.
While the climactic battle of Monstro! is an enjoyably goofy and splatter-laden affair filled to the brim with delightfully old-school effects work, getting there is rendered quite a struggle by the second act’s plodding pace, lack of imagination and worst of all, lack of character. Simpson’s script fails to really bring any of the characters to life beyond the frequently stilted, forced dialogue, and the audience is never given any indication of the murderous protagonists’ backgrounds. How do these girls know each other? What’s their history? If they kill with such reckless abandon, how long have they been going about it, and how have they evaded capture for this time? What’s the point of any of this? The truth is, nobody knows – Simpson just wants us to get into the vibe and roll with it, but while Monstro! sports plenty of punk rock attitude it fails to bring it to life in any organic matter due to the threadbare level of character realisation. Simpson clearly wants the audience to somehow warm to these women as the free spirits they so sorely believe they are. In reality, they’re just poorly drawn, wacked out arseholes. In fact, they’re so grating that even with a short runtime of just over 70 minutes Monstro! still feels frequently padded and slow before the major monstrous set-piece begins.
And there, it almost redeems itself. Fans of goofy cult monster movies will be right at home amidst tons of lovingly-crafted low-budget practical effects work and flying grue, including a rather spectacular decapitation gag. Yet, another issue raises its head amidst the glee of these climactic scenes as the performances and line delivery far too frequently see Monstro! flip between earnest, knowing goofiness and genuinely poor presentation. Watching Madden’s Blondie feebly slap a fake machete against some fragile-looking tentacles as she tries not to injure the hands inside what are obviously toothed-up gloves is disappointingly intrusive and certainly not assisted by some awful line delivery by Kyrie Capri as she argues her case with Joseph for helping in the battle. Some may assume that this is intentional, but when Simpson pulls off the correct B-movie tone repeatedly during the same encounter sequence, these kinds of intrusions are glaringly obvious as the missteps they are.
Monstro! is filled with old-school love and charm, but needed serious work in the script department before it could ever truly make a stand as a completely capable feature film. There’s an ocean of ambition here, but for every couple of credits it manages to generate, it drops the ball in return. Monster fans should get enough of a kick out of it to make it worthwhile, hence it doesn’t receive a lower score, but the eminently unlikeable anti-heroes may just see most skip straight to the final fight.
Monster Pictures’ UK DVD release of Monstro! sports a healthy dose of special features including two pretty gruesome short films – the best of which, Acid Spiders, shares the main feature’s problem with unlikeable protagonists despite some pretty nasty bodily meltdown effects and a hilariously crazy finale that hearkens back to Bad Taste-era Peter Jackson.
Two commentary tracks are available, though both are plagued with volume balancing issues leaving much of what is being said incomprehensible over the soundtrack except for during the film’s quieter moments. When the climax is filled to the brim with shrieking, crashing and gunshots, the crew commentary is completely swamped and unlistenable. On similar ground, the cast commentary is lively and fun — if you manage to have the willpower to stick with it throughout the audio issues. The actors are clearly watching the film in a room while recording, and the delayed audio from their own presentation mixes with the film’s primary audio track while the commentary speech also contends for position in your spectrum of hearing. This all adds up to the commentaries here becoming quite the chore to get through. It should be mentioned, though, that this review is based on a pre-production check disc so the retail version may not be affected by this. The volume disparity was also less obvious when played via laptop speakers than a full home theatre system.
Topping things off we have a short and meaningless Behind the Scenes which is little more than some context-less raw footage from around the set, and a more pleasing selection of interviews with the main cast after their first screening of the flick’s first 10 minutes. A few short deleted scenes show that they were indeed a wise choice for deletion, whilst the trailer is… a trailer. A nifty little booklet is also included, which gives a breakdown of the characters (yet no more info on their motivations than the screenplay itself manages to muster) and an entertaining walk through the experience and challenges of shooting Monstro! by director Stuart Simpson.
2 1/2 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5