DVD Review: Monstro! (2010)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a trio of Australian psychobilly girls – smoking hot homicidal maniacs, one and all – hide out at a sleepy beach town and wind up doing battle with a carnivorous leviathan. If that does indeed sound familiar, it may be because Marc reviewed it about seven months back when it was released in the US under its original title El Monstro del Mar. No idea why it’s been subsequently deemed necessary to drop the ‘el’ and ‘del mar’; was someone worried we’d think it was a Spanish film? Huh. Time was title changes like that only happened in America, like when Altman’s Prêt-à-Porter was renamed Ready To Wear, for fear that US audiences might think the film was French and, you know, wouldn’t go see it. Oh well, as gratuitous title changes go this certainly isn’t one of the worst in recent memory. The key point is still there: what’s that coming out of the sea? Is it a monster? It’s a monster.
Writer/director Stuart Simpson seems to be taking a Night of the Creeps-ish approach here, lifting tropes from a broad variety of vintage B-movies, dropping them in the proverbial blender and seeing what comes out after hitting the purée button. What we’re left with in this instance is some midway point between Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and a Roger Corman creature feature, but with a modern, Rodriguez/Tarantino edge. The threads, hair-dos, tunes and cars are old school, but the swearing, gore and general on-screen debauchery go way beyond anything they could get away with in the 50/60s. Obviously Simpson’s film is not the only one of recent years to wear its influences on its sleeve like this, but as we’ve seen a lot from most modern neo-grindhouse, such films always run the risk of winding up being less than the sum of its parts. So, does Monstro! add up to a satisfactory 75 minutes – or is it just Bitch Slap with a giant killer octopus…?
Well, the fact that it is only 75 minutes certainly doesn’t hurt. Monstro! is indeed drowning in artifice, with an attitude and aesthetic that’s every bit as pasted-on as the tattoos on the leading ladies (and I’m not casting assumptions there, the behind the scenes footage reveals as much). From the black and white, Faster Pussycat-aping intro with its car-top go-go dancing, to Blondie’s exaggerated hips-wiggling as she disrobes for a swim, to the deluge of bad girl trash talk – everyone getting called “toots,” “chicky babe” and so forth – there’s barely a second of action that rings true. However, none of this is enough to keep Monstro! from showing the viewer a good time. Yes, it’s as hollow as an Easter egg, but the chocolate still tastes pretty good on the way down.
To address the obvious, it certainly doesn’t hurt at all that the cast are very easy on the eye. The core bad girls Baretta (Nelli Scarlet), Snowball (Kate Watts) and Blondie (Karli Madden) are plenty appealing in their surrogate Tura Satana/Haji/Lori Williams roles, and Norman Yemm is suitably cantankerous as Joseph, the disabled geriatric warning of the perils of getting in the water (his wheelchair surely being another nod to the Meyer classic). But perhaps the one semi-surprise in the film is that the real central protagonist is Kyrie Capri’s Hannah, Joseph’s Catholic schoolgirl granddaughter whose search for identity and struggle with the demons of her past really gives the film its main drive. The stereotypical bad girls are really never anything more than that – their murderous, psychotic ways go without explanation or apology – but Hannah’s personal journey from shrinking violet to bad-ass kraken fighter does lend just that little bit of weight to proceedings. Plus, not unlike her more dolled-up co-stars, Ms Capri is also a pleasure to look at. Much as Marc said before me, I must confess that I actually didn’t mind too much that none of them get naked. I know, I can’t believe it either.
It would be easy to bemoan how contrived and unoriginal it all is, but ultimately Monstro! isn’t the kind of film that sets out to change the face of cinema. It’s short, snappy, sexy and sleazy enough to forgive its shortcomings; and for such a clearly low budget film that was shot in only 15 days, it’s much more aesthetically pleasing and technically proficient than most. Making this DVD an even sweeter deal is the inclusion of two of Stuart Simpson’s earlier short films, Acid Spiders and Sickie, which are less contrived but considerably gorier than the feature; by no means a bad thing. Pop this disc on in the midnight hour with a roomful of friends, a belliful of booze and your expectations in check, and I doubt you’ll come out the other end with too many complaints.
Monstro! is out on Region 2 DVD on 22nd October, from Monster Pictures.