Welcome to Funny Bones, Nightmare On Film Street’s look at horror comedies. Each month, we’ll examine the skeletal structure of a horror-comedy, how the film connects it’s unique brand of funny and creepy, as well as the metaphorical fleshy details laid over that skeleton which bring the movie to life!
Monster Mash month at Nightmare on Film Street is a celebration of a variety of creepy creatures. So, us writers have crafted essays examining classic monsters, alien abominations, supernatural fiends, and more. One trait these diverse collection of monsters often share is an an over the top nature or appearance. That excess is why many people love monsters. It’s also why many people love the unique blend of live theater and athletics that is professional wrestling. There is a crossover between those two fandoms as well. One fan of both is Jesse Thomas Cook. His love for monsters and pro- wrestling lead him to write and direct the low budget 2011, indie horror-comedy Monster Brawl. In this month’s edition of Funny Bones we’ll take a look at the inspirations and individual ingredients of Monster Brawl and how they come together to form a flawed, funny, film with a lot of heart and a pure love for both monsters and wrestling.
Monster Brawl was a unique film the year it came out and it continues to be so until this day. No other horror comedy in 2011 was about monsters coming together to battle it out in the squared circle, and I’m struggling to find one that has been released in the past nine years. If you want to find the first film that inspired Monster Brawl you have to go back to the 1943 Universal Monster movie Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. In fact, versions of both of those characters appear in Monster Brawl. The other cinematic inspiration for Cook’s film is most likely kaiju movies like those featuring Godzilla and Gamera where the story is used to mainly facilitate a fight between two strange creatures.
Monster Brawl’s other main inspiration is of course the world of professional wrestling especially the kind featured in the World Wrestling Entertainment promotion. WWE is often crass, campy, and downright goofy. If that’s not a combination you can have fun with then I’d say this film is definitely not for you. Monster Brawl wears it’s love for pro-wrestling directly on it’s sleeve. It’s best exemplified by real life WWE manager Jimmy “The Mouth of the South” Hart who plays himself in the film. In the movie, it’s Hart’s job to announce the various monsters as they make their way to the ring. He does so wth a sense of fun and child like wonder. It’s a perspective that lends itself to really enjoying Monster Brawl.
Monster Brawl has a very simple story; a collection of creatures have descended on a necropolis in Central Michigan where they’ll fight no-holds barred death matches in a wrestling ring set up in the middle of a graveyard. The fights are made up of contestants from two different conferences; the creature and the undead. There are two undercard fights to determine the winners of the Middleweight division in the creature and undead conferences, and then matches where the heavyweight contenders in each conference square off. The main event is a clash between the victorious creature and undead heavyweights for the Monster Brawl championship belt. In between the matches, there are short films detailing the origins of the various fighters and fun promos where the combatants and their managers diss their opponents. Providing commentary for everything are two ring announcers the classic Howard Cosell style sports announcer Buzz Chambers (Dave Foley, The Kids In the Hall) and the ring veteran style “Sasquatch” Sid Tucker (Art Hindle, The Brood).
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There are a lot of flaws in Monster Brawl and most of them are on display in the first half of the film which details the two middleweight fights. Ultimately those fights don’t really connect to the rest of the movie. Plus, while there are some fun creature designs and promos the characters, fights, and origin films are very underwhelming. I feel like those undercard matches should have been replaced by one tag team style battle, or just cut completely and more time could be added to add to what viewers really want to see; the heavy weight fights.
So, the first half of Monster Brawl is pretty uneven, but there is some fun to be had. The pre-fight promos are pretty great especially The Mummy’s which is done in grunts and features Egyptian Hieroglyphic sub-titles. Foley is pretty funny throughout the film as well. Buzz Chambers feels like a character he could have played on The Kids In the Hall. At one point he turns to the camera and says, “I’ll be damned before I cheer for a Mummy. I’ve hated Mummies my whole life.” Jimmy Hart is also very charismatic in his duties as a ring announcer.
The second half of Monster Brawl is where the movie starts to shine. The creatures and short films are better, and most importantly the fights are more entertaining. The climatic championship battle perfectly captures, in as much as the film’s budget of $2000,000 can, the feel of the main event of a classic WWE pay per view.
Much of the humor in Monster Brawl comes from the absurd nature of the film, the interplay between the ring announcers, and the movie’s clever homage to the tropes of professional wrestling. I especially enjoyed the way they used managers in the film. Ari Millen (Orphan Black) shines as Dr. Igora, the manager of Frankenstein (Robert Maillet, WWE, The Strain.) The promos he does with his monster are great.
“Monster Brawl wears it’s love for pro-wrestling directly on it’s sleeve.”
There’s also a bit of unexpected humor in Monster Brawl from actor Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Near Dark) who physically does not appear in his film, but his voice does. He serves as the movie’s narrator and during the matches you’ll hear him offer an adjective when a fighter does something really well or really bad. It reminded me of the commentary offered by the character of Shang-Tsung in the Mortal Kombat series of video games. Coming from Henriksen’s trade mark, gruff voice that commentary is surreal, silly, and fun.
Monster Brawl is not scary at all, but it still has a lot of things to offer horror fans; like some great gore and creature effects. The work done by costume designer Olivia Sementsova, and the special effects and creature creation by the Brothers Gore (Jeff and Jason Derushie) goes a long way towards stretching the film’s budget. Production designer Jason David Brown’s sets are also a lot fun. The fighters enter the ring from two different crypts and their matches often spill outside of the ring where objects such as tombstones become deadly weapons. Plus, there are nods to horror films like the character of Zombie Man (Rico Montana) who hails from “Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.”
So, ultimately, Monster Brawl is a flawed film with a unique idea and its heart in the right place. If you can look past it’s shortcomings and put yourself in the right mindset there’s a lot of fun to be had. For more Monster Mash Madness all November-long, follow us on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook! And for all the best horror discussion you can find online, stay tuned to Nightmare on Film Street.