While I’ve attended a film or two at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, this will be the first time where I will be getting the full-on experience. So, instead of writing your standard collection of mini reviews of the films, which you’ll certainly be getting, I will also be focusing on the festival itself. I believe the atmosphere in which you’re viewing a movie is just as important as the movie itself…and no one can hold a candle in that department better than horror aficionados.
This sixth year of Toronto After Dark has seen a change in venues; from the Bloor Cinema to the Toronto Underground Cinema. Both theatres couldn’t be any more different. Nothing will replace the grandiose, old-fashioned feel of the Bloor but the Underground offers an intimacy better suited for a subversive line-up such as this. As you descend down the stairs, you are greeted with endless amount of posters from every era. The sound system is anything but state of the art. It’s strictly two speakers… old-school stereo, baby! These characteristics completely remind me of the types of theatres I used to go to when I was growing up. I can’t think of a better place to spend eight straight nights enduring a post-apocalypse, zombie invasions and daddy-raping psychopath (don’t ask).
The program began with a Canadian short titled, “The Legend Of Beaver Dam” and I can’t think of a better way to kick off the festivities. This horror/comedy takes the classic campfire story motif seen in countless slasher films and gives it jolting fresh spin; it abruptly turns into a hysterical, rollicking musical number. Shorts simply don’t get any better than this.
If “Beaver Dam” didn’t get this sold out crowd riled up, the Monster Brawl intro certainly did the trick. As Festival Director, Adam Lopez was being presented the title belt from the film by co-writer/director, Jessie T. Cook, cast member, RJ Skinner (Werewolf/Mummy) came out and snatched the belt off of him. He then turned his attention to the audience and began to berate them. By the end of it, Robert Maillet (Frankenstein) and legendary WWE manager, The Mouth of the South, Jimmy Hart got onto the stage to restore order. This hysterical wrestling-style promo was the perfect way to get the audience tuned into the type of film they would be spending the next ninety minutes with.
Monster Brawl is a concept movie if there ever was one; a mash-up of WWE wrestling and classic monsters. Do you enjoy or ever enjoyed wrestling at any point in your life? You’ll most likely have to when it comes to Monster Brawl. There’s nothing resembling a traditional plot. It’s structured exactly like a PPV event. The core outline essentially consists of a monster/wrestler’s backstory, promos, tale of the tapes and then the match. That’s pretty much it. Despite all that, Jessie T. Cook’s confident direction makes it all work somehow. In particular, he seems to really be having fun playing with the backstory of these characters. The Planet Earth parody during Swamp Gut’s segment is pretty damn priceless. Wrestling fans will get a kick out of the plethora of gags sprinkled throughout that only they would recognize.
Considering this film cost $200,000 (according to IMDB), I’m extremely impressed with how well-made Monster Brawl is. The make-up and gore effects by The Gore Brothers deliver the goods. These monsters are familiar, yet at the same time, distinctly fresh takes on the classics. Thankfully, CGI has been kept to a minimum. The visuals are a cut above most indie genre titles. A Universal horror-like atmosphere is all over the graveyard tournament set. Also, the filmmakers wisely stick to wide shots, lending the film a nice scope.
While acting isn’t going to be the main focus in this type of flick, Dave Foley (“Kids In The Hall”) and Art Hindle (Black Christmas) are clearly having the time of their life, hamming it up as the commentators. Their shtick is fast and plentiful. They manage steal the show from the beloved creatures. Lance Henriksen’s brutally funny “Mortal Kombat”-like one-liners is also, a highlight. WWE alumni, Jimmy Hart (as himself) and Kevin Nash (the ingeniously named Colonel Crookshank) help add even more authenticity to the proceedings.
Even though the film begins to run out of steam during its main event, Monster Brawl is still a heck of a lot more fun than I imagined it to be. Being a WWE fan during its peak in the late 80′s, nostalgia kicked in and I succumbed to its charms. The passion and enthusiasm put into the final product is clearly visible. The filmmakers manage to take this rather basic concept and sustain the entertainment value for the majority of the running time. That’s quite an accomplishment. So, if this all sounds like your idea of entertainment, you absolutely can’t go wrong with Monster Brawl.
P.S. As if the film-going experience wasn’t already enough, there was a really cool opening night party in which any ticketholder is allowed entry and the opportunity to mingle with friends, filmmakers and cast alike. Bloody brilliant!