Friday, March 22, 2013

Worth Mentioning - Monsters by the Bucket

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody's week was all about indie monsters and puppetry.


A horror/comedy set in 1985, the feature debut from writer/director Dustin Mills starts off with the House on Haunted Hill-esque set-up of four young people being offered the chance to win a million dollars, all they have to do to earn the cash is survive one night in the local "haunted house", the Wagner mansion. Everyone accepts the challenge and gathers at the mansion, but as the night goes on the group - which consists of meek good guy Charlie Hawkins, his best friend Gwen, who he has a crush on but has never had the guts to ask out, punk rocker Iggy (whose girlfriend Mona tags along), and horror movie aficionado Raimi Campbell - starts getting picked off one-by-one by something much worse than restless spirits.

The mansion's owner, the mysterious Wolfgang Wagner, is a scientist with a very dark history, and now he has successfully replicated an experiment he first worked on during World War II. He has created a monster. The result of mixing the genetics of vicious animals with the essence of demons and having been incubated in the body of a hapless hunter, this beast has an insatiable hunger, and the more it eats, the bigger it grows. And Wagner has set it loose in the mansion to feast on his houseguests.

Mills is clearly as big of a fan of the genre as his Raimi character is, and the movie is a very cool, entertaining and funny homage to old school horror. With the unique twist that the cast is made up of felt puppets.

This entire movie was made in Mills's living room for a few thousand dollars, the puppets filmed against a green screen that was replaced with CG sets and locations. It's an admirably innovative way to get a film career going, and if I were told to try to make something that looked like it I would be at a complete loss.

The scope of the movie builds over its 70 minutes, getting bigger as the monster grows, going from the creature stalking teens in a mansion to a climax that's an all-out war on a demonic kaiju.

Puppets fire machine guns and drive tanks, there's puppet breasts with pencil eraser nipples, there are references to movies like Night of the Living Dead, the Evil Dead trilogy, and Aliens throughout (as well as a Chasing Amy "Finger Cuffs" nod), there is, as Wagner says, "blood by ze gallon", there are farting bunnies and a badass penguin, a foul-mouthed grandpa, there's even an animated flashback to World War II. It's all pretty awesome.

Mills has been stunningly prolific in the couple years since The Puppet Monster Massacre was finished, having already completed and released three more movies (Zombie A-Hole, Night of the Tentacles, Bath Salt Zombies), with a few more in various stages of production. His next to reach DVD is the killer Easter Bunny movie Easter Casket, for which he is currently taking pre-orders by way of an Indiegogo campaign. As of right now, there are only 4 days left to get in on that. I've got my copy ordered.



Like the title promises, this movie deals with a prehistoric creature, which looks similar to a Great White when it's shown, being released from a block of ice by an earthquake. This creature is somehow able to move through the ground (and the snow on top of it) as well as a Graboid in a Tremors movie, and it sets out to wreak havoc on a small town in the dead of winter. It's "Jaws in the woods".

What makes Snow Shark especially notable is the fact that its distribution is one of the most impressive success stories I've seen in a while. Directed by Buffalo, New York-based independent filmmaker Sam Qualiana, it was shot with a Sony Handycam and produced for less than $7000, but thanks to distributor Independent Entertainment, a micro-budget branch of Alternate/Pop Cinema, it's available for rent in Family Video stores and in Redbox machines, it's for sale on the shelves of Walmarts and FYEs. Qualiana landed a dream deal with this one.

A lot of viewers who rent or buy Snow Shark will probably be resistant to or mocking of its production value, but the fact that it will be able to reach the eyes of so many viewers is kind of amazing.

The movie earns bonus points from me for the casting of Jackey Hall, an indie favorite of mine from her roles in Dorm of the Dead (2006) and Chainsaw Cheerleaders (2008).


Monsters are real, and in the land of California parents can buy their children monster companions from a talent agency for $149.95, a much more reasonable price than the 15 grand that imaginary friends go for.

The title characters of this YouTube web series are engaged couple Phil and Jenn, who have recently moved to Los Angeles when Henry, a monster of the under the bed variety who was Jenn's companion in the '80s, shows up at their apartment, down on his luck and hungry for bacon. To her fiance's apparent chagrin, Jenn lets her old pal move in with them. Thus, their life has become a sitcom, and it makes for a fun show with cute, family friendly humor.

Henry and his fellow monsters are played by puppets, which interact with a human cast that includes series creator Jenn Daugherty, who is collaborating with emerging writers/directors from the USC Film Graduate Program to bring her show to life. The first season just started at the beginning of February and is set to run for 13 episodes, interspersed with character vlogs and bonus videos called Monster Bites. Branching into other media, there's also a comic strip that gets posted on the show's Facebook page.

The series can be found on YouTube here: GuyGirlMonsterTV.

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