Written and directed by: Stuart Simpson
Featuring: Nelli Scarlet, Kyrie Capri, Karlie Madden, Kate Watts, Norman Yemm
The opening minutes of Aussie writer/director Stuart Simpson’s Monstro (a.k.a. El Monstro Del Mar) are great fun. Three tough broads in Russ Meyer guise — Baretta (a solid Nelli Scarlet), Snowball (Kate Watts) and Blondie (Karli Madden) — are having car trouble. Stranded on the side of the road, these tatted-up tarts sweat in the heat while they wait for help to arrive. They turn on the radio, prompting Blondie to hop up and dance on the hood of the car. Soon, two sketchy townies see the sexy trio and pull over to assist them. Through a series of tight compositions and little dialogue, an intriguing tension plays out. Will the women join these men for a “swim” after the car is fixed? Or do they have other plans?
When it becomes apparent that the townies are only interested in one thing, their necks are promptly slashed and their bodies cast aside. The super vixens then jump into the men’s vehicle and drive away. Shot in stark black and white (before a violent throat slashing prompts a transition into color), it’s a vibrant, smartly shot segment. It captures the look and spirit of Meyers’ Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill, a film that is clearly an inspiration here. The frame compositions, the music and the attitude promise a fun, low-budget ride. However, once the film transitions to color from black and white, it loses its energy and much of its charm.
It turns out that our three anti-heroes are on their way to a hideout after a violent murder spree. The destination turns out to be a ramshackle group of cabins right on the seashore. The surrounding community is apparently abandoned save for Joseph (Norman Yemm), a crusty old man in a wheelchair, and his teenage granddaughter Hannah (Kyrie Capri). Going out of their way to call attention to themselves, the wild women decide to take a swim. Though they are warned by Joseph to stay out of the water, our vixens, true to Meyer convention, don’t take no crap from nobody.
The following evening, the women partake of more loud music, drink and drug. Joseph naively sends his granddaughter over to ask that they turn the music down. But Hannah ends up joining the party and bonds with Baretta, the unofficial leader of the gang. The teen confides that her grandfather’s concerns about the water (and her own fears) are the result of her parents drowning in the sea fifteen years ago. We’re well into the film before the title beast decides to join the party. Two fishermen (including Hannah’s wannabe boyfriend) are attacked by several tentacles that rise from the water. Though attached to some unseen monster, the tentacles seem to have a will of their own, biting their victims and reacting as if independent creatures. Others are soon attacked, including Snowball who goes missing after a post-party late-night swim. It isn’t long before the creature sets its sights on Joseph’s cabin, where he and the remaining women must fend off a barrage of hungry tentacles.
This micro-budget Australian production, a half-baked Russ Meyer homage with bits of '50s era Corman for good measure, is all over the place. The biggest problem is the script, which isn’t exactly sure if it’s a campy homage, a drama or a gory monster movie. Sure, it could certainly be all three, but the script by Simpson is tonally uneven and directionless. Monstro evidently began as a short film project with a few scenes added to pad the running time (a short 75 minutes). It would have been a much stronger piece had they stuck to the original plan. The cinematography, which is fairly inspired in the beginning, shifts from solid to workmanlike throughout.
Actors Yemm and Capri turn in very strong performances though they appear to be in a completely different film. Their dramatic subplot, which sees the overprotective patriarch at odds with the burgeoning young woman, carries some resonance. But the juvenile delinquent put-ons by the three bad girls become grating and they’re basically the focus of the uneven narrative. Only Scarlet, as the leader of the group, shows much range as an actress while the other two come off as shrill and slightly uncomfortable.
The practical effects in this film are exceptional. Nick Kocsis does a great job with the impressive gore gags, which are a highlight of Monstro. The monster itself is basically represented by a dozen or so puppet tentacles that lunge at faces without warning. A scene where several tentacles rise from the sea in front of a boat is very impressive, but it’s quickly followed by a poorly edited “puppet” attack. For a film titled Monstro, there is very little monster action save for the end.
Monstro is one of those “fun” festival films that play on the collective love of B movies and the micro-budget production model of the past. But simply combining “fun” elements from beloved genres means nothing without a coherent narrative. Multi-hyphenate Simpson has shown he can make a technically efficient film. In fact, he has shown that he can make a pretty brilliant one (if the first ten minutes of Monstro are any indication). Hopefully, next time he will come to the table with a finished feature-length script and the visual panache he exhibits early on here.
This DVD release from Monster Pictures is packed with several special features including two audio commentaries, two short films, deleted scenes and an interview with the cast.