The 6th Annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival, 8 Nights of Horror, Sci-Fi, Action, and Cult Movies runs Oct 20-27, 2011 at the Toronto Underground Cinema. For complete festival info visit www.torontoafterdark.com.
Last night was the opening night gala for the Toronto After Dark (TAD) Film Festival at the Toronto Underground Cinema. The crowd was huge and the energy level was high, in fact, the first screening of Monster Brawl sold out so quickly that TAD added an unprecedented second screening, directly following the first. Each feature film throughout the festival has also been paired with a short film, a great way to showcase upcoming talent.
The short before Monster Brawl was the festival circuit hit The Legend of Beaver Dam. I already caught this gem at the Little Terrors monthly horror short film festival at The Projection Booth, but it was just as amazing the second time around. Director Jerome Sable and ridiculously talented musical comedian Sean Cullen have teamed up in this short about a scout leader and his group of campers, as they sit around a bonfire telling ghost stories, specifically the legend of Stumpy Sam. I won’t go into detail and ruin the short, but I will say that Beaver Dam is a groundbreaking film. Don’t believe me? Check it out yourself, although it may be a while before it is available online, and make sure the volume is cranked.
As for the feature, we’ve all had discussions about who would win in a fight, Villain A versus Monster B. Check out this Penny Arcade comic strip for a perfect example of what I am talking about. Earlier this year at the Toronto Underground Cinema we even learned from Robert Englund, Freddy Krueger himself, that Freddy vs. Jason happened specifically because fans were having this type of conversation and wanted to see the outcome of this undoubtedly blood splattering match-up on the bigscreen. Monster brawl is the tournament that fans of classic monsters have been waiting for. The combatants are Mummy, Werewolf, Frankenstein (the monster, not the doctor), Cyclops, Witch Bitch, Lady Vampire, Zombie Man, and Swamp Gut. The tournament is not round-robin or elimination format, but rather features two conferences, ‘the creatures’ and ‘the undead’, and a variety of title bouts. Of particular importance are the heavy weight fights in each conference which will see the winners square off for the Monster Brawl championship. As you can imagine, Monster Brawl is a front row ticket to the most notorious fighting event on the planet.
The screening started off with the director, Jesse T. Cook, presenting the Monster Brawl title belt to festival director Adam Lopez for his support during the past three years. However, the applause was quickly cut short when Rj Skinner, the actor who played Werewolf, grabbed the microphone and expressed his distaste that Adam was receiving the belt. This was followed by Jimmy Hart and Robert Maillet running down the aisles to confront Skinner. Needless to say, the belt was safely returned to Adam. What a great way to precede the screening and get the audience pumped up!
Monster Brawl is not a movie, really it’s not. Cook has combined elements from classic Universal monster films, the last three decades of WWF and WWE, UFC, and Mortal Kombat, the result is not a movie, but a Pay-Per-View Event. I went into Monster Brawl expecting a narrative of sorts, but it felt like I had just ordered a big fight with my remote control. The commentators, Dave Foley (Kids in the Hall) and Art Hindle (The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Brood and Paradise Falls), break down the format of the event and the strengths and weaknesses of the opponents. Frankenstein is a chokehold specialist, Cyclops is an expert blacksmith, Zombie Man is a headcheese aficionado, and Mummy has a vulnerable skeletal core and chronic arthritis. Was I the only one that thought it was hilarious when Witch Bitch was described as having an abysmal record in small town squabbles?
Inserted between the fights are short origin stories\short films about the monsters taking part in the tournament. Considering that the premise of Monster Brawl is kind of cheesy, I was blown away by some of these shorts. Many of the settings are beautiful, and the cinematography is excellent. Clever narrative devices are also used during the shorts, like the very funny ‘nature show’ format used to introduce Swamp Gut.
The talent that Cook has managed to assemble for Monster Brawl absolutely astounds me. Is this a perfect example of the power of social networking, or is Cook one of the most popular guys on the planet? Lance Henriksen narrates, Jimmy ‘the mouth from the south’ Hart hypes up the fights with his megaphone in hand, Robert Maillet (the man who gave Robert Downey Jr. such a hard time in Sherlock Holmes) plays Frankenstein, Herb Dean from UFC shows up to referee the Monster Brawl, and finally Kevin Nash backs Zombie Man as the despicable Colonel Crookshank. I’m out of breath.
Finally, the reason why Cook made Monster Brawl, the fighting. The venue is in a secret graveyard somewhere in Canada. The extremely detailed and creepy set was created by Jason Brown, who also plays Cyclops and Swamp Gut. For the most part the fights are very entertaining. The balance of power between the combatants shifts during the fights, so even if your favourite monster loses the fight, you will at least get to see them do some damage. In addition to narrating, Lance Henriksen also provides hilarious ‘Mortal Kombat’ comments during the fights, such as ‘magnificent’ or ‘Cyclops wins’ (Does he? You’ll have to watch to find out!). Foley and Hindle are good as the commentators, although their descriptive comments sometimes seem to precede the actual action, not their fault, but it takes away some of the excitement from the fights. Also, some of the comedic moments in Monster Brawl completely miss the mark, and there are a few too many times when inexplicably nothing is actually happening on screen (ie. the monsters are just standing around). With some minor editing this problem could be solved, although it would shorten the 90 minute run-time. Lastly, I cannot commend the special effects crew enough. The gruesome effects by the Brothers Gore were fantastic, and the costumes incredible.
In the end, Monster Brawl is the ultimate gift to fans of classic monster movies. It was a real risk to try an emulate a UFC event with WWE and Mortal Kombat content. It seems that the risk has paid off, however, with one caveat. The enjoyment the audience experiences will be almost completely determined by how much energy they are willing to put into Monster Brawl. I would not recommend watching it by yourself or as a couple, but rather with a group of rowdy friends, some beer, and some snacks. During the TAD screening the crowd was initially somewhat hesitant to cheer and boo for the monsters. Maybe we had the opening night jitters. However, as Monster Brawl continued, we seemed to get more comfortable with our role and had a great time.
With the perfect audience Monster Brawl could be epic!