This week Icon Vs. Icon’s in-house horror aficionado, Shrieking Steve Johnson, turns his attention to Dread Central’s newest release “Monsterland.” Featuring a who’s who of upcoming horror directors and writers, Monsterland stars Josh LaCasse, Ebon Moss-Bachrach (“The Last Ship,” “Girls”), Eileen Dietz (“The Exorcist,” “Helter Skelter”), Trent Haaga (“Cheap Thrills,” “Deadgirl”) and John Franklin (“Children of the Corn”).
Here’s a quick synopsis before entering the gates of Monsterland:
Amidst a bloody backdrop of chaos and carnage, one panicked, lowly survivor of the Monster Apocalypse takes shelter in a movie theater to buy a few extra moments of precious life. Little does he know, he’s taken a flying leap out of the frying pan and smack dab into the fires of hell by attending the last movie marathon he’ll ever see. Welcome to Monsterland! A terrifying place where savage beasts, carnivorous creatures and grotesque abominations are the new normal, and the human race is at the bottom of the food chain.
REVIEW: I’ve been a horror fan my entire life. This is no secret if you’ve had the luxury of looking at my ridiculous blu-ray collection or if you’ve looked at the reading material on my bedside table. Of all of the horror films I watched throughout my 36 years, one type has stuck out as one of my favorites. This, dear readers, is the horror anthology film. Who doesn’t love “Creepshow,” “Creepshow 2,” “Body Bags,” “Tales From the Darkside,” and more recent films such as “Trick r’ Treat” and “Tales of Halloween?” How the hell can you go wrong with several macabre tales surrounded by a great wrap around story? Well enough of my rambling, let’s get down to business and discuss the newest kid on the horror anthology block, “Monsterland.”
Following up on their 2015 release of “Zombieworld,” RLJ Entertainment and Dread Central return with a new anthology of short films. This time around zombies aren’t on the menu, instead the viewer gets treated to a wide variety of stories involving monsters. There are some hits and misses throughout its 109 minute run time, but overall it was an enjoyable experience. The best way to tackle this is to mention a little about each story.
The wraparound story to “Monsterland” involves an unnamed man (Josh LaCasse) roaming through a world ravaged by monsters. He eventually finds himself inside a movie theater surrounded by dead bodies, enjoying his popcorn and the shorts I am about to discuss. Written and directed by John Skipp and Andrew Kasch, this wraparound story does little but provide a pathway to get to following shorts. It’s not terrible, but don’t expect a “Creepshow” or “Tales From the Darkside” type of story.
The first short of the anthology is “Don’t Go Into The Lake.” Written by Tyler Wood and Haley Norman and directed by Corey Norman, this film involves a group of friends who decide to do a little late night skinny dipping. Unfortunately for them, there is something in the lake waiting to pick them off one by one. Initially I thought I would like this one, but it ended up falling flat for me due to an obvious reason. I won’t get into that here, as it would spoil this short. You can do a lot worse than this, but to start a film called “Monsterland” with this one didn’t make sense.
Next up is “The Grey Matter,” which is brought to the screen by writer Peter McCoubrey and is directed by himself and his brother Luke. The story revolves around a man named Simon (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) who wakes up on the street with a gaping wound in the back of his head. After wrapping up his head, he proceeds with daily life until he begins hearing a voice. I won’t give away further spoilers, as the reveal and the events following it are a lot of fun. Initially I wasn’t sold on this one, but by the halfway mark I was on board. “The Grey Matter” is one of the highlights of this anthology and would make a great feature-length film.
After the greatness that is “The Grey Matter,” “Monsterland” takes a fall into not so great territory with “Curiosity Kills.” This one is written by Kaspar Ainelo, Jan Andresson, and Sander Maran, and is directed by Maran. The short follows what happens to a young child (Peeter Maran) who gives his pet rat nuclear material from his dad’s briefcase. “Curiosity Kills” quickly becomes a gory slapstick comedy and features no dialogue. Excuse me, I believe there was one word said in the entire run time. If you aren’t a fan of the goofy side of things, this one is not for you.
“Hag” is next and is one of the better shorts in “Monsterland.” Written and directed by Eric Gardner, “Hag” follows the story of Scott (Drew Wicks) and Marie Somers (Megan Duffy). Every night Scott wakes to find his wife sleepwalking and talking in her sleep. What begins as simple sleepwalking becomes a real life nightmare for Scott. You thought I was going to give the ending away? I don’t think so. Watch it to find out. Be on the lookout for a creepy cameo by Eileen Dietz in this one. It is worth picking this disc up for “Hag” alone.
The second worst short of the film is next. “Monster Man” is an animated effort that follows a man and a monster who kills his friends. He is eventually aided by an old man that kills the monster, but reveals a terrifying surprise. “Monster Man” is written, directed, and animated by Frank Sudol. I did not like this one out of the gate and it carried on throughout the entire three or so minute run time. You can skip this one.
How do you follow up one of the worst shorts of the film? Simple, you give the viewers the best short of the bunch. “House Call,” written by Dick Grunert and directed by Graham Denman, is a great tale revolving around a crazy man (Sean Keller) who makes a late night visit to the home of a dentist (Ruben Pla). The stranger insists the dentist remove his teeth because he thinks he’s turning into a vampire. Is he turning or is he not turning? That is a question you will have to find out for yourself. This short is well acted from beginning to end and the final shot is fantastic.
Next the viewer is left to tackle “Happy Memories.” I’m not sure what to think of this short. It is a little bit of puppetry with some stop motion mixed in. I have no clue what this was about and it is the worst thing in the film. It is written and directed by Jack Fields. Maybe you can shoot him an IM or tweet him to find out what the hell this was about.
We’re nearing the end and it’s about to get strange. I hope you guys are ready. Next in line is “Stay At Home Dad.” This one was brought to you by writer Cody Goodfellow and is directed by John Skipp and Andrew Kash. Seriously guys? What the hell is wrong with you? I like your style, but damn you’re weird. Anyway … Steven (Matthew Currie Holmes) and Brenda (Alicia Seaton) just had their first child and Brenda is offered the job of a lifetime. While Brenda is worried about how she will feed the child, Steven comes up with a great idea. He undergoes an experimental treatment that leaves him with milk-filled breasts to feed their new child. Still with me? Well, everything goes according to plan for a while, until an unforeseen twist throws Steven’s world for a loop. This one was a bit too much at times, but is definitely one of the better shorts featured in “Monsterland.”
Finally, we end the shorts with “Hellyfish.” This is written by Kate Fitzpatrick and Patrick Longstreth and directed by Robert Mclean and Patrick Longstreth. After a nuclear bomb begins to leak radiation into the ocean off the coast of Tybee Island, jellyfish grow to enormous size and begin attacking people on shore. It’s a good thing there is a hot russian spy (Agnes Asplund) who has a rocket launcher to help clear the path. Yeah you read that right and it is a lot of fun. The CGI is a little on the cheaper side, but the gore and entertainment more than makes up for it. Well done!
After the shorts get wrapped up, the viewer is thrown right back into the theater with the focal point of the wrap-around story. It doesn’t take long before our moviegoer realizes he isn’t alone. As you can probably guess, it doesn’t go well for him.
“Monsterland” is a bit of a toss up. There are good shorts surrounded by a few bad ones. Despite the bad, I enjoyed the film as a whole. “Monsterland” deserves a place next to all of the other horror anthologies in your collection. — Steve Johnson, Horror Aficionado