It’s become pretty fashionable among indie horror filmmakers to pay homage to past genre styles. Even mainstream Hollywood has gotten into the act with Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino paying homage to the grindhouse genre (one of my favorite old-school genres out there) with their collaborative effort, GRINDHOUSE. Now Stuart Simpson throws his hat into the ring with the 1950s-creature feature-rockabilly-grindhousey throwback, EL MONSTRO DEL MAR!, being released on February 28, 2012 through Vicious Circle Films.. Simpson definitely has the ingredients right, but in the end does he simply make an homage film with too little substance to stand up on its own?
The film starts off perfectly capturing that 50s-rockabilly vibe. From the look of the film (it begins in black and white), to the soundtrack, to the cars being used, to the actresses, Simpson nails it. During the opening credits we see the three main actresses, Beretta (Nelli Scarlet), Blondie (Karli Madden), and Snowball (Kate Watts), playing the role of the innocent, sexy, helpless vixens that have car trouble and are stranded on the side of the road. Two fine, young gentlemen come to the “rescue” and learn the hard way that these particular girls are anything but helpless and innocent. Obviously out looking for ‘kicks’ (yeah, I know the lingo), the three vixens do their damage (no spoilers here) and then drive off. We gets hints here and there that the vixens are on the run after some kind of illegal trade or drug sale went bad. They find themselves traveling to a small coastal shack where they plan on laying low for a while (well I guess “low” for these three). The first thing Simpson does extremely well is the casting. The three women he gets to play the vixens are spot on. Scarlet, Madden, and Watts look exactly like the kind of girls you’ll find in old 1950s exploitation and creature feature flicks. They are sexy, full of curves and attitude. There’re no current day skinny-minny, anorexic chicks here!! What’s also pretty fun with the opening sequence is that it takes place in black and white until blood is spilled. With the blood comes the color. It’s a nice touch and makes the movie feel like a grindhouse flick.
Once they get to their seaside shack (yes; it’s literally a shack), the girls bust out the booze, pills, and drugs and party it up. Their neighbors are a young, twenty-something girl, Hannah (the very cute Kyrie Capri) and her grandfather, Joe (Norman Yemm). When the vixens go out swimming, Joe, in his wheelchair, is shouting at them that they should never go into the water … EVER. The vixens, of course, ignore him and the titular EL MONSTRO ends up making an appearance.
Overall you’ll immediately notice that this film doesn’t take itself too seriously. I wouldn’t go so far as to label this one a “horror-comedy,” but Simpson definitely goes for a more lighthearted, fun approach here. And it works for the most part. There are a few elements that never sync up, though. The vixens, for example, are vicious and cold-hearted in the opening sequence and Simpson keeps them pretty hardcore all throughout the film. Their viciousness doesn’t really go with the overall tone of the film. There’s also a few subplots that never really gel here; like the relationship between Hannah and her grandpa, Hannah trying to exert her own independence, and the hints we get about the vixens past “adventures” that led them to this seaside shack. The middle of the film also drags a little bit as we watch what feels like endless scenes of the vixens partying it up and having fun. I would’ve loved to have seen more scenes of the creature attacking and fucking shit up. There are also spots in the film where the musical soundtrack is way too loud and you can’t hear the dialogue, which is a shame because the dialogue is great.
These criticisms are, overall, minimal because I found myself really enjoying EL MONSTRO DEL MAR!. The cast does a really great job here, and it is so refreshing to see some really sexy, curvy gals being sexy. The last act of the film is when EL MONSTRO finally makes his move and attacks the vixens, Hannah, and Joe. It’s a fun battle scene that is plucked right out of the Creature Double Feature flicks I used to watch growing up. The creature is made up of a lot of tentacles and at times reminded me of the titular creature from 1983’s THE DEADLY SPAWN. But the battle that ensues is well filmed and you know me, I always love watching sexy girls swinging around machetes and shooting big guns. Don’t judge me!!
EL MONSTRO DEL MAR! is overall a fun, 1950s throwback kinda film. Borrowing elements from old-school creature feature flicks, rockabilly flicks, and even grindhouse/exploitation flicks, EL MONSTRO DEL MAR! is a well-made homage film that you’ll find yourself warming up too. The middle of the film does stumble a bit, but it ends strong and nicely sets up a possible sequel that I’d love to see. So to answer the question posed in the opening paragraph above, Simpson does indeed make an homage film, but he also gives the film enough of its own identity that it stands up as a film unto itself and not just as “that homage flick.” Nice job Simpson. Look for EL MONSTRO DEL MAR! on DVD on February 28, 2012.
Director: Stuart Simpson (& writer)
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars
Gore: 4 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer