Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Monsturd' is da shiznitz (or sumthin)

Monsturd (2003)
Starring: Paul Weiner, Beth West, Dan Burr, Dan West, Rick Popko, Hannah Stangel, and Brad Dosland
Director: Rick Popko and Dan West
Steve's Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Serial killer Jack Schmitt (Dosland) is shot to death by police in the sewers beneath a small town, but is reanimated as a living turd by bioengineered bacteria that had been dumped there by mad scientist Dr. Stern (Burr). Now, he's killing the residents as they Do Their Business in the bathroom, literally eating shit and growing bigger. If Agent Hannigan of the FBI (Beth West), Sheriff Duncan (Weiner) and his two dimwitted deputies (Dan West and Ppko) don't find a way to stop the monstrosity before the town's Annual Chili Cook-off, Butte County will end up as a very crappy place to live.

"Monsturd" is an amusing horror-comedy that spoofs monster movies ranging from the "science gone bad" films of the '50s and '60s (like "Island of Terror") to the "greed over public good" horror flicks from the '70s and '80s (of which "Jaws" is the most famous example).

Script-wise, this film does more with "Number Two" than I think any other tale in any medium has ever done before, which earns it some sort of place in history. It also manages its psuedo-science better than any number of monster movies that expect to be taken seriously, and it pulls off the costuming and effects involved in bringing a monster that's a walking, mansized turd to the screen with an effectiveness that is rarely seen in movies produced at this level.

I fully expected the "monsturd" of the title to stink like so many elaborate monsters do in low-budget horror flicks. But directors West and Popko clearly understand how to mount a production within their means, and they very effectively used lighting and camera angles to make their monster look even better. If science-gone-bad ever caused a dead serial killer to be reborn as a giant turd, I think he might actually look like the creature that West and Popko came up with. The terms "believable" and "realistic" can't quite be applied here, but the monster is very convincing (and appropriately gross).

"Monsturd" also benefits from a cast that's better than what I often see in films at this funding level. While there are no award-winning performances, everyone is competent and none of the gags are killed by bad delivery. Again, I have to congratulate the directors for matching their material to a cast capable of bringing it properly to life. (I particularly enjoyed Dan Burr as Dr. Stern. He made a great mad scientist, and his "turd-calls" while searching for the monsturd in the sewers were hilarious.)

The soundtrack is the final element that makes "Monsturd" the effective spoof that it is. It's composed in the style of a 1950s monster movie, very bombastic and dramatic... even when it's just someone walking down a hall. Fans of classic horror films will enjoy this movie for the music alone.

The film isn't perfect, however. If suffers from jumpy and erratic editing, and, despite the filmmakers' best efforts, the tight budget of the picture does still cripple it at times, despite the very clever efforts to hide the defects. (This is most evident in the scene where Schmitt is shot, and in the various office and interior sets.)

Still, "Monsturd" is a film that's hard not to like if you have a sense of humor and a tolerance for splatter of a different sort. Also, aspiring filmmakers should definitely check it out, and they should listen to the commentary track, as well as watch the being-the-scenes footage. It's very interesting and informative stuff, and it'll give insights into how this very effective low-budget comedy came to be, and it will give you some hints and tricks that you might want to model.

(One interesting surprising bit of trivia that's mentioned in passing on the commentary track is that few reviewers ever comment on the film's music. That's surprsing to me, because that was the very first thing I noticed about it.)

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