Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The generation of baby boomers who grew up watching 'Creature Feature' movies on television has become a substantial fan base and the audience for all manner of nostalgic movie fare, most of it terrible. With today's exploitation monster fare now the subject of films costing 100 million dollars and up, the only low-budget genre filmmaking is at the direct-to-video level (DTV). Ironically, finding anything worthwhile in either camp has become an exceptional event.
Perhaps admitting that they haven't the resources to play it straight, some new DTV efforts are comedies that aspire to nostalgic spoofery of genre movies. Unfortunately, when 50s monster fare comes into play the interest level goes way down. The Sci-fi takeoffs of Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski are mostly softcore nonsense playing to adolescents looking for skin.
What does peek through once in a while is an amusing point of view, and that leads us to Ted Newsom's The Naked Monster, a practically homemade film assembled by genre enthusiasts not far removed in spirit from the hopefuls whose antics created Equinox forty years ago. Newsom is a screenwriter and genre expert well-known for his documentary on Ed Wood, among others.
Unlke Equinox, The Naked Monster is not a special effects talent audition. It started as a fun summer activity among friends, which, as Newsom explains, grew (or dragged out) into a ten-year project. Leonard Maltin calls it an affectionate spoof, which is fair praise; Newsom and co-director Wayne Berwick jam a huge helping of stock footage from old films into their own dime-store homage to 50s monster epics. The affection quotient comes from their guest cast of cameo bits, which is composed almost entirely of monster movie actors from the classic era. The late monster-fighter extraordinaire Kenneth Tobey has a more extended role, and handles both the mock heroics and comedy nonsense with ease. The Naked Monster will appeal almost exclusively to die-hard monster fans, many of whom will be impressed by its cast of game retirees: John Agar, Jeanne Carmen, Robert Clarke, Robert Cornthwaite, John Harmon, Paul Marco, Lori Nelson, Ann Robinson, Gloria Talbott and Les Tremayne.
A giant Creaturesaurus Erectus terrorizes a small town, with local Sheriff Lance Boiler (R.G. Wilson) accepting help from a motley crew: Office girl Connie (Cathy Cahn), Special Agent Jeff Trouble Stewart (John Goodwin) and sultry doctor Nikki Carlton (Brinke Stevens). As the monster stomps its way through scenes of mass destruction (depicted via extensive clips from old movies), Jeff and Lance seek expert help in the person of Colonel Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey), a gung-ho veteran of monster battles of the past.
Nobody's idea of quality moviemaking, The Naked Monster is good fun for the undemanding monster fan. It follows the tradition of John Landis' Schlock, only accelerated with non-stop jokes in the manner of Airplane! True, the 1001 corny jokes aren't all winners, but most of the nonsense makes one smile and the occasional mismatched cutaway or individual gag is especially funny. Some of the best laughs are throwaways. When we see a long-shot of helicopter followed by a close-up of its occupant surveying the ground using a View-Master toy, it just struck me as funny. True, most of the one-shot gags aren't that inspired, but when they're good, they're good.
More to the point, all of the gags in The Naked Monster are fine-tuned to the movie memories of the film's intended audience. Some of Kenneth Tobey's off-camera lines appear to be taken directly from his old movies, while the old-codger monster fighters (John Agar, Robert Cornthwaite) who phone in their cameos offer anti-monster suggestions direct from their famous films. Interestingly, Cornthwaite and Les Tremayne deliver their bits just as sharply as they ever did, and we feel a nostalgic twinge at hearing their old speeches paraphrased, or lampooned: "Maybe you should try thermite bombs, Hendry, they worked just great before." Forrest J. Ackerman keeps suggesting that the way to defeat the Creaturesaurus is to make a robot double, which can incite the workers to riot!
Other moments restage entire scene-lets from matinee memories. For instance, two guys trying to jab sharp sticks into the giant monster's toe are impaled identically to the hapless doctors in The Amazing Colossal Man. The Creaturesaurus sinks a battleship in an amusing sequence that cannibalizes stock shots from Gorgo. SuperFan collector Bob Burns turns up as a daffy Admiral, and plays a second role in a good-looking gorilla suit.
The special effects are terrible, but as with the comedy, there are a lot of them! Pitiful mattes place the Creaturesaurus in shots with live-action, and the filmmakers take great pains to cleverly integrate their cast and monster into existing clips from old movies. B&W film clips are crudely colorized. What distinguishes this effort from others is that the jokes are relevant to a discerning fan's knowledge of old monster movies, and that there's nothing lackadaisical in the execution. Something like Attack of the 50-Ft. Centerfold appears tossed together with contempt for the audience (the suckers), whereas The Naked Monster's intense production, effects and editorial work were obviously a labor of love.
The Creaturesaurus is a green, three-eyed man-in-suit monster just goofy enough not to become a bore. The movie does have a scene with a naked breast or two (Linnea Quigley and Brinke Stevens), which will probably keep the film from the juvenile audience segment. It is called The Naked Monster, after all. Some of the gags around the new live-action cast are the most tiresome, and the last reel or two do drag a bit, but overall the 'anything goes' editing is lively and creative. The movie leaps into letterbox mode for a brief battle between the Creaturesaurus and a Godzilla toy!
Ted Newsom introduces the movie in a William Castle-like opening, and provides a coda in memory of all of his 'guest stars' that have passed away since he began the film ten years ago. All of the classic monster actors appear to be having a fine time. Savant guesses that co-director Wayne Berwick was responsible for the 'reunion' of Les Tremayne, Jeanne Carmen, John Harmon and himself, as they constitute practically the entire cast of the old creature feature The Monster of Piedras Blancas. Among the new actors, John Goodwin is an accomplished makeup man with solid genre credits.
Anthem Pictures' DVD of The Naked Monster is a good encoding of a show that's all over the map, quality-wise. Some of it is shot on film (perhaps partially in Super-8) but other bits are on various gauges of video, mangled with cheap film-look digital processing. The flat picture has okay color but can go all to mush when characters are blue-screened into oddball backgrounds, such as still shots from The Crawling Eye. Scratches and weird digs abound, which may or may not add to the television-print atmosphere. The soundtrack uses known cues from old movies, cleverly edited and interspersed with Three Stooges-style sound effects. I recognized a bar of rather familiar spy-film music, and many a scream and explosion comes straight from the soundtrack of a classic monster movie.
Newsom and Berwick turn their director's commentary into an opportunity for verbal clowning. A still gallery shows the cast and crew posing for fun at the various improvised locations: Bronson Caverns, Vasquez Rocks, etc.. The deleted scenes extra contains finished moments dropped to keep the film from running to intolerable length. The Video Documentary on the making of the movie is actually fairly serious, but it strains to give the filmmakers an aura of self-importance that clashes with their earnest attitudes elsewhere. A fan interview with Kenneth Tobey is included as well.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Naked Monster rates:
Movie: Not bad at all, for silly monster fun
Video: Good but really variable
Sound: Very good
Supplements: Director commentary, deleted scenes, still gallery, Making of Docu, interview with Kenneth Tobey
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 16, 2006
1. The Naked Monster makes us smile by virtue of its affection for old monster movies. Savant's idea of a similar effort that doesn't work is 1980's The Creature Wasn't Nice aka Spaceship. I saw a cast and crew screening where only the designated ringer in the audience really cracked up. I only laughed once myself, at something that was an obvious actor ad lib. The other moment I loved was inexplicably cut out for the film's general release!
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson