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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Monster Brawl (Blu-ray)
Monster Brawl (Blu-ray)
Image // Unrated // June 12, 2012 // Region A
List Price: $29.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 3, 2012 | E-mail the Author
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Wrasslin' monsters.

I know! Two words, and that's just about all the review you're gonna need.

Monster Brawl is a goopy, goofy, gory love letter to those Saturday night wrestling matches you watched back in 1986 after your parents had already nodded off. It's just that instead of Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat or The Million Dollar Man, you get a trash-talking werewolf and a fresh-off-the-boat mummy.

This is right about the point in the review where I'd start yammering on about the plot, only...well, there kinda isn't one. You don't get a story so much, no, but you do get a bracket.
Two divisions. Two weight classes. Eight monsters. Five fights to the death. The winner walks away with the belt, and the losers...well, don't walk away at all. If you can't read the tiny little text in that photo, you're lookin' at a cyclops, a witch, a swamp monster, a werewolf, a mummy, a chick vampire, a zombie, and Frankenstein's Monster. Monster Brawl packages it all together as a live pay-per-view
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event, complete with color commentary (courtesy of Dave Foley and Art Hindle), Jimmy Hart turning up as the ringside announcer for the evening, scorecard girls jiggling around in their bikinis, the whole 'tale of the tape' deal before each match, and even a pint-size manager busting into the ring with a folding chair. You also get to pal around with each half of the creature feature, cutting away to their lives back home to get to know 'em a little better. Oh! ...and then there's the heart-ripping, skull-stomping, gut-munching, eye-gouging, and face-melting you'd kind of expect from this sort of monster-on-monster action.

I mean, it's a clever idea. The PPV angle, skewed sense of humor, and heavy emphasis on fighting definitely set Monster Brawl apart from the rest of the microbudget horror crowd. The effects work isn't scared off by how little cash the movie has to throw around. It's really ambitious and doesn't shy away from sloshing around plenty of splatter. The seams show at times, sure, but creatures like Cyclops and Swamp Gut have the sort of elaborate, inspired designs you'd proudly showcase on your demo reel, and several of the kills really put the
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"gore" in "gorgeous". As if you couldn't tell by this point, Monster Brawl is more of a wrestling splatter-comedy than an unnervingly intense horror flick, and Dave Foley and Art Hindle score their share of laughs doing the whole color commentary thing.

Part of me thinks Monster Brawl would be a blast to watch late at night and surrounded by a bunch of half-drunk genre-slash-wrestling fanatics. On a sleepy Sunday afternoon by myself in my living room...? Yeah, kind of a different experience. I really do love the concept of dropping movie monsters into Wrestlemania III. This was a fiercely independent production, and the cast and crew's passion and enthusiasm are more than a little bit infectious. I really, really want to like Monster Brawl, but...I don't. The movie makes it a point to explain why there isn't a crowd, but not having an audience saps away a lot of the energy that could've been there. The monsters don't come storming out to chugging guitars or thumpin' intro music. The synth strings in the score are pretty great, but that doesn't exactly get the blood pumping. Only a handful of the monsters actually talk, so you don't get those oversized personalities I normally think of being
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in the ring. It's cool that Monster Brawl has a small army of wrestlers duking it out under all that makeup and prosthetics, and it kinda follows that they do a lot of actual, old-school wrestling moves too. Yeah, you get stuff like laser beams and tombstone-fu, but there's honest-to-Gord wrestling. It's not nearly as much of an adrenaline rush as I would've hoped to see, though. On paper, a werewolf nailing a bodyslam or whatever is kind of the best thing ever, but here, it's not all that exciting. I wish the fights were crazier too. Why introduce a swamp monster, mention on his card that he can cripple his victims with toxic fumes, and then not have him ever spew out that sort of swamp gas? The arsenal of wrestling moves isn't all that distinctive from fighter to fighter either. I've been a fan of Dave Foley's for a couple of decades now, and it's always kind of a thrill to see Art Hindle pop up in a genre flick, although their deliberately cornball color commentary really overwhelms everything else that's going on.

There's probably a really great short film or comedy sketch here, and there's definitely a video game that could've been mined out of this, but an hour and a half movie...? Monster Brawl doesn't give wrestling or horror fanatics all that much to gnaw on, and it's not nearly as much fun as it wants to be. Worth a rental or a couple of clicks on NetFlix, if you're still reading this far into the review, but I can't really recommend shelling out twenty bucks to buy Monster Brawl sight-unseen. Rent It.


Video
The authoring on Image releases is usually kind of sloppy, and...yeah, there's some of that going on with Monster Brawl too. The most persistent headache is the heavy shimmering around edges and pretty much any area of fine detail. The treeline throughout Swamp Gut's cutaway has it the worst, looking wildly unstable. If I'd been staring at the screen more closely, I'm sure I would've spotted some hiccups in the compression -- like most Image releases, the bitrate is pretty anemic -- but I'll admit that nothing along those lines really leapt out at me. The photography throughout Monster Brawl is sharp, detailed, and nicely saturated. I'll admit to not being a fan of that aggressively digital look, but in a lot of ways, I think it's one of the better looking RED-sourced flicks I've come across recently. I just wish there were even just a little more care and attention put towards the authoring.

Monster Brawl is dished out on a single-layer Blu-ray disc. The movie's presented at its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1 and has been encoded with AVC.


Audio
Monster Brawl is rockin' a 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, and, sure, it's pretty solid. The mix isn't as aggressive as you might expect to hear in a movie about wrestling monsters, but it still makes very
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effective use of the surround channels, with a good bit of attention aimed at directionality. Effects like Frankenstein's zappy hardware and Swamp Gut's thunderous bellow also take advantage of the rears. The low-end packs a wallop too, with all those kicks, slams, and haymakers reinforced by a snarling subwoofer. We're talking about a movie where monsters throw boulders around, whack each either with sledgehammers and tombstones, and stomp stomp stomp, so there's kind of a lot going on in the lower frequencies. The dialogue -- which, okay, is mostly color commentary -- doesn't struggle for placement in the mix either. So...nope! No real complaints.

Also along for the ride is a Dolby Digital 5.1 (320kbps) track. Subtitles are limited to English (SDH) and Spanish.


Extras
The extras are technically in 1080p but have very clearly been upconverted. Why...? No idea.
  • Monster Brawl: Beyond the Grave (23 min.; SD): The featured extra on Monster Brawl is this twentysomething minute making-of featurette. Along with peeks at conceptual art, the extensive makeup effects work, and tours of various sets an' locations, you also get a really good look at what it takes to put an ambitious microbudget movie like this together. "Beyond the Grave" covers an enormous amount of ground, and it's nice to see that it takes the time to chat up members of the crew that are usually overlooked in behind-the-scenes pieces. Definitely worth a look.

  • Tales from the Hart (7 min.; SD): This is labeled as an outtakes reel, although it's really a bunch of conversations with you-know-him-if-you-are-or-have-ever-been-a-wrestling-fan Jimmy Hart snapped between setups and stuff. It's generally Hart breathlessly talking about his favorite memories in the wrestling biz along with chipper comments about how wonderful it is to be a part of Monster Brawl.

  • Audio Commentary: Writer/director/editor Jesse Thomas Cook is joined by producers John Geddes and Matt Wiele for Monster Brawl's commentary track, and...geez! They're so passionate, so proud, and so enthusiastic about the movie that I feel pretty guilty for panning it. Similar to "Beyond the Grave", this conversation skillfully paints a picture of what it was like to be in the trenches making an overambitious,
    [click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
    underfunded genre flick like this where everyone's wearing four or five different hats. The scale of the project is a frequent topic, pointing out that there's a grand total of forty actors, and they mention that budgetary constraints required knocking the number of fights down from seven to five. Among the long list of other topics are how much of Monster Brawl came together just a week before its premiere, how the locations were so perfect that the "Quarantine" sign in the zombie bunker was already there, happy accidents like the werewolf being hissed at by audiences as a heel, and how the color commentary was recorded in ten minute takes with the monsters generally nowhere to be found. Yeah, I dug it.

  • Trailer (2 min.; SD): Last up is a minute and a half-long trailer.

The Final Word
Lance Henriksen growls things like "perfect!", Mortal Kombat-style, throughout the creature-on-creature action in Monster Brawl. I kind of wish it were a video game 'cause if this flick is any indication, wrestling monsters are the sort of thing I think I'd rather play than watch. I really, really want to like Monster Brawl, but even with all that ambition and imagination, as a movie, I've gotta admit that it doesn't really come together for me. Rent It.
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