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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » How to Make a Monster (2001)
How to Make a Monster (2001)
Columbia/Tri-Star // R // June 11, 2002
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 15, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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Remaking low-budget horror/sci-fi from the '50s is not a new or inventive concept. Tobe Hooper's Invaders From Mars, John Carpenter's The Thing, David Cronenberg's The Fly, and Chuck Russell's The Blob all met with varied degrees of critical and financial success at the box office throughout the 1980s. These sorts of remakes are in the midst of a revival, perhaps spurred on by the many millions of dollars raked in by Dark Castle Entertainment. The brainchild of famed director Robert Zemeckis and uber-producer Joel Silver, Dark Castle produced mid-budget re-envisionings of the schlocky William Castle films 13 Ghosts and The House on Haunted Hill. Following much along those same lines, Creature Features is a series of five remakes of flicks from the American International Pictures vaults. Each of the made-for-cable movies features special effects by nine-time Oscar nominee Stan Winston and producers Colleen Camp and Sam's son, Lou Arkoff. How to Make a Monster joins She-Creature, The Day the World Ended, Teenage Caveman (don't cry...don't raise your eye...), and Earth vs. the Spider as part of the Creature Features collection, each of which are now making their way onto our shiny five-inch platter of choice.

The original 1958 How to Make a Monster suffered from poor execution, but it had an original, clever premise. (I'll 'fess up and admit that the previous sentence is based solely on reviews I've read; the film is long out of print on VHS and has yet to be released on DVD.) Pete Dummond was a make-up artist at AIP, thrown away like a bag of moldy tangerines when the studio decides to shift their focus away from horror. A remake in name only, the 2001 version centers around the development of "Evilution", a dark, violent video game whose name cannot be mentioned without the taglines "kill or be killed" and "...where death is the only escape" cheerfully following afterwards. The game's monster is a joke, and the current set of programmers find themselves sacked in favor of a more eccentric, off-kilter bunch. Led by unsuccessful suit Drummond (Steven Culp) are his band of misfits, consisting of appropriately named weapons expert Hardcore (Tyler Mane, or "Big Sky" if you prefer his old WCW moniker), wormy music and sound effects guru Bug (Jason Marsden), and cocky intellectual Sol (Karim Prince). The team has been assigned the weighty task of creating a new monster and finishing "Evilution" in a scant four weeks. As incentive, the programmer of the module that receives the most praise in focus groups will receive a million dollar bonus. The prospect of this seven figure check inspires some heated competition between the three programmers, a constant nuisance for Drummond and bright-eyed intern Laura (Clea DuVall). The troika's handiwork coupled with the obligatory bolt of lightning brings a motion capture telemetry suit to life, infusing it with the deranged brilliance, weaponry skill, and ominous voice of the character created for "Evilution". The gaming golem sets out to slay the five friendly folks, as unable to distinguish between computer games as reality as some close friends of mine.

How to Make a Monster isn't anything more than a moderately high-tech spin on the "spam in a cabin" formula. None of the characters are particularly interesting, though the spats between the three programmers managed to inspire a couple of half-smiles. I'm not really sure what sort of tone that the filmmakers were trying to convey. This movie is not scary, and nor is it campy. How to Make a Monster just is, existing with little purpose or imagination. The lighter moments aren't particularly funny, with humor on the level of an incrementally more violent episode of Boy Meets World. Writer/director George Huang (Swimming With Sharks) is unable to generate any real tension or suspense either. There are a couple of jump scares, but the sudden appearance of an object on-screen accompanied by a musical sting is about as much effort as How to Make a Monster puts into trying to evoke a reaction from the audience. Despite Stan Winston's involvement, I'm hesitant to use the word "special" when describing the special effects. There's a fair amount of blood, but gore and most of the deaths take place off-screen. Sure, body parts are scattered around, but seeing a severed hand after the fact isn't quite the same as seeing a jagged blade dig into flesh. The creature referred to in the film's title reminded me a bit of a lower-rent Evil Ash from Army of Darkness, and perhaps not coincidentally, an "Evil Dead: Hail to the King" poster is clearly visible on numerous occasions throughout the movie. As a programmer myself, I'll resist the temptation to point out the many inaccuracies in the software development process portrayed here. Then there's the telegraphed ending, complete with a character that becomes what she hated most, going so far as to quote dialogue from the movie's previous bastard of choice. Oh, and there's only one female in the bulk of the movie, so I guess I've entered spoiler territory. Oops. But anyway, get it? Laura fought a literal monster to the death, and then she became a figurative monster. Brilliant!

Sitting through How to Make a Monster wasn't an excruciatingly painful experience. It's not an awful movie, after all...just a decidedly lackluster one. How to Make a Monster's DVD release isn't any more remarkable, unworthy of inspiring significant praise or vitriol.

Video: Like the other entries in the Creature Features collection, this DVD release of How to Make a Monster includes both anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1-ish) and full-frame presentations. As expected, the widescreen release looks good, though it doesn't offer anything particularly memorable. To run through the usual laundry list, black levels are solid, colors and fleshtones appear to be spot-on, the source material is in mint condition, and I didn't run across any specks, nicks, or intrusive grain or haloing. How to Make a Monster is of a higher quality than I would typically expect for a made-for-cable production. The film's appearance isn't theatrical quality, but it's not too terribly far off. The visual presentation is free of any noteworthy flaws, but there's nothing about the presentation that'll curl any toes.

Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix sounds like a stereo cable movie expanded to take advantage of a couple more speakers, and the reason for that seems somewhat obvious. There isn't an extensive amount of action in the lower frequencies, though there was apparently enough activity to keep my Energy Star-compliant subwoofer from clicking off and on as it is prone to do during LFE lulls. The majority of the audio is spread across the front channels, though the action sequences and a conversation in an air duct feature some fair surround use. It sound go without saying that the audio for such a recent production lacks any underlying hiss or distortion. Much like the visual presentation, there's nothing terribly wrong with the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, but it's nothing impressive either. Perhaps watching Toy Story, a DVD with a rather nice mix, immediately beforehand spoiled me.

A French stereo dub has also been provided. Along for the ride are English closed captioning and a seemingly endless barrage of subtitles in various languages, including English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai.

Supplements: The "making of featurette" runs less than three minutes, but it (gasp!) actually does feature footage focusing on production rather than the usual promotional fluff. It's far too short to offer anything substantial, though.

The 'photo gallery' is divided into several different segments. There are 7 conceptual Monster Sketches, 17 shots of Stan Winston's crew Building the Monster, twenty Behind the Scenes Photos, and 45 Production Stills.

The trailer gallery features a letterboxed promo for the five Creature Features, as well as full-frame trailers for It Came from Beneath the Sea, Wolf, and The Breed and letterboxed trailers for Bram Stoker's Dracula and Fright Night.

Rounding out the set-top accessible supplements are filmographies for Clea DuVall, Tyler Mane, Julie Strain, and Stan Winston. There are 28 chapter stops.

The DVD-ROM portion of the disc includes seven pages from "Toldag's Journal" and fourteen pages of "The Legend of Helnaar", both related to the backstory of the "Evilution" game.

Conclusion: How to Make a Monster is an okay movie on an okay DVD, and it might make for an okay rental. Okay? Rent It.
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