Director: Stuart Simpson
Screenplay: Stuart Simpson
Starring: Norman Yemm, Nelli Scarlet, Kyrie Capri, Karli Madden
Producer: Fabian Pisani
Running Time: 75 min
BBFC Certificate: TBC
An Australian entry into the wave of B-Movie homages that have been flooding in since the release of Grindhouse in 2007, El Monstro Del Mar! (a.k.a. Monstro!) is a truly independent addition that makes it's influences known right from the outset. Opening in black and white with three buxom beauties 'dressed' in rockabilly-meets-burlesque style outfits dancing to 60's soul music blaring out of the car stereo, writer/director Stuart Simpson has some serious love for cult legend Russ Meyer.
This bunch of bad girls swiftly and brutally despatch of a couple of hapless locals who come to their assistance, then hit the road. We (vaguely) discover that they're on the run after killing some nasty looking thugs and they end up in an isolated seaside town, where they plan to lay low for a while. After their elderly neighbour Joseph (Norman Yemm) warns them not to go in the water things start to get less sexploitation and more monster movie though as the girls awaken El Monstro Del Mar!
Once this viscous beast starts wreaking havoc it's up to the remaining girls and the repressed virgin Hannah (Kyrie Capri), Joseph's granddaughter, to show the tentacled bastard who really wears the trousers around here!
I wasn't expecting much from this after watching the trailer and in general it's not advised to go into any micro-budget film with too much hype, but I had fun with El Monstro Del Mar. Granted it suffers from many of the problems on-the-cheap genre movies face, e.g. low-rate digital photography, ropey performances and a shoddy script, but Simpson seems aware of what does and doesn't work so steers the film in the right direction as often as he can.
Problems like those listed are dealt with most of the time too. Although the technical quality of the camera equipment is weak for instance, there is some quite interesting framing used, especially in it's Meyer aping opening. Throughout, the visual style is fairly impressive to be honest including some effectively moody low-key lighting in the interiors. It's a shame it's not a little more consistent on this front though as there are also a fair share of bland and poorly exposed shots. For a film made for next to nothing they certainly pull out the stops enough to stick a firm finger up at the Hollywood big boys though.
One factor that won me over more than any other though was the music. I'm a sucker for 60's soul and there's plenty to go around as well as a healthy dose of grungy rock, surf music and rockabilly. It's a strong mix that is complemented by an effectively Morricone-like score from Fabian Pisani. The music, added to the burlesque elements and Meyer-inspired visual flair give El Monstro a dirty, sexy vibe that is infectious and helps it rise above the usual horror cheapies.
Although the acting is pretty shoddy, there is enough character and swagger to the bad girls and their banter to endear and to be honest, as cliched as it is, Hannah's predictable transformation into a bad-ass is effective too. Unfortunately it's the one leading male performer that lets things slide as Norman Yemm's old man of the sea shtick doesn't quite cut it. He's not really any more hammy than anyone else, but he doesn't have the charisma to get away with it. His scenes tend to drag the film back a bit whereas the girls drive it on.
Speaking of driving the film on, it does hit a lull in the latter half, with too much time spent partying with the girls and not enough on building tension surrounding the monster. This means the big finale, although fun, lacks the dramatic impact it could have done with. The monster, when fully revealed is also a little too comically naff, although that's all part of the charm I guess. I might be wrong, but I think there was a bit of stop motion used for the monster, which is always a plus point in my book. When it comes to gore effects the film scores high too with lashings of dark blood and severed limbs/heads adding to the nasty overall feel.
By running for a skimpy 75 minutes and not wasting too much time on elements such as plot or tension, El Monstro Del Mar! is a fun ride while it lasts. It's not without its flaws and those unaccustomed to zero-budget genre films or 60's exploitation will hate it, but those with a taste for down and dirty monster movies with added sex-appeal will be in heaven with this guilty pleasure.
El Monstro Del Mar will be released on DVD in the UK on October 22nd by Monster Pictures UK. The DVD is packed with features including two commentaries, cast interviews, deleted scenes, behind the scenes footage and two short films.