Monster Brawl Hits and Misses at Phoenix Film Festival

Monster Brawl is the kind of idea that you and your friends come up with at around 2:30 in the morning, when the collective genius is stifled only intermittently by handfuls of pizza-flavored Goldfish.

The setting: a wrestling ring in the middle of a spooky graveyard. Eight movie monsters -- from Cyclops to the Mummy to Frankenstein ("...technically it's Frankenstein's monster, if you wanna be a dick about it," says announcer "Sasquatch" Sid Tucker, played by horror-movie veteran Art Hindle) -- battle it out for the championship.

If that description alone has you salivating, then according to Google Demographics and their regressive, profiling algorithms, you might belong to the same segment of the population most likely to produce serial killers.

There are two conferences: Undead and Creatures. The first Creatures middleweight match pairs Cyclops - called forth from his reverie in the Greek islands, where he "comes from a long line of one-eyed blacksmiths," says announcer Buzz Chambers (Dave Foley) - versus Witch Bitch.

With a redundant moniker like that, a seasoned manager, and a literal bag of tricks, can this boil-ridden sorceress hold her own against Homer's classic villain?

You have to applaud the film for its commitment to staying "in character." From beginning to end, it is presented like a real evening of WrestleMania: Before each match, the monsters are sized up by strengths and weaknesses (the Mummy's "chronic arthritis," for example, could hold him back). Each opponent has some last threatening words for the other; the Mummy's grunting is translated as Egyptian hieroglyphics, while Swamp Gut uses his time to lament the serious threat to America's marshlands.

​On the sidelines, the announcers give a colorful play-by-play with the kind of kitschy alliteration you'd expect from a "fight of the living dead": "putrid paunch," "abdomen attack," and "disgusting demise," to name a few. Kids in the Hall veteran Foley is hilarious as Buzz, delivering his lines in a tone of eye-rolling disinterest and taking long swigs from a flask at every opportunity. But it is the voiceover narration of Lance Henriksen (another sci-fi and horror film regular) that will really delight genre devotees. Where the film score is more on-the-nose in sounding just like the kind of music you ignore while you build your character in a fighting game, Henriksen's narration is a simple but clever parody: "Glorious combo," he booms. "Majestic!"

True to form, the film introduces each monster with a short backstory. It is particularly on-point in its skewering spoof of vampire movies and animal documentaries. In the introduction to Lady Vampire (whose styling is more Buffy/Neanderthal than Twilight/Aphrodite), a preening hunter narrates his search for her in "Operation Holy Water." He is warned by locals, but arrogantly ignores "their Gypsy crap" as he struts toward his doom.

Monster Brawl does a lot right, but there are a number of missed opportunities and an overall pacing issue that suggests that a feature film was the wrong medium for this particular cult fantasy.

But what it really needs is an audience: With no on-screen audience to pump up the energy (come on, even RuPaul's Drag Race had an audience for its fake wrestling), there are extensive moments of graveyard silence just waiting to be filled by the witty shout-outs and prop-wielding of movie-goers.

Whether from Internet memes, YouTube comments, or darkened theaters, this film is in need of a few good fans to rise to the challenge. When we finally agree on something to throw at the screen at appointed intervals - then, and only then, will it be complete.

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