Studio: Dread Presents
Director: Stewart Sparke
Writer: Paul Butler
Producer: Paul Butler, Stewart Sparke
Stars: Lyndsey Crane, Michaela Longden, Lizzie Stanton, Daniel Thrace, Rose Muirhead, Anna Dawson, Arron Dennis, Steph Mossman, Samantha Mesagno, Nicholas Vince
A troubled girl’s 18thbirthday party erupts in chaos when a supernatural storybook unleashes five murderous monsters.
On the eve of her eighteenth birthday, Sophie remains haunted by nightmares of a time ten years ago when her mother read from a supernatural storybook. Somehow that tale conjured a creature that killed mum, although whispers around town claimed Sophie was crazy and wondered whether her father really did the deed.
Troubled emotions stir when dad innocently gifts Sophie with the Necronomicon-like book as a memento of mum. Sophie has little time to reflect on murderous memories however. She and her best friends Mona and Beth are busy hosting a party attended by all of the standard stereotypes. Sophie can’t keep flitting eyes off her crush Jess. Boorish buffoon Dave attends too. So does Gary, the good guy so unnoticeable, no one can remember his name. Snitty rival Arya brings her bullying boyfriend Brice, as well as an army of strangers intent on wreaking havoc in Sophie’s home.
The rowdy randos have to wait their turn when Pandora, a mysterious seductress, gets the jump on turning the party into pandemonium. Shapeshifting into a hideous form, Pandora taps poor Dave’s veins to splash virginal blood on the ancient tome. A strange wind suddenly summons another monster. Then all Hell literally breaks loose as the beast begins bloodily ripping apart partygoers. An otherworldly plot borne from the book’s pages has its sights set on Sophie. To find out what it is, she’ll have to survive a night full of monsters, and hopefully save as many guests as possible along the way.
Being a horror-comedy, “Book of Monsters” never sets out to take itself too seriously. Exactly what degree of seriousness it means to be taken with however, is difficult to discern.
For starters, an eyebrow has to be raised over the ages of the lead actors. I realize it’s crass to speculate how old a woman may be. But to not comment on apparent ages would be turning a blind eye to the biggest elephant in the movie’s room.
A kind guess might put the average age of the actors somewhere around 27-28. A daring estimate might creep into the thirties. Either way, some of these women appear old enough to pass for mothers of 17-year-olds. The only realistic response to being asked to believe them as high school students is a wet “pfft!” reflexively spat from the mouth. Even Aaron Spelling would roll over in his grave if he saw this overly optimistic “teen” casting.
Normally, one might assume this to be part of the movie’s intent to be cheekily campy. Except so much of its comedy comes across with such stale stiffness, you can’t be sure “Book of Monsters” is always in on apparent jokes or just a victim of rolling with whatever limited assets were available. Maybe “Book of Monsters” really wants the audience to think these women are teenagers. Maybe it’s only a gag. The fact that we can’t tell how the film means to frame our mindsets presents a problem with immersion in its frightful fantasy.
Cutting to the chase, having this slippery grip on a throwback tone stops silliness from sizzling. We’re talking about a movie where a male stripper uses a dildo to defeat a demonically possessed garden gnome. We should be crying with laughter, not from confusion, but “Book of Monsters” gets cold feet when it has opportunities to go over the top with irreverence. Instead, the movie mutes itself with lukewarm laughs and licks of horror that can be more cheap than they are charming.
Unexpectedly, “Book of Monsters” grows strangely endearing as it goes on and honestly, I can’t precisely pinpoint why. Acting is often awkward, particularly from Nicholas Vince as Sophie’s father, who demonstrates why “Hellraiser” kept him quiet under a head full of Chatterer makeup. Moths in the movie’s wallet also eat up visual value, although the practical effects department still goes for broke by dumping as many blood buckets and body parts onscreen as pennies will permit.
Perhaps that earnestness in such efforts is what allows director Stewart Sparke’s low-budget production to still shine through pedestrian cracks. Cast and crew were evidently having fun that doesn’t always make it to the audience, but enough of it does that the film can eke out a modest amount of entertainment. In this regard, the movie’s intent is clear. These upstart filmmakers merely mean to make a simple horror homage out of elbow grease and good intentions, and those aren’t goals anyone can hate on.
Provided you can ride out the sterile first act until exposition extinguishes most yawns, the last hour puts a big blast of energy on the table. As long as you’re okay with watching a mildly goofy gorefest shot on a shoestring, “Book of Monsters” at least offers explosive eviscerations, mutant creatures, and countless torsos torn in two. Just remember to adjust expectations above underwhelming, but well below uproarious good time.
NOTE: There is a mid-credits scene.
Review Score: 60