At first glance, Monsterland is the latest entry into the horror anthology subgenre. However, unlike Holidays, for example, there is no common theme to the stories. Instead it makes an effort to provide a wraparound “story” that ties its nine mini-stories together. While these anthologies are sometimes attempts to quietly combine a series of short films into one package, Monsterland is more blatant about it: each one includes its own titles and end credits.
This approach kind of works since the wraparound story involves a man who stumbles into a movie theater during some kind of monster apocalypse, stepping over bloody corpses and helping himself to a tub of popcorn. Taking a seat in the theater, he watches the short films one by one as they are projected on the screen. In between, various creepy crawlies lurk behind him as we assume the world outside continues to devolve into chaos.
I placed the word “story” in quotation marks above, because there’s not so much a story as a set-up. It’s clever and starts the proceedings on an interesting note. However, the payoff is pretty lame. I would like to have seen more development in the wraparound so that, as a viewer, I didn’t feel like I was in a theater watching a short film festival. Perhaps it’s one of those concepts better discussed than executed as a movie. On the other hand, it seems like the creativity is there, so perhaps it’s just a missed opportunity.
The important thing is the short films, and there’s a real mixed bag. They vary in running time, approach and quality. The first one, Don’t Go Into the Lake, is well-made, but shares the same non-story quality of the wraparound. It’s like a scene from another movie rather than its own story. Two are animated. Monster Man is near-perfect, with blood exploding on screen like fireworks, but has a too-familiar twist at the end. Happy Memories is… bizarre. It’s made with toy puppets; that’s about all I can say.
Curiosity Kills is live action, but has the sensibility of a madcap cartoon. When his father brings home a briefcase with the radioactive symbol on it, a young boy discovers chemicals inside that turn his pet mouse into a superhuman killing machine. The film goes for slapstick, gross-out humor more than gore, but is funny to watch. While all the films have a humorous slant, none are as obvious as this one. Watch the credits for it; an animated version of the mouse flies back and forth across the screen.
In The Grey Matter, Simon has a gaping head wound, from which he pulls a talking parasite named Brian. Brian… brain… I’m sure that means something. There are a lot of puns and word play in this one.
In Hag, Scott and his wife visit a marriage counselor about her sleepwalking problem. This one is also punny; however, it has the single scariest image in the entire endeavor.
In House Call, dentist Dr. Richter is crying into his cocktail over his recent divorce papers when the doorbell rings and a man forces him at gunpoint to pull his teeth. (He believes he’s turning into a vampire.) This is one of my favorite of the shorts in Monsterland. It made me squirm the most.
In Stay at Home Dad, the gender roles are reversed. The woman goes to work leaving her exhausted husband to feed their crying baby. The less said about this one the better; its surprise is an interesting one.
Monsterland saves the best for last, and I’d watch a full-length version of Hellyfish. Off the coast of Savannah, an Iranian terrorist and a Russian spy search for a missing H bomb. However, as a “record number” of jellyfish begin appearing on the beach, it’s clear that they’ve found it first. The camera quickly and creatively whisks us through the beach and introduces us to a variety of characters who will eventually encounter the mutated monsters.
With its insane sense of humor and a rousing soundtrack, Hellyfish is a helly of a good time. (Sorry.) It represents everything I hoped Monsterland would be. I’d say that the wraparound and other films take a little attitude from it, but could have been more entertaining overall by taking a lot more. Patrick Longstreth and Robert McLean directed Hellyfish. I’m not sure who’s credited with curating the contents of Monsterland, but I’d like to see what these two could do with 109 minutes instead of 13.
Monsterland is now available on DVD and digital video.