We're all pretty disturbed that Judge Dennis Prince knows what a "glory hole" is. We thought we had raised him better than that.
On this highway, the roadkill is human.
Perhaps the most monstrous thing about director Michael Davis' 2003 Monster Man is how it liberally shatters and reshapes genres to create an odd and almost enigmatic amalgamation that's one part graphic horror, one part monster truck action, and one part sophomoric comedy. It winds up being a ménage-a-trois of mayhem that you might find peculiarly appealing.
Facts of the Case
Anal-retentive Adam (Eric Jungmann, Not Another Teen Movie) is driving to attend Betty-Ann's wedding, hoping to finally tell her of his near-complete infatuation with her before she takes the vows. Former friend Harley (Justin Urich, Horror 101) has tagged along, perpetually antagonizing Adam while hoping to convince him that Betty-Ann was never worth such heartache. Stopping at a roadside truck stop, Harley unleashes a stream of insults on the local yokels, something that might explain why a hideous monster truck begins to pursue them. The thing looks like an exhumed steel-plated casket of sorts perched atop hellishly huge wheels, and lurches forward as if it could bite. Narrowly escaping, the two erstwhile buddies pull off to a restroom where Adam has a close encounter with the monstrous driver of the monster truck via a "glory hole" in the stall wall. Again, the two tear off, only to find they've picked up a stowaway in the back of Adam's Vista Cruiser—Sarah, a beautiful young hitchhiker whom they passed earlier along the way. Her destination is a mystery ("Anywhere but here"), and she unwittingly becomes another potential victim of the marauding monster truck and the hideous creature that seems to want the three travelers dead.
The plot here seems to be a quilt-work of many pieces of other films before it, similar to the sewn-up, wired-together, makeshift face of the monster truck driver. (Harley gives the villain a name that may rival "Leatherface" or "The Creeper"—"F*** Face.") Immediately, horror fans will see the monster driver as something of lift from both The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Jeepers Creepers. His motivation to murder seems ambiguous; maybe he does it just for thrills, considering how he brutally (and graphically) runs down a red-necked ruffian. His vehicle is just as beastly, practically growling and snapping at the near impotence of Adam's struggling Vista Cruiser. In that right, the truck is clearly a character in its own right.
The film spends the first half, though, focused on the back-and-forth banter and berating between Adam and Harley. Just as F**k Face is something of a borrowed property of other film characters, the duo of Adam and Harley are somewhat plagiarized personalities that are highly reminiscent of Dante and Randall, respectively, from the excellent Clerks. They're both rather extreme stereotypes of folks you might know, those who live on opposing ends of the social spectrum. Adam is the K-Mart flunky type, timid and ineffectual, with a predisposition for all things Velcro (his wallet, his shoe fasteners, his pants pockets). Watching him meticulously readjust his antenna ball is just a classic moment in the life of an anal nerd. Harley, on the other hand, is just a pig. He's a rotund a-hole, a crass ass who subjects Adam—and anyone else within sight—to a nonstop barrage of boorish manners and the self-proclaimed pork rind wisdom typical of a bowling alley denizen. He belches, farts, and loudly speculates on all things sexual. (Naturally he considers himself nothing less than a sex god.) His greatest indiscretion on this particular road trip, however, is the verbal assault he unleashes on a barroom full of amputees. It's a scene where we're challenged to decide which is creepier: the armless and legless patrons with their scarred stubs salaciously thrust into our faces, or Harley's ignorant assertions and outspoken repellence to the handicapped barflies. Sarah becomes wedged between the two; repelled yet incited by the 5th-grade mentality of Harley, and oddly attracted to the resourceful but severely reserved Adam. All three, however, must settle their differences if they are to survive the onslaught of the monster and his truck. Harley has to finally back up all his big talk with some action, while Adam must harness his meticulous methodology to emerge as the unlikely hero who saves their butts. Sarah, though, has a surprise of her own to unveil.
Monster Man is certainly an excursion into film gore (and some rather decent stuff, to boot), but fans will need to wait out the exposition-heavy first half before the fun begins. From there, the picture works on the farcical level, bending its brutality into the realm of the absurd in a manner similar to Evil Dead 2 or Dead Alive. This isn't to say that viewers should navigate through the scene selection menu to get to the good stuff; the first half is entertaining enough, saved from becoming truly boring thanks to the excellent acting of both Jungmann and Urich. Give a nod also to Production Designer Reuben A. Freed and Director of Photography Matthew Irving for giving this rather low-budget vehicle a professional and polished look. Writer/Director Michael Davis (Eight Days a Week) keeps both the dialogue and ultimate action moving rather quickly; enough to keep us watching to see what might become of these two road-weary retards. Gore-goers will likely enjoy the meaty mayhem that leaps to the fore in the final act, courtesy of Todd Masters.
Lions Gate delivers this new DVD with an anamorphically enhanced transfer framed at 1.85:1. The print is very clean and crisp with quite impressive contrast control. The color palette, largely done in amber tones to emphasize the dusty and desolate landscape, is well rendered here, again boosted by competent contrast and excellent detail level. There are no source defects or compression mishaps to note. The audio roars to life in a nice Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Although it doesn't make significant use of the rear channels, it does exercise the sub-woofer quite nicely during the truck pursuit sequences. As for extras, the commentary featuring director Davis and actors Jungmann and Urich is reasonably informative and entertaining, although Davis does the majority of talking and seems a bit pained trying to pry some comments out of the actors. There are two trailers here—the first being the animated pitch film created by Davis, the second a somewhat run-of-the-mill video promo. There's a featurette, "The Making of Monster Man," billed here as an "Electronic Press Kit." A gag reel is also included to offer some behind-the-scenes glimpses of takes that never quite took. In all, it's a nice package for a generally fun and funky film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
So do horror-comedies really satisfy? In the case of Monster Man the answer is yes…and no. That is to say, as a comedy, there's plenty to chuckle about, and enough awkward situations to elicit some nervous laughter, too (see the glory hole sequence). Jungmann and Urich certainly have the talent to propel an honest-to-goodness yuk-fest. As a horror picture, there is plenty of suspense and dreadful doings on hand that could easily compel viewers into a white-knuckled witnessing of the potentially horrifying events that may unfold. However, as both a horror film and a comedy, the film jumps out of gear frequently, grinding along between highs and lows that keep us from truly getting the most that could have been offered. Just as the laughs are ready to build, something shocking happens. Just as the horror is about to reach a fever pitch, something silly happens. It's a tease, really, leaving us, the audience, wanting more to the point that we feel shortchanged. Everyone associated with the picture truly has the talent to deliver either genre seemingly competently; I hope they'll eventually take the risk and give us a balls-out horror/gore feast.
Monster Man is certainly not the best genre-blend picture you'll see, but it's far better than most of the low-budget efforts to which I've been too often subjected. With solid acting, capable direction, and impressive production design, this one is definitely worth a look. Sure, you'll be scratching your head a couple of times as the line between comedy and horror is drawn, erased, redrawn, and so forth. Nonetheless, give it a look; and perhaps after a couple of viewings, it may become one of those new cult favorites that you'll want to pass along to others.
While it wavers unsteadily between genres a bit too often for this court's personal tastes, the cast, crew, and distributor of Monster Man are found not guilty. Court adjourned.
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