Movie Review: El Monstro Del Mar!
(This film was sent to the Underground Film Journal as a screener copy from the 2010 Spooky Movie Film Festival.)
El Monstro Del Mar! by Australian filmmaker Stuart Simpson is a giddy, modernized recreation of the golden era of American teenage exploitation films. It has the perfect combination of everything that made exploitation great in the Sixties: Sexy girls, a rockin’ soundtrack, a gross monster. Where Simpson kicks it all up a notch for modern audiences is that it really delivers on the gore that older films could only tease about.
The film’s black & white opening of three “bad” girls – and you know actresses Nelli Scarlet, Kate Watts and Karli Madden are bad from their tattoos and low-cut tops — driving through a bleak, desolate Australian landscape, El Monstro Del Mar! is a direct homage to Russ Meyer’s classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill Kill!, right down to the women’s hair color: Two brunettes and a blonde.
So, when their car breaks down by the side of road and two nice country boys stop to help the damsels in distress, you just know things are not going to end well for the gentlemen. But how soon and how violently is a wake up jolt for the film, which switches gears both story-wise and emulsion-wise. The movie switches to brilliant color just in time for the geysers of blood to start spewing.
When the girls get back on the road, they drive out of Meyer territory and straight into the land of Roger Corman. Holed up in a sleepy fishing village, an old coot (Norman Yemm) warns them not to go into the water, which of course doesn’t discourage two of them from stripping down to their undies and start splashing around.
Also just like old fashioned, low budget exploitation fare, the monster promised in the title takes its time in showing up. Mostly the film revolves around the trio of bad girls trying to corrupt the old coot’s innocent schoolgirl daughter, Hannah (Kyrie Capri). When Hannah insists she doesn’t drink alcohol, the out-of-towners make it their mission to get her wasted as soon as possible. Which doesn’t take very long.
Although watching these four sexy gals just hanging out, talking tough and dirty is entertaining in and of itself, Simpson punctuates these non-action scenes with periodic bursts of intense, violent action whether it’s a wordless flashback to the three main anti-heroines’ brutal past or an actual attack by the titular creature.
Simpson keeps his cast small, but there’s still enough victims hanging around that we get to see pleasantly disposed of in groups of two and more. While Sixties’ monster movies typically just featured a guy in a rubber suit, Simpson employs stop-motion animatronics and life-size puppets to create the illusion of a massive creature hungry for blood.
Giant tentacles with gaping mouths filled with razor sharp teeth lashing out of the water to chomp down on human limbs is reminiscent of the vicious extraterrestrials of the little seen and remembered cult classic The Deadly Spawn aka Return of the Alien’s Deadly Spawn.
The film has a nice humor about itself, but Simpson films everything with a straight face. There’s nothing jokey or insider-y here, even though monster and exploitation movie fans will appreciate all the references. Even the outright humorous scenes are pretty straight-laced, such as when Melbourne Underground Film Festival director Richard Wolstencroft cameos as a cranky fisherman who spontaneously starts telling his son about how much of a whore his mother is. That Wolstencroft is gobbled by the monster two seconds after the tirade adds to the grim and grisly fun.
With only sporadic, minimal monster sightings throughout the film, the climactic scene delivers on the film’s premise with an uproarious battle between she devils and the devil from the sea. It’s an incredibly impressive and brutally entertaining fight. Simpson doesn’t hold back and lets us see the creature whole hog, at last leaving nothing of the Nick Kocsis’-designed creature unseen.
Monster films of the Sixties were all about luridly enticing teenagers into the theaters to witness the exotic, the cruel and the terrifying. But they ultimately mostly cheated that audience by just presenting guys in chintzy rubber suits groping chicks in bikinis. While El Monstro Del Mar! is as chaste sexually as those earlier films, i.e. no nudity, Simpson totally doesn’t cheat in the violence and monster effects departments. Think of it as the first Sixties monster movie that actually delivers on its poster’s promise.
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