It might seem a tad disingenuous to begin a review of a low-budget horror comedy featuring flesh-eating woodland creatures by referencing a Roger Ebert quote, but I think most dyed-in-the-wool horror fans will understand why I do. "It's not so much what a movie is about as HOW it is about it," is what the late great said, and (as he almost always did) the man knew what he was talking about. Most of us who love art that tends to fall on the "disreputable" side can certainly appreciate this point of view; it's what allows us to look past the surface of something that might appear to be lacking in the traditional sense, but has plenty to offer fans beneath that first layer.
Such is the case with Love In The Time Of Monsters. Director Matt Jackson takes some familiar trappings and very standard horror movie conventions and, using the surprisingly fun script by Michael Skvarla, throws all that in a blender of gory goofiness resulting in an only-slightly chunky smoothie of low-budget joy. What we've got here is your typical terror-in-the-woods setup, as (after a short character-setting flashback) we are introduced to sisters Marla (Gena Shaw) & Carla (Marissa Skell) arriving at cheesy tourist trap Uncle Slavko's All-American Family Lodge for a weekend getaway in the beautiful mountains and forests of northern California. Carla is surprising her fiancee -- an employee who costumes up as Bigfoot along with five other gentlemen, thereby allowing the locals to catch "sightings" of them on hikes -- while Marla, the acerbic & smartassed sister, intends to get good & fucked up and hopefully laid. Alas, their plans don't exactly go smoothly, as there's an accident at the nearby swamp (a dumping ground for your everyday average toxic waste); before you know it, there's a gang of infected Bigfoot fellas who have suddenly developed a bad case of flesh-eating. Marla, Carla, and the surviving employees along with the reclusive forest-dwelling Sasquatch hunter/crank Chester (Hugo Armstrong), hole up in the lodge as they find themselves under siege from not just the costumed cannibals, but some of the similarly infected local wildlife as well.
Seeing as how we are dealing with a picture that one could sum up with "toxic swamp in the woods infects Bigfoot boys leaving the survivors to battle and hopefully cure them," this ain't what you'd call highbrow. But since when has that ever been a selling point for true lovers of all that horror has to offer? The bottom line is this: Love In The Time Of Monsters is a grand time -- even when it gets cheesy (which it is not afraid to do whatsoever), it's really hard not to enjoy yourself if you have a genuine taste for this stuff. I do, and I had a blast. The movie knows precisely what it is; you can tell from the first ten minutes that this movie is supposed to be FUN, first and foremost. Some of Skvarla's dialogue is knowingly ridiculous but I'd seriously say that more of it struck me as clever. The story itself doesn't always take the turns you'd expect it to, which is a genuine relief to a viewer who's seen seemingly a thousand variations on this theme. I felt a touch of Club Dread going on in terms of the overall vibe (even if it never hits the heights that flick does) and that is intended as a very strong compliment.
Jackson displays a sure hand throughout his first feature as director; he's got a strong sense of comedic timing that shines through in the editing (courtesy of Todd Zelin) as well as his direction of the cast (most, anyway; some come off slightly amateurish). The look of the movie is MUCH better than you'd expect from a flick armed with only a $500,000 budget, so props to DP Jorge L. Urbina for throwing some extra effort into that department with a few lovely nature vistas, solid camera moves/lighting/compositions -- even if there are a few nighttime sequences that could look better. When it comes to that good n' bloody wet stuff, I'm here to happily report that a couple cheap-looking CG effects & compositing aside, the flick whips out some nicely done practical FX makeup/creatures that get really quite splatterific at times, and the whole affair is all the better for it. Okay, some of the creature work can't rise above the budget but honestly, I cannot help but find that sort of thing totally endearing (I know there's some of you out there who know precisely what I mean).
I already mentioned that a couple of the cast members are not what you'd call standouts by any means, but almost all get the job done. In addition to fine work from leads Shaw & Skell (particularly Shaw, whom I'd love to see in more projects) -- who have a familiar, casual, and appropriately sisterly rappoire -- Armstrong in particular is a deadpan delight as Chester. The man delivers lines like "I am an angry old man who lives in a shack in the woods...I do NOT have a phone" pretty much perfectly, as well as anchoring some of the (rare) moments that are played for pathos. That's something I'm personally grateful is present here, and that's the fact that as wacky as the film is overall the characters do enough genuinely heroic things that I was actually upset when some of them die. That's not always the case, as we all know; such treatment can't help but add to the overall effectiveness of the film. Also providing extra value are members of the supporting cast that will be recognizable to genre hounds; I'm talking about actors Mike McShane as Uncle Slavko, the great Doug Jones (in a slightly bigger part than I would have expected) as a character I like to call Doctor Exposition, and (in a slightly smaller part than I would have liked) the immortal Kane Hodder as Lou, the head Bigfoot terrorizing our heroes.
The DVD release from Indican presents the film in a clear 2.35:1 transfer with 5.1 surround as well as stereo sound. Extras include a director/producer/writer commentary, deleted scenes, outtakes, making-of video blogs, as well as a music video by the clearly-KISS-influenced Thunderdikk for the song "Magnum Love."
Love In The Time Of Monsters isn't the sort of film that sweeps award festivals, nor is it even trying to be. It's a self-aware goofy romp that never winks annoyingly at us about the fact that it knows this; it merely goes ahead and does the damn thing, and does it entertainingly. You CANNOT take the flick 100% seriously (or should not, anyway) but there's no denying it puts in actual honest to God work at creating characters you can root for rather than ones that serve as mere fodder. It merely wants to give the viewer a good time -- I mean, the one T & A moment in the flick is capped with a sweet gore punchline. We call that "knowing your audience," folks. These individuals took half a million bucks and produced a work of knowingly dumb fun that aims for something more akin to Tremors than Sharknado, and you can tell. When you toss in some interestingly psychotic wildlife like killer geese, trout (?!?), moose, and squirrels, how can any self-respecting low-budget monster movie fans resist?