Writer-director Stuart Simpson takes Aussie indie horror back to its very roots in that golden age of classic ozploitation called the 1970s, in this bad taste melange of blood and cleavage spliced with an eclectic soundtrack of Hammond-driven sixties soul, vibrating surf & twang, Morricone-esque Spanish guitar cues and grinding punk rock clank. One of the tag lines summoned up to sell “Monstro!” to horror festival goers was: ‘Killer Vixens vs. The Creature from the Deep’ – a phrase that aptly sums up the appeal of this lurid mash-up of old, low budget 1960s Roger Corman sea-monster flicks, populated with a sadistic Russ Meyer patented brood of psycho anti-heroines from the drive-in B-movies this brash concoction sets out to evoke with its modern day, Tarantino-like relish for cartoon, pastiche violence. The opening scene sees Simpson providing the perfect induction into the world of “Monstro!” – a flickery faux black & white pre-titles set of images in which a trio of ballsy, tattooed minxes, stranded on an isolated dirt track highway with a broken-down vehicle, dance on its hood to classic Soul in the sweltering heat, and then torment an unsuspecting couple of hicks who foolishly stop by to try and chat them up. The encounter reveals these sassy switchblade sisters to be three buxom ball busters with a psychotically flirtatious urge to punish severely such presumptuous and ill-advised male behaviour – the screen positively bursts into feverish riots of colour with the copious letting of blood that then ensues.
“Monstro!” creator Stuart Simpson is an award winning director from Melbourne, Australia who certainly proves with this competent effort that he knows how to put together all the ingredients necessary for making a cult indie festival circuit favourite. Veteran of over a dozen short films and numerous music videos, this, Simpson’s second feature, sees the former camera operator for Australian TV acting as editor, director of photography and as part of the visual effects team, on what originally started out as another short film instalment for an on-going online horror project called the Dark Psychosis Anthology, before Simpson decided to expand it to feature length during production with the addition of a handful of extra scenes. Laced as it is with grungy practical gore effects and sharp editing, as well as a fairly slimy, tentacled sea monster, ripped from the pages of HP Lovecraft and created through of mixture of primitive glove puppetry and animation, leavened with a smidgen of CGI, the film’s use of digital video technology allows plenty of fiddling with the colour grading to give it much more of a veneer of professionalism than its tiny budget would have otherwise lent such an effort.
Chief among its major assets, though, are the trio of young newcomers who make up the principle members of a mostly female cast – the three murderous, coke-snorting, kill-frenzy pussycat hell bitches who provide the feature with the majority of its dynamism. Nellie Scarlet, Kate Watts and Karli Madden play Baretta, Snowball and Blondie as three childlike vixen delinquents who enjoy a mostly playful relationship amongst themselves throughout most of the course of the movie, but are a closed unit of who view with violent hostility anyone else who dares cross their path. They’re out to have fun (which, for them, seems to involve slaying a litany of hapless males at random moments) and woe betide anyone who gets in their way while they’re having it. Interestingly, the script originally required some degree of nudity from at least one of the leads, according to the cast commentary, but in the light of her refusal the film becomes more a good natured tribute in style and reference to classic exploitation rather than simply another example of it -- with plenty of beguiling leopard print bikini posing on display, but nothing any sleazier than that. Even though the film keeps its on-screen sex quotient to a minimal level, though, Simpson’s script soon proves itself in reality to be a satisfyingly perverse coming-of-age/sexual awakening drama, shot through the distorted kaleidoscopic lens of Corman-esque B-movie exploitation.
After their last murderous outrage, the female gang decide to lie low on the Victoria coast, at an old beach shack belonging to one of Snowball’s relatives, but soon get into a verbal altercation with a crippled old-timer called Joseph (Norman Yemm) who seems to have a paranoid fear of anyone going into the water. He lives in another one of the crumbling fisherman’s shacks lining the water’s edge, with his teenage schoolgirl granddaughter Hannah (Kyrie Capri) – a freckled innocent the three newcomers soon see as fair game for introducing to their hard-drinking, party hard lifestyle. Hannah is your typical girl-next-door who’s opportunities for personal development as far as the opposite sex is concerned have been severely limited, first by her wheelchair-bound grandfather’s need for constant care, but also by the fact that apart from the handful of remaining fishermen who still live in the depleted district there’s not much man material to choose from. The gang introduce Hannah to a world of drunken debauchery and skinny dipping but it turns out there’s a reason why old Joseph wouldn’t let her or anyone else go near the beach: something ancient, evil and monstrous has been awoken from its slumber by the girls’ good time marauding; something that long ago turned a once-thriving community into a ghost town, and is now coming back from the depths of the ocean to finish what it started.
The wide, expansive ocean becomes a convenient metaphor, here, for the dawning of female awakening (in social and sexual terms )in this gory tale of wild excess: Hannah has been forbidden all her life from venturing anywhere near the water by her elderly guardian and has been taught to fear the sea because of the awful things that happened to her parents and everyone else who used to live in this once-thriving beach community years before. But now the ocean is being made to seem beguiling, mysterious and exotic once again after a night spent partying with the amoral, fearless female intruders who have opened up whole new realms of experience and discovery for the sheltered girl. Meanwhile, the few male figures that do also feature in the film – the motley collection of hick fishermen – are portrayed as an isolated bunch for whom the featureless sea serves as a symbol that indicates the extent of their emotional remoteness and separateness from women. This repressed community is literally blown apart by the arrival of the liberated, loud and rapacious girl gang from hell -- its fears emerging in the form of a gigantic sea monster that rises in rage from the depths when the new arrivals finally manage to inject some life into the moribund district; a creature that proves itself to be representative of the fears and desires of both sexes combined in one unwholesome bundle when its form is unveiled at the film’s climax as being that of a giant squid-like creature with vagina dentate for a mouth, sporting a set of phallic snake-tentacle protrusions, each with a will of their own and a bite to match.
The gore is typical indie horror fare – wilfully over the top and cartoony unrealistic, with blood that looks like food colouring and rubbery severed limbs galore. In truth, the pace sags a bit in the middle and the film struggles to persuade as a full-length feature film. But Simpson manages to rally his resources for a show-stopping finale in which Hannah and her new pals make one last bloody stand in the final minutes of the film against the monster that symbolises a community’s years of sexual repression and social isolation. This DVD from Monster Pictures comes with a handsome set of extras headed by two commentaries – one a cast commentary featuring the three female leads, the other a crew commentary headed by the writer and director. Unfortunately, the latter in particular is marred by the volume of the film being mixed too loud, drowning out the comments of all the participants. The cast commentary is at least listenable, although there is little actual information about the film related during the course of it. There are brief cast video interviews, deleted scenes, a short behind the scenes segment and a trailer as well, but the highlight of the set in terms of extras is the inclusion of two other short films by Simpson: The same horror themes are continued in “Acid Spiders”, a short in which another collection of tattooed, punk rock ladies assemble, this time for band practice after having taken some liquid acid. They promptly find themselves having to fend off repellent slimy slug-like spiders from outer space that melt the flesh! The second film continues in similar gory fashion: “Sickie” features a woman slowly disintegrating in Incredible Melting Man style after taking a day off work, and is full of the grungy makeshift practical gore effects familiar throughout the other films on this disc. “Monstro!” and its companions come across here as well-made examples of likable retro flavoured indie horror, made to a higher standard than is usually the case and sprinkled in down to earth Aussie humour alongside watchable, ballsy action. It’s all rather lightweight but likable nonetheless.