When you think about horror movie monsters, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Once you make your way through vampires, werewolves, ghosts, witches, Frankenstein’s monster and, more recently, zombies, you pretty much peter out. After a few minutes, maybe you dredge up mummies or the Creature from the Black Lagoon. But how often do you think of mind controlling worms? Killer rats? Mutant jellyfish? Breastfeeding dads? Not too often, I’m sure. Unless, of course, you just watched Dread Central’s Monsterland.
Released June 7, 2016, Monsterland is an anthology flick about – you guessed it – monsters. The wraparound story, written and directed by splatterpunk guru John Skipp and Andrew Kasch (Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy 2010), is goofy and fun, telling the story of a monster apocalypse survivor who hops over corpses and steps around blood puddles to make his way to the local, deserted cinema, where he happily munches on popcorn and settles in amongst the green slime and tentacles to watch the feature. Because who wouldn’t?
Don’t Go Into the Lake
Directed by Corey Norman (The Invoking 2 2015), the first short in Monsterland is rather tame and unoriginal, but that may be the point. Stereotypical drunken, boob-flashing, 30-year-old teenagers decide to go skinny dipping. They are the poster children for horror movies; there’s the horn dog, the prude, the jokester and the whore all in attendance. Unfortunately for them, something vicious and hungry is waiting for them below the water’s surface. We don’t get to see the monster (boo!) but we do get gushing fountains of blood (yay!). This short gets us in the mood for some good, old-fashioned monster chomping.
In Luke and Peter McCoubrey’s short, poor Simon (Ebon Moss-Bachrach: Mona Lisa Smile 2003) wakes up in the street, covered in blood and sporting a brand new, grapefruit sized hole in the back of his head. Unperturbed, he wraps a bandage around his noggin, throws on a hat and goes to work. When he thinks about asking out the office hottie, Emily (Lucy Walters), he begins hearing a strange voice in his head that starts giving him dating advice. Come to find out, the voice belongs to a fat, grey maggot that lives in that head hole. Realizing that the maggot’s advice works, Simon follows it and lands the date with Emily. This was a light, funny short – the maggot was actually pretty cute – although I feel like there was more to the story that we didn’t get to see. This one had the look and feel of American Werewolf in London (1981) but without the full plotline.
Both written and directed by Sander Maran (Rubik’s Cube Terror 2012), Curiosity Kills tells the story of a bean-hating little boy (Peeter Maran) who feeds some of his dad’s clearly labelled, radioactive chemicals to his pet rat. The rat immediately mutates and breaks out of its cage to glow randomly and wreak havoc with the cat, the boy and then the whole family. This short has a major mid-century monster movie feel, from the garish colors to the outfits to the neon green rat glow. The actors chewed the scenery like they were starving, and even without words to speak, they all were so far over the top that I assume the set must have been crammed full of helium balloons, making them all higher both physically and mentally. The rat announcing himself as Ratatus as the place blew up behind him was definitely the best part.
Certainly one of the creepiest stories of Monsterland, Hag was written/directed by Eric Gardner (The Mangler Reborn 2005) and tells the story of Scott (Drew Wicks: Transformers: Age of Extinction 2014) and Marie (Megan Duffy: Maniac 2012), a marred couple troubled by Marie’s sleepwalking episodes. As they explain things during their weekly counseling appointment, Scott begins to suffer through sleep paralysis on top of Marie’s sleepwalking. What could possibly be causing this? Look a little closer at that title and you may get an idea. This short was great – the tension was tight from start to finish, and the reveal at the end was fantastically creepy. The idea that the sleep paralysis made it impossible for Scott to defend himself made it all the more freaky. P.S. see if you recognize The Exorcist’s Eileen Dietz.
The next story in Monsterland is an animated short that was written, directed and created by Frank Sudol. If you’ve ever seen his other short, City of Rott (2006), you’ll recognize the old man and his talking, monster smashing walker. This time, the old man’s reputation precedes him, and when a local fellow has an angry, thorny, 20-foot monster living in his shed, he calls on the Monster Man to dispatch it. Despite the caller’s doubts and the old man’s increasing senility, Fred the Monster Man kicks that critter’s ass. All is well… at least until mama monster shows up.
Another great short from Monsterland, House Call was written by Dick Grunert (Adventure Time TV series) and directed by Graham Denman. A lonely dentist (played by Insidious’ Ruben Pla) mulling over his divorce papers is interrupted by an agitated young man (Sean Keller: Rage 2014) ringing his doorbell. After a strange encounter with a woman, the young man believes he’s turning into a vampire and wants the dentist to pull his teeth out before he can hurt anyone. Between the close up of the wrench tightening on the tooth and the ripping, cracking sounds of the roots being ripped out of the guy’s head, I was squirming in my seat. Also, between Keller, Pla and Grunert, the characters were fantastic. A simple hitch in a voice or a wipe of the mouth said more about these men than any dialogue or exposition ever could.
It’s right about now that our movie-watching friend notices that the theatre’s projector is starting to skip, all due to some sort of tentacle monstrosity in the booth. He climbs the stairs and beats it to death with his trusty baseball bat. When he sits back down to enjoy more popcorn, however, he accidentally ingests some of the monster’s slimy, green blood. As soon as it hits his tongue, he’s sent into a hallucinatory experience that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, crammed full of surreal, psychedelic stop motion animation and puppetry. According to director Jack Fields: A cupcake is born from a monster. It is exploited and tortured by a series of terrifying beings. It is torn from the prenatal pastry world, experimented on by 12-dimensional Mathuloxes, and transformed into a new being, perpetuating the cycle of pain and wonder. So, there ya go.
Stay At Home Dad
Another one of my favorite shorts in Monsterland, Stay At Home Dad was also directed by Kasch and Skipp. When new mom Brenda (Alicia Seaton) is offered a job that will support their family but make it impossible for her to breastfeed, her husband, Steven (Matthew Currie Holmes: Firewall 2006), has an idea: she’ll go to work and he’ll have this experimental new treatment that will give him big, milky breasts, making it possible for him to nurse their daughter. Marc Shostrom (Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors 1987) does a phenomenal job here, creating a huge, natural looking set of swollen, leaky boobs that any breastfeeding mother will be glad aren’t hers. It’s not even the fact that Steven has breasts that makes this such a cool little short – it’s the twist from way out in left field that really shakes things up.
The anthology wraps up with Hellyfish, an updated spin on the mutated, radioactive monsters of the ’50s. This time, a lost nuclear bomb has leaked into the ocean off the coast of Georgia, resulting in the local jellyfish population becoming huge, able to walk on dry land and super pissed off! The short was written by Kate Fitzpatrick (Visions of Dylan Bradley 2011) and Patrick Longstreth (Grandma 2015), while Longstreth and Robert McLean directed. The CGI was ridiculous and fun, and although there was no real resolution to the story, it was still a colorful, romping good time.
Finally we’re back with our theatre-loving friend, and as he munches away on the last of his popcorn, notices a stream of green goo dripping onto his shoulder from above. Suffice to say, things don’t end well for him.
Final thoughts: I thought Monsterland was a gooey, light, fun ride that would be great to watch with friends who can’t agree on which horror movie to watch. Some of the shorts were subpar, but some of them were great. I’d have to go about 50/50. But, since we’re all different people with different tastes, you may feel differently. Make sure you give Monsterland a watch and let us know what you think about it on the comments!