How to Make a Monster (2001) / Horror-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: R for violence, gore, language and nudity
Running time: 91 min.
Cast: Clea DuVall, Steven Culp, Jason Marsden, Tyler Mane, Karim Prince, Julie Strain, Colleen Camp
Cameo: Danny Masterson
Director: George Huang
Screenplay: George Huang
Review published February 16, 2011
One of several 2001 straight-to-cable "Creature Features" remade (in name only) from a nearly equally corny American International Pictures flick from the 1950s, How to Make a Monster starts its film with children game testing the latest proposed blockbuster video game built on scaring the crap out of its players, "Evil-ution", only to see them all laughing at the silly-looking boss monster at the end of the game. The head of the company (Camp, Election) tosses it back to her head of development, Drummond (Culp, Thirteen Days), to fix the problem, and pronto, going so far as to offer $1 million bonus to whomever can create the scariest monster. Drummond brings in three top-choice, but highly volatile designers, each with individual talents in game design, who, along with their skilled intern Laura (DuVall, Thirteen Conversations About One Thing) set about making the scariest game ever made.
But a wrench is in the works when a freak storm sends lighting into the building that ends up making the artificial intelligence bad guy of the game become an external reality. And he's programmed to do only one thing -- to kill whomever crosses his path in the office building that served as the map for the actual game. Now the men (and gal) find that they've created a monster that even they are horrified at the sight of, and for good reason.
Actress and producer Colleen Camp isn't the only camp in this film, as science fiction/horror hybrids don't really come much campier than this low-reaching cheese-fest. It's not entirely unwatchable, as a decent cast brings these one-dimensional characterizations to passably amusing levels to the point where it's somewhat entertaining just to watch them react to each other, even if they labor to spit out comic book dialogue with any conviction. It's gory, but so obviously fake, it offers up only very mild scares. The actors won't win any awards (Tyler Mane (X-Men, Troy) in particular labors to effectively emote), but Duvall and Culp manage to pull out some respectable performances, all things considered. Perhaps just enough to save this from sinking to the bottom of the b-movie barrel.
The special effects gurus from Stan Winston Studios won't count Monster among their finest of examples of their work, but given the ultra-low budget they obviously had to work with, it's workable enough, and in keeping with the b-movie spirit of the rest of the production. Produced by Lou Arkoff, son of the late b-movie mogul Samuel Z. Arkoff (who produced the original 1958 film), the film is sloppy, full of flubs (two big ones: one scene flashes an "FX missing" place holder, while a scene in a bar has DuVall and Culp reversing seats from shot to shot), and feels about as unfinished as a movie as "Evil-ution" is as a game. Written and directed by George Huang (Trojan War), the man who brought Swimming with Sharks to the big screen, the nicely delivered film about a naive assistant who learns not be so nice when he encounters a demanding boss. This film offers a near carbon copy of that theme and its ending, even though most of the rest of the film has nothing to do with that aspect. Being a hard-ass, do-for-self in the world business is ultimately what proves to be everyone's undoing, so why was this a lesson to learn?
Ironically, what's delivered here resembles more the schlocky and laughably cheesy original game rather than the menacing, truly frightening one they were going for. To top it off, the "kick ass" game they've all been working on looks downright dreadful. A disappointing finale finds one of the characters donning a virtual reality visor, which makes no sense when the monster is clearly in the room and visible. The monster isn't exactly pleasant to look at, but it's also nothing close the ugliest, meanest, or most sadistic we've encountered in many a horror film before and since. It almost looks like it's shot as a kids movie, though the gore, language and nudity (scream queen Julie Strain (Beverly Hills Cop III) has a small role where she bares her phony boobies), keeps this one mainly for the adult crowd in execution. This can only mean that it doesn't have much of a defined audience, save for those who find cheesy b-movie fright flicks enjoyable regardless of overall quality. How to Make a Misfire would have been a more honest title.
©2011 Vince Leo