Thursday 9 February 2012

El Monstro del Mar! (2010)

Director: Stuart Simpson
Stars: Nelli Scarlet, Kyrie Capri, Karli Madden, Kate Watts and Norman Yemm

I watched Night of Fear ahead of a fresh viewing of El Monstro del Mar!, a modern Aussie horror movie obviously rooted in the Ozploitation genre and which features Norman Yemm almost forty years after his groundbreaking debut in Night of Fear. I'm watching again as El Monstro del Mar! has been thankfully picked up for DVD release in the US by Breaking Glass Pictures and will be available at the end of this month. I found that I had quite a bit more to say about the movie, not only because so much seems to have happened in the year and a half since I last reviewed it. In case you haven't read that review, Stuart Simpson's film is an outrageous but entertaining romp that takes us from a black and white homage to Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! to a colour take on H P Lovecraft. I think this is my fourth viewing and I'm still enjoying the heck out of it. The full DVD will have many extras including two shorts, Acid Spiders and Sickie, which I really want to see.

Acid Spiders features Karli Madden, who plays Blondie here, which I'm especially thankful for as our trio of troublesome leading ladies don't seem to have racked up any more credits. Each time I watch them, I'm astounded by their magnetism. Obviously not established actresses, they still feel like something fresh even after repeat viewings. They are completely natural on camera and while they throw in little touches here and there to build their characters, it all feels spontaneous and unscripted. It seems utterly obvious to me that their talents do not end with their looks, however great Kate Watts looks in a leopardskin bikini, and other filmmakers would be remiss to overlook grabbing them whenever possible, especially as a trio. They bounce off each other with ease, like three notes in a chord, and whether that was a deliberate spin on Faster Pussycat, just subconscious on the part of the actresses or pure fluke, I don't really care. It's palpably there.

The trio are not nice girls, far from it. They are predators who end up in an Aussie seaside town to be confronted by a much bigger predator, the monster in this monster movie that comes out of the sea. Nelli Scarlet is the most obvious as Beretta, her charisma able to hold them together. She has power, not just in her Amazon appearance but inside too. In fact it comes out most in her less exploitational lines, like the one where she tells the local good girl Hannah to embrace her fears. There's nothing exploitational about it, just blistering honesty in a quiet moment that underlines who she is: someone who confronts anything that gets in her way. I totally bought into that and it makes her an obvious character to lead a film like this. Since I last saw it, there's all the more reason for her to return to the screen. Tura Satana, her most obvious influence, died a year ago, and Scarlet is the closest I've seen to a replacement, overtly channelling her or not.
Karli Madden is the most nuanced of the three as Blondie, with a gloriously varied repertoire of little hints and looks that aren't restricted to her eyes, but her mouth and the rest of her body too. I think I enjoy Kate Watts the most, as Snowball, even though she got the least screen time. She's the freest of the three and doesn't care even when it comes to not caring. She works well as the glue between her sisters in sin. They each give the impression of being good people to be around who merely have the looks and the talent to play at being really bad. Thrust into their company, Kyrie Capri is suitably out of her depth around them as a naively innocent teenager who won't let her boyfriend go beyond kissing. She tells them she's seventeen but is obviously lying. She finds her confidence out in the water the next day and it's palpable. The best actress of the bunch, she also gets the most overt character arc.

In such a female dominated picture, only Norman Yemm really gets the opportunity to hold up the side of the male sex. He's great, obviously the same actor from Night of Fear but entirely different in tone and texture. Almost forty years separates the two films and the two roles could hardly be more different, but he nailed both of them. Here, he builds the most deep character in the film as Joseph, the only one left who got to deal with the monster last time around and who has been utterly changed and shaped by the experience, both mentally and physically. While the girls get far more screen time and are naturally far easier on the eye, it's impossible to not watch Yemm when he's on screen because he utterly sells his character. Most of the menace of the film comes from him, because he seems capable and strong but is obviously scared witless by what we don't see until later.

On the technical side, I'm happy to report that the sound issues from my last screener have been addressed in this one. I didn't miss any dialogue this time around and everything was perfectly balanced. Strangely, the video seemed a little less strong on the newer version, with a little blur where there shouldn't be blur. Mostly the flaws lie with the script, which should have fleshed out the film more. Some of the scenes drag a little, which isn't good in a 75 minute film. The iconic opening scene, for instance, unfolds wonderfully until we get to the cleanup phase which runs on and on. When Beretta announces that it's time to leave and Blondie mutters 'About time!' she's speaking for us too. We've had our intro, let's get on with it. It felt like there was more monster footage this time around too, though I don't know if that's really true or not. It still comes at the right time and looks great. If you're into old school monsters, you shouldn't miss out on this one.

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