Bonus Features: Monster Brawl (2011)

Our current Movie of the Month, the low-budget horror comedy Monster Brawl, might be the absolute worst movie that I wholeheartedly love. That’s partly because it mimics the structure & rhythms of a pro wrestling Pay-Per-View instead of a traditional Movie, which requires the audience to adjust expectations to the payoffs of that format. A one-time-only deathmatch tournament between famous monster archetypes in a haunted graveyard to determine “The Most Powerful Ghoul of All Time”, it’s staged as if it were a real-time Pay-Per-View broadcast of an actual pro wrestling event. Monster Brawl‘s feature-length commitment to that structure can be alienating if you’re not immediately tickled by its absurdity, which proved true for most of The Swampflix Crew. This turned out to be an extremely self-indulgent Movie of the Month selection on my part, as no one else in this polluted swamp seemed to have a good time with it. Whoops.

As a result, recommending further viewing to anyone who enjoyed Monster Brawl and wants to see more movies on its shamelessly trashy wavelength is somewhat of an empty exercise. It appears that no one enjoys Monster Brawl, outside maybe appreciating the creature design for the bayou-dwelling eco terrorist wrestler Swamp Gut. Regardless, here are a few recommended titles if you—improbably—loved our Movie of the Month and want to experience similar goofball horror comedies that traffic in the same grey area between creature feature & pro wrestling PPV.

Santo vs. The Vampire Women (1962)

No discussion of the intersection between pro wrestling & cheap-o horror would be complete without the masked luchador Santo. A wrestler so beloved in Mexico that he was practically a folk hero, Santo’s in-ring celebrity was exported to the big screen in over 50 feature films, many of them within the horror genre. I can’t speak to the quality of the majority of Santo’s cinematic output (much of which was never translated to English), but I can heartily recommend his most financially & culturally successful picture: Santo vs. The Vampire Women. It’s a film that’s most well recognized in the US for being featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but it’s a fun pro wrestling-themed Halloween Season watch even without that ironic mockery (especially without, honestly).

Amusingly, Santo vs. The Vampire Women mostly keeps its horror & its wrestling separated in the plot. Santo is hired by a worried father as a kind of bodyguard to protect his vulnerable daughter who is being actively recruited by a vampire coven, as the luchador comes from a long line of ancestors who are sworn “to eliminate evil of all kinds.” Unfortunately, the professional demands of being a popular sports entertainer means that Santo is often too “busy” to help keep the daughter-stealing vampire women at bay, as he’s often tied up with a wrestling match he can’t get out of. The novelty of the film’s wrestling angle exists almost entirely independently from the main action, which means that the story has to stop dead still to make room for the on-screen luchador matches the same way a porno’s story stalls for lengthy depictions of sex.

Even so, the Satanic ritual imagery & buxom vampire coven are so Cool on their own that this would be a solid horror cheapie even without the novelty of the wrestling angle. Anyone with an appreciation for pro wrestling pageantry and Poverty Row knockoffs of Universal Horror classics should have blast with the spooky-campy atmosphere established here. And maybe it’s for the best that it kept its wrestling & its plot separate, since Monster Brawl synthesized those two elements into a single structure-defining gimmick and practically no one enjoys it.

Mortal Kombat (1995)

Monster Brawl is not the only gimmicky fight tournament movie that I love more than I likely should. I also have a huge (likely nostalgic) soft spot for Paul WS Anderson’s big-screen adaptation of the gory button-masher Mortal Kombat. Much like how Monster Brawl structures its story around a Pro Wrestling Pay-Per-View, the Mortal Kombat movie goes out of its way to maintain the tiered tournament structure of its video game source material. It’s a little better funded than Monster Brawl and a little less committed to their shared gimmick (the official fights don’t start until 40min into the film in this case), so in comparison it stands out as a slicker, more accessible variation on the same deathmatch tournament theme.

Instead of fighting to determine “The Most Powerful Ghoul of All Time”, the combatants of Mortal Kombat compete “to defend the realm of Earth” from an “emperor sorcerer demon” who seeks to subjugate & steal the souls of every living being. The humans who enter this interdimensional deathmatch tournament (Mortal Kombat all-stars Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage, and Liu Kang) face off against evil creatures much less culturally overfamiliar than the Universal Monster knockoffs featured in Monster Brawl — mostly demonic ninjas with black magic control over elements like fire, ice, and … shapeshifting reptiles? Much like how Monster Brawl has its clear stand-out monster with Swamp Gut, however, the real star of Mortal Kombat is the four-armed mutant freakshow Goro — a beautiful blend of clunky animatronics and shitty mid-90s CGI.

The best argument for Mortal Kombat being a superior precursor to Monster Brawl is the way it keeps the audience’s energy up throughout, mostly by periodically re-playing its insanely high-BPM techno theme song as a constant pep-up. A hissing Christopher Lambert also hams it up for the camera as the wise “lightning god” Raiden in a way that stands out more than any single performance in Monster Brawl, which is more about playing on familiar archetypes than establishing anything novel or nuanced. If you found yourself amused by the premise of Monster Brawl but frustrated by the execution, Mortal Kombat might be the slicked-up, smoothed-out version of the film you were looking for.

Septic Man (2013)

Monster Brawl is not the first time director Jesse T. Cook has let down a member of The Swampflix Crew. In the earliest months of the blog, James published a two-star review of Cook’s feces-themed creature feature Septic Man, in which a sewer worker is trapped in a contaminated septic tank and subsequently transforms into a hideous turd monster. James wrote, “Watching a filth-covered man roll around in a septic tank for an hour and a half didn’t turn out to be as fun as I expected. […] Septic Man had the potential to be like a darker Toxic Avenger but instead has none of Troma’s charms and ends up being every bit as bad as its premise would imply.” He goes on to call the film “drab”, “ugly”, “depressing”, “boring” and, most bluntly, “crap.” Naturally, after subjecting everyone to what turned out to be a miserable experience watching Cook’s previous film, I felt that it was my turn to suffer Septic Man myself as penance.

James was right and wrong. Septic Man is only 80 minutes long; it’s also crap. It’s like a dispatch from an alternate universe where Troma got into the gritty Eli Roth-era torture porn game. I dare say I was charmed by it, though. The way the grunt sewer worker is financially pressured to keep working during a water contamination pandemic only to be transformed into a hideous Poo Beast just happened to hit me at the right time, considering the parallel labor exploitations of the COVID age. The gradual Turd Monster transformation was also surprisingly solid as a practical effects throwback (although he’s obviously nowhere near as loveable as our beloved Swamp Gut; no one is).

If I’ve learned anything from this exercise it’s that I have terrible taste and cannot be trusted, especially when it comes to the oeuvre of Jesse T. Cook. This blog is a septic tank of bad takes, and I am but the filth-mutated man trapped inside it.

-Brandon Ledet

Monster Brawl (2011)

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We here at Swampflix love wrestling movies. We love horror & gore. We also love low-budget/high-concept camp. It should come to no surprise then that the low budget camp fest Monster Brawl, within which famous monsters fight to the death in a graveyard wrestling tournament, is a huge hit with us. It’s the perfect example of a high-concept thoroughly explored and a modest-at-best budget pushed to its limits. The movie so firmly in our wheelhouse that I’d suspect it was secretly made with us in mind if it weren’t released four years before our modest blog was born.

If you’re asking yourself why famous monsters would meet to wrestle in a literal death match in an American graveyard the answer is simple: to determine the most powerful ghoul of all time, of course. Monster Brawl is filmed like a televised wrestling promotion: the company’s logo appears in the bottom of the screen, each competitor boasts about their monstrous abilities in individual promos, and an announcing team calls the matches live as they happen. For a small-time promotion that started in someone’s mom’s basement (seriously) Monster Brawl secured a surprisingly deep, talented roster. The Undead Conference features The Mummy, Zombie Man, Lady Vampire, and Frankenstein (“Technically it’s Frankenstein’s monster if you want to be a dick about it”). Wrestling for The Creatures Conference we have Werewolf, Cyclops, Witch Bitch, and Swamp Gut (a local boy as it were; Swamp Gut is an obese, Louisiana-tinged knockoff of The Creature from the Black Lagoon). The monster make-up and the in-the-ring gore looks great, seemingly eating up most of the film’s budget considering the range & scope of the limited locations & actors. A lot of time & energy went into the monsters, which was the right decision, and it pays off in gags like hieroglyphics playing under The Mummy’s incomprehensible promo and the Cyclops’ face-searing laser beams (or “mythical laser blasts” if you will).

Narrating the action, Monster’s Brawl’s ringside announcers feature Kids in the Hall vet Dave Foley as a barely-functioning alcoholic and character actor Art Hindle as former Monster Brawl champion Sasquatch Sid Tucker. Foley & Hindle seem to have a lot of fun with the absurdity of their lines, which include gems like “We underestimated this monster. He must have been trained in vampire slaying techniques” and “For the first time in professional sports, folks, we’re witnessing the dead rising from their graves to attack Frankenstein.” Monster’s Brawl gets a lot right about the more ridiculous aspects of pro wrestling: the former-wrestlers-turned-announcers, the inconsequential refs, the outside-the-ring action, etc. Because the film’s “death matches” are quite literal the action can include violence that the more family-friendly WWE cannot: chair shots to the head, inter-gender matches, murder. The spirit of wrestling is captured well and even includes small roles for former NWO member Kevin Nash and Hulk Hogan’s former blowhard manager “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart. In addition to Hart’s ecstatic shouting & the announcing team’s endless drunken blathering the film features a third level of narration: the disembodied voice of the legendary horror staple Lance Henrikson, who is billed here simply as “God”. Henrikson only occasionally interjects on the action, punctuating particularly gruesome wrestling moves with words like “Majestic.”, “Appalling.”, “Tremendous.”, and “Discombobulating.” in what has to be a parody of the narration in Mortal Kombat gameplay.

Just as Monster Brawl gets wrestling right, it also nails the tone of horror flicks. Instead of cheesy entrance music that usually accompanies performers, the famous monsters get the eerie horror soundtracks they deserve. The action of the film also devolves into complete chaos in its final act, which is pretty standard for a creature feature. We were fairly cruel to Monster Brawl director Jesse Thomas Cook’s most recent film, the “hideous poo beast” monster movie Septic Man, but Monster Brawl gets so much right about both its pro-wrestling-meets-classic-horror premise, that it’s impossible not to love it (given that wrestling or gore-soaked horror are your thing). Scripted & shot like a broadcast of a wrestling promotion every disturbed ten year old wishes existed, Monster Brawl is camp cinema at its finest.

-Brandon Ledet