Monster Makers (2003)

You’d be amazed how much flak I receive for covering kiddie horror films. While no one seems to want to read about “torture porn,” these same people get scared the minute you throw Twitches or Halloweentown into the mix. Which is a major mistake, if Hallmarks’ Monster Makers can be taken at face value. Geared towards kids (let’s face it, this made for TV movie is clearly a holiday-inspired ratings grab), Monster Makers is still easily the most postmodern Halloween film I’ve watched yet. While Joss Whedon gets heaps of accolades for the self-referential Cabin in the Woods, David S. Cass Sr. was forgotten for Monster Makers. Despite Monster Makers’ basing its plot around monsters who come alive off the screen; and know, full well, that they’re now “alive.”

Imagine Ed Wood where, instead of an ending that whitewashed Wood’s “future,” Wood’s movies became real. Leaving Vampira to woodenly walk off Plan 9 From Outer Space‘s screen, rather than have Ed drunkenly sulk behind a typewriter, hammering out “Orgy of the Dead” and “Five Loose Women.”

First off, the cast consists of relative unknowns, which always makes for the best in horror. (Granted, as a TV movie, these could all be TV actors, but I’d rather let the (possible) illusion continue.) The only “star” in it is Linda Blair, and her name hadn’t been bankable for 30+ years when this was made. Adam Baldwin gets second billing, but he mainly does voice-over work for cartoons/video games, and isn’t related to the famous Baldwins.

Blair plays Shelley Stoker, a struggling single mother who quits her job at the hospital to be Dexter Brisbane’s (George Kennedy) resident nurse. Brisbane was a B-movie director in the 50s, who may or may not be down on his luck.

(Brisbane himself is an enigma. Shelley Stoker’s namesakes are obvious, Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker. Adam Baldwin’s Jay Forrest is Forrest J. Ackerman, the creator of the term “sci-fi,” and curator of what was the greatest Hollywood museum ever, the Ackermansion. Creighton Talbot changes up his namesake’s lycanthropic history by transforming into a giant rat. I have no clue who Brisbane references.)

The film itself can’t quite seem to decide on this particular point. While Brisbane lives on a rather large estate (especially considering CA’s housing costs), it is mentioned in passing that he’s been reduced to selling his possessions. Yet still retaining a personal nurse.

Though the why’s behind Brisbane’s estate clearing sale is never explained. Sure, Brisbane could need the money, but director Cass also needed to get Stoker’s B-movie nerd son, Tim (Tim McCallum; no relation), into Brisbane’s basement. And what better way than a garage sale? Because we all know that there’s no way a horror-obsessed adolescent boy would sneak into a treasure trove of B-movie artifacts on the sly. Especially when said director is rumored to have shot a unreleased film on special, radioactive film that can cause the characters to walk off the screen.

No, Tim would never go hunting for that.

Sadly, this is also how all of my dates turn out.

Okay, I’m totally writing about me there… though movie Tim isn’t nearly as impressed with the awesome monsters as real-life ShenaniTims is. Though, to be fair, movie Tim seems a lot more interested in girls than I’d ever admit to (have) be(en).

Tim finds Brisbane’s unreleased monster-piece, “Monsters on the Loose,” filmed on Radium Acetate, plays it on a (strangely unchaperoned Halloween date), and sets the ghouls free. And what ghouls they are! Vermin (Tim Manetti), Manikin (Keith Christensen), and the Revenant: the Living Ghost (as a spirit, no one had to play him); three creative monsters that save us from the usual vampire, Frankenstein, mummy retreads. There’s also a bully subplot, who I guess could be considered a villain, but after being introduced to Manikin, it’s kind of hard to care about anything else.

(I’m sort of pissed that Hallmark didn’t include all the black and white Monsters on the Loose movie footage as a playable extra for the DVD.)

It’s hard to believe Hallmark went so into detail on this film. Sheriff Jay Forrest’s (Adam Baldwin) uniform has a badge that says “Anytown;” indicating his fictional status. When Tim and love interest Tina Corman (Ashley Edner) watch the film after the monsters have been released, all the left behind characters just sit around and talk, because the antagonists are gone; so there’s no longer any conflict! Brilliant!

Vermin is Creighton Talbot(!), a man who can’t smell garbage without transforming into a rat. (It may just be me here, but one of my favorite z-grade Marvel villains was always Vermin; who holds a striking similarity here.)

Revenant, as the ghost character, is inherently the weakest, as he possesses victims (only once!) and is vulnerable to cell phones. Yes, cell phones. He’s also obsessed with robbing banks, which is strange considering he’s dead and all. Maybe you can take it with you…

Manikin is the coolest, as he’s a Frankenstein-ian monster who, due to his plastic flesh, is immune to fire. And understandably unable to bend. Plus his name is friggin’ Manikin! He’s a Ken doll brought to life! It’s impossible not to love him.

Monster Makers climaxing with the villains inexplicably trying to hide their films’ reels from Tim, so he can’t figure out their weaknesses. (Inexplicable because as we’ve already seen, watching the reels without the monsters offers our protagonists no information.) So Tim goes to the source, the shooting script. I won’t give away how Manikin meets his untimely, and tragic, end, because, frankly, it’s too sad to type.

Topped in sadness only by Officer Forrest’s suicide moments later.

Screw it, here’s one final one for good luck:

A “monster” with a heart of gold, Manikin will even tuck you into bed!

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