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Monster Brawl

2011, Starring Dave Foley, Art Hindle, Robert Maillet, Kevin Nash, Lance Henriksen. Directed by Jesse T. Cook (Foresight Features).

The internet and smartphones and have made most of those classic old saloon arguments obsolete. No longer do barstool philosophers need to argue over whether William Lyon Mackenzie King was the 12th or 14th Prime Minister when the answer is just one quick Wikipedia search away. But there's one mostly fact-free refuge left--the hypothetical argument, like who would win in a battle between The Hulk and Thor, or what five supplies we would take with us to survive an impending zombie apocalypse. Director Jesse T. Cook's Monster Brawl also cares about these important socio-political questions. Sure, Universal Pictures already determined the outcome of certain monster match-ups in 1940s horror films like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, but Monster Brawl takes it to another level, mixing creature carnage with professional wrestling to find out exactly who would come out on top if all the monsters faced off in an elimination-round pro-wrestling smackdown.

While few Canadian films have delved into classic monster lore, our love of classic professional wrestling is a whole 'nother story--Canada has a long history of pro grapplers taking to the mat in everything from smaller local circuits like Stampede Wrestling to the big international stage. And that's reflected in Canadian genre film, where professional wrestling has been the backdrop for everything from "loser" cinema like Blood & Guts and The Dead Sleep Easy to straight-faced documentaries such as Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows and even over-the-top romps such as Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang and Enter... Zombie King! While many of these earlier films draw from the tradition of Mexican wrestling, Monster Brawl instead opts for a detached but loving satire of familiar U.S. television tropes, offering gently mocking twists on nature documentaries, professional sports broadcasting and--of course--the hyperbole-laden wrestler interview.

Monster Brawl plays out like a pay-per-view broadcast of every classic horror film's giddy dream as eight big screen brutes duke it out to the death inside the squared circle: Lady Vampire (Kelly Couture), Frankenstein (Robert Maillet), Witch Bitch (Holly Letkeman), Zombie Man (Rico Montana), Mummy, Wolfman (both R.J. Skinner), Swamp Gut and Cyclops (both Jason David Brown). After initial introductions by the ringside commentators (Dave Foley and Art Hindle) the film offers brief narrative segments that show how each competitor was roped into competing. From there, it's right back to the competition--the monsters are paired off by weight class and are putted against each other in a bracket-style elimination showdown that goes down in a spooky graveyard setting.

To this untrained eye (and this admitted non-fan of wrestling), the choreographed fights seem pretty close to their real-world counterpart, helped by the fact that most if not all of these monsters are played by real ring jockeys. And seeing how this is a horror film, the action starts to get quite messy--heads are stomped, limbs are bitten and bodies mauled. By not investing too much time in any particular character, the audience is allowed to pick a favourite and cheer on their choice.

Cook works over the viewer like a pro wrestler himself, trying to introduce new elements to keep up interest as the film mostly abandons the traditional narrative and delivers largely monster mashing action. But by the fourth bout, Monster Brawl starts feeling overlong despite its modest 85-minute run time. Even still, when the idea and execution are this much fun--just check out the spot-on graphic design work and excellent monster designs--it's easy to get wrapped up in who's going to win.

Fans of classic wrestling will be thrilled with some of the film's cameos--WWE manager Jimmy "The Mouth Of The South" Hart offers introductions, UFC referee Herb Dean is on hand to officiate and WWE star Kevin Nash is the mad military man who trains Zombie Man to grapple. Even Lance Henriksen is here as the disembodied voice of the Mortal Kombat-esque announcer. But its the commentators played by Dave Foley and Art Hindle that really steal the show. Foley's Buzz Chambers channels famed Canadian hockey announcer Foster Brooks, as he calls the matches with appropriate enthusiasm and lands some effective jokes, but it's Hindle who's really surprising as Sasquatch Sid--he's rarely displayed as much enthusiasm and verve as he does here. As a grizzled ring veteran, Hindle really lets loose and gives one of is most memorable performances as he trades quips with Buzz and eventually has to beat off an advancing horde of zombies.

Nicely balancing horror and comedy, it's easy to get in Monster Brawl's corner--this is a infectious and mostly successful attempt to merge two geeky past times into a delirious feature film. And best of all, Monster Brawl delivers exactly what it promises--a pop culture spectacle where classic creatures beat the tana leaves out of each other with all the expected pomp and pageantry

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