According to writer/director George Huang’s script, video games are a 7.5 billion dollar industry. Fifteen years after this was made, it has now become a 25 billion (99B Worldwide) business. Video games are a part of everyday life from your home consoles down to the games you play on your phone to kill time between regular events which is why it’s odd that there’s really only been a handful of genre flicks based in this world. Only 1994’s Freddy Krueger-riffing Brainscan and the miserable 2006 effort Stay Alive come to mind and while How to Make a Monster doesn’t do much more for gamer cinema, it at least tries to poke fun at the industry before it collapses into utter silliness in the sword-fighting finale.
Part of effects master Stan Winston’s early 2000’s made for cable “Creature Features” series of five films that borrowed titles from American-International 1950’s monster movies, if none of the actual plot, this redo of the 1958 original (in which an effects make-up man takes revenge on the studio heads who exploited his designs) takes the thinnest of ideas from that film and transports it into a story about a video game company who bring in a group of misfit programmers to try and salvage the mess their horror game, Evil-ution, has become in order to make its scheduled release date in a month.
There’s the biker-looking, weapons obsessed Hardcore (Tyler Mane), the bespectacled nerd Bug (Jason Marsden), and the calm Sol (Karim Prince) who, under the watchful eye of program director Drummond (Steven Culp) and with help from intern Laura (Clea DuVall), have to try and make the game scarier/better while competing for a million-dollar bonus. It’s these early scenes of the guys bickering and the script joking about the gaming world that turn out to be the most enjoyable moments here with even a cameo by B-movie starlet Julie Strain to liven things up as she gets to play herself and complain about her agent saying there’d be no nudity before doffing her duds to don a robotic motion-capture suit - which the guys, of course, ask her to jump up and down in.
Being a genre flick, things soon start to go south when a lightning bolt hits the building and takes down the system. It also manages to bring Evil-ution’s baddie to the real world as it takes over the suit and begins to kill them off one-by-one. Yes, this sort of becomes a slasher movie and sports a few decent effects moments before falling apart in a last third that contains a video game showdown, a virtual reality helmet, and the aforementioned swordfight.
How to Make a Monster is low-budget and it shows. Obviously filmed quickly and cheaply, Huang’s script contains the limited amount of cast members and keeps itself within a handful of rooms in the warehouse they work out of. It could lend itself to some claustrophobic moments but, instead, just make the entire thing feel cut-rate. There’s also some really dated and crude in-game footage and during the entire thing I kept feeling like it would’ve worked much better as an entry in an anthology film rather than a full-length feature.
Character actor Culp, a veteran of mostly one-off appearances in TV shows, makes for a suitable boss figure and DuVall (The Grudge, The Faculty) is an alright heroine even if she’s a little forgettable, but this is all about our programmers. Mane, who’s appeared as Michael Myers in Rob Zombie’s Halloween flicks and as Sabretooth in X-Men amongst others, seems to be having fun as the violence obsessed one of the group and is balanced nicely by Marsden’s awkward loner and Prince’s Zen-like Sol. It’s their interplay that, like I said, I enjoyed most about this. Danny Masterson of “That 70’s Show” appears in an unbilled cameo as Laura’s abusive boyfriend.
How to Make a Monster isn’t a bad little movie. It does get a little hamstrung by its budgetary limitations and gets a tad tiresome but I enjoyed some of the humour and effects work. Huang, who made one of my favourite 90’s black comedies with Swimming with Sharks, shows a pretty good knack for witty dialogue even if he doesn’t seem like quite the right choice to make a horror movie. I liked the idea that “Creature Features” was throwing down (with She-Creature faring best) and would still rather watch any of them than what SyFy has taken to airing these days. (Chris Hartley, 11/24/16)
Directed By: George Huang.
Written By: George Huang.
Starring: Steven Culp, Clea DuVall, Tyler Mane, Jason Marsden.