Whatever you’re expecting from a British horror comedy called Book of Monsters you’ll get it here, in Stewart Sparke’s totally madcap micro-budget monster mash. A lovingly-made and naturally funny crowd-pleaser, it’s the sort of balls-to-the-wall low-rent genre filmmaking that’s kept the scene alive for so long, bathed in practical blood and guts and huge, physical puppets.
The plot itself is an old reliable; three teenage girls readying for a party to remember as Lyndsey Craine’s Sophie turns 18, only for the whole night to collapse into a series of violent encounters with a bunch of towering, blood-thirsty monsters. The dialogue’s a little ropey, some jokes don’t land as well as others, and the pacing could often use a bit of a tune-up. But all of these nitpicks are just that – tiny details that 99% of the film’s main audience will barely even notice when there’s severed limbs and mutant gnomes flying all over the place.
And it doesn’t just stop at garden ornaments and homicidal plague-mask-wearing farmers either, pound for pound, Book of Monsters has easily some of the best creature designs of the year, spanning a whole variety of forms and sub-genres. We’re not just talking big-beasties with lots of teeth, Sparke and his crew offer up everything from shape-shifters to host-seeking ghosts and that’s just the half of it. It’s a film built on the relentless creativity of the creature-feature, and it very rarely lets up.
Craine and her collected trio are an insanely likeable bunch, and a neatly updated love-interest is very much appreciated, as is a genuine sense of girl-power. Even though he’s very aware that this is an out-and-out love-letter to 80s monster movies, Sparke’s very much married to the 21st-century, seeming keen to update old cliches whilst still leaning heavily on the ethos of the old-school.
If there’s one bigger niggle of doubt amongst all the fun and gore, it’s that certain stretches play a little long. Even for an 80-something-minute movie, Book of Monsters drags in chunks, particularly where exposition is the focus, and it can mean characters end up stuck behind a door or crouched behind a couch for what feels like an eternity.
All-in though, this is about as massively enjoyable as horror-driven crowd movies get, full of audience-friendly belly-laughs and plenty of serious fist-pumping action.
Book of Monsters was screened as part of Arrow Video FrightFest 2018.