Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Today I have MONSTER BRAWL for you. I reviewed the film a while back, but since I had a chance to talk with the director, Jesse Thomas Cooke and the DVD/BluRay was released this week, I figured I’d post it again after the interview. Here’s what Jesse had to say about MONSTER BRAWL…
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Okay, well here we go. Well I am here with Jesse, the director of MONSTER BRAWL. This is a film that’s coming out this week. Is that correct?
JESSE THOMAS COOKE (JTC): Yeah, that’s correct. June 19th across the US.
BUG: Very cool. Well can you tell people who don’t know much about the film what it’s all about?
JTC: Sure. It’s set up as a pay per view event like a wrestling tournament featuring a roster of classic monsters who fight to the death.
BUG: Very cool. This seems like such a fun concept. Were you a fan of like the old school wrestling type events like this?
JTC: Absolutely. Yeah, I grew up in the Eighties and grew up watching Eighties slasher films and the other big cult phenomenon in the Eighties, which was the golden era of professional wrestling. So yeah, I was always a big fan of that era of both monster films, horror films, and wrestling, so we approached it as a hybrid project where we could draw in the cult followings from both genres.
BUG: Well you use a lot of very cool monsters in here. What was the biggest challenge converting these monsters into basically professional wrestlers as far as like their own personal stories that go into there? You have like Dracula and Frankenstein and The Wolf Man, all of those characters.
JTC: Yeah, and we had a long list of monsters to choose from and I mean we decided to go about it from a wrestling angle as well, whether they fit the mold from that perspective. We wanted to appease the classic monsters, like Frankenstein and a werewolf and a vampire, but also bring in a couple of original ones, that would kind of play to the wrestling crowd a bit more like the Wish Fish, who was kind of modeled after kind of a rambunctious female wrestler or Swamp Gut for instance is kind of the quintessential obese wrestler, like King Kong Bundy and Frankenstein of course being like Andre The Giant, so they all kind of fit the mold and it was also practically and logistically what we could do with our budget and the makeup.
BUG: Yeah, what was the budget that you guys were working with?
JTC: It was just over 200,000.
BUG: You definitely made good use of it. It does seem like a higher budget film. What were the kind of things that got through to make that happen?
JTC: Well just surrounding ourselves with our core team of crew that we’ve worked with on all of our films and people wearing multiple hats, even myself. I was building a set up until the day before the shoot and our production designer was also our storyboard artist and he played three of the monsters and the producers were the craft people. I mean everyone wore multiple hats to see it through and also just containing it to that graveyard as a main set, whish we actually had that warehouse space for no charge at all. So a lot of it was just money saving techniques that went into it and of course the less money you have, you have to be creative with the problem solving.
BUG: Sure. So as far as the wrestling is concerned, did you guys have professional wrestlers help you guys out with the choreography and the moves?
JTC: Yeah, like I said, our production designer was the Cyclops and Swamp Gut, so he had no formal training other than being just a massive fan of UFC and MMA, but the other monsters were all amateur wrestlers from the local area, other than Robert Miay, who was a professional wrestler and played Frankenstein, but no we would go through the fights every day. We didn’t have much prep time at all, so we had a stunt coordinator named Lee Hapdale, who was the stunt double of Robert Pattinson in TWILIGHT, which we made fun of all the time, but no he would choreograph the fight while the crew was setting up the lights and stuff and then we’d go through it a few times. We would film on two Red cameras the days we were shooting the fights to maximize our coverage and we just wanted to let it roll, like an actual wrestling match, so you’re not going to see crazy maneuvers, we just couldn’t do that in our budget, so we had to keep it at what could happen in the ring and just keep that as our wrestling style rather than going with more supernatural or really MMA or Kung Fu or something like that.
BUG: Yeah. Well it definitely feels like you guys had a lot of fun putting the film together. Were there ever any instances when makeup would fall off or costumes would fall off doing these moves against each other?
JTC: Yeah, I mean they’d get together with the special effects guys in between takes to touch up things here and there, but no real mishaps other than the mummy makeup which was taxing on the actor, pretty restrictive. Then the contacts he had in fro about fourteen hours. Then the swamp suit in particular… We shot the scene in the actual swamp before we shot in the ring, so when the suit came up it was just drenched and reeked and was just awful and then this poor actor had to put it on for a day in the wrestling ring. So that was pretty complicated, but the other makeup was not as taxing, but yeah like I said between takes we’d have to touch up.
BUG: You said you were a fan of the Eighties wrestling. How cool was it to get Jimmy Hart in the film? How did you do that?
JTC: It was very cool to get him. We wanted to get some familiar faces from that era of wrestling, so we wrote Jimmy Hart and he signed onboard. He was just such a trooper. When he wasn’t on screen he’d be helping with the set. He was just such a great guy to have around with all of his stories and playing himself of course and being able to work off the cuff and his improv and cutting all of the promos he’s done in the past, just such a class act and such a professional. He had us all in stitches between takes. Then of course Kevin Nash was WWE Champion and just this gigantic wrestler, which we wanted to have that confrontational wrestler in there as well, but you know we just approached them and we had the credibility on our side that we had already cast Dave Foley and Art Hendle. Some times you write these agents and they don’t even know who you are or if you will even get the movie off the ground, so it did help that we had a few names attached and they took us seriously and Kevin was a first choice for us, because we wanted to have that contrast between him and Frankenstein.
BUG: Definitely. You mentioned Dave Foley, how did he become involved in all of this?
JTC: Well first we had Art Hindle, who of course was in THE BROOD and BLACK CHRISTMAS and is a Canadian character actor and he grew up… We are all from a small town and he lived in the next town over and during the seventies and eighties Dave Foley lived in the same town, a small village called Creedmoore. Dave always looked up to Art Hindle and so we knew Dave was from the local area and that’s kind of how we pitched it to his agent too. We were like “We are making this film in Collingwood” and we knew he had an affinity to the area, so it was kind of a homecoming for him and Art. So they came up to the area and were a part of the project. So we had them onboard first as the commentators and they also being Canadians knew what we wanted, which was kind of basing it on hockey and they really played well off of each other. There was a good contrast with Dave playing it straight and Art being this brash former wrestler-type of character.
BUG: Yeah, he definitely is the Mean Gene Oakerland of the two.
BUG: Did he base his character on Mean Gene?
JTC: I think he based it on… There’s a hockey guy up here called Dawn Sherry, who is very outspoken and brash and it was kind of based on him and perhaps maybe Jesse Ventura as well. And then Dave Foley based his kind of a drunken Howard Cosel.
BUG: Oh yeah. (Laughs) Very cool. So as far as making this wrestling ring and making it functional and everything like that, was there ever a point in the making of the film that you were thinking about making an audience surrounding this thing? Or was that within the budget?
JTC: It was lot of things. Logistically we could never pull it off to get in a few hundred extras every day cheering in the background. So we had to write it into the story that it took place in an abandoned graveyard, because it’d be a safety issue to have the monsters there and it was sort of like “It’s in this abandoned place, but we are going to broadcast it all over the world like a pay per view event.” So we had to explain it through some exposition, but yeah there never really was an audience an audience element. It was kind of a double edged sword, because it works really well in a festival or a midnight screening or with a crowd. It works because we would have all of these festival screenings where the fans were actually cheering… and actually booing the Werewolf and it would be really rowdy, but then you watch it alone at home and it doesn’t really have that same effect, because you need… The audience themselves have to be the crowd.
BUG: Sure. Well the way this ends it seems like there might be some more brawls in the future. Do you plan on making another one of these?
JTC: Well we have a sequel written based in the same realm, but we’ve also been dealing with a few companies for a remake perhaps, a bigger budget remake. So we will see how that works, but if that one doesn’t go we will definitely be doing a sequel. In the foreseeable future, we have three more films this year, so I can’t see it happening any time soon.
BUG: Okay, so can you talk about those other films?
JTC: Sure, yeah. You probably know we shot EXIT HUMANITY, our zombie film, right after MONSTER BRAWL, about four weeks after.
BUG: That was a great film by the way. Congratulations on that film, too. (Editor’s note: You can check out my review of EXIT HUMANITY here!)
JTC: Thank you. I really appreciate it. That one’s a much darker dramatic narrative and MONSTER BRAWL is more of a commercial creature feature comedy. So we really didn’t want to step on each other’s toes or compete within our own company, but yeah we set up our company with investors for ten movies in fact. The plan was to do two a year, but this year with the success of EXIT HUMANITY and MONSTER BRAWL we are doing three films and we just finished shooting the third one in May. It’s a sci-fi filmed called EJECTA, kind of a high concept sci-fi film written by the PONTYPOOL author, Tony Burgess.
BUG: Yeah, he just posted some images from that a week or two ago on AICN Horror. Can you tell me about that film?
JTC: Sure, it stars Julian Richings who is known in Canada as a character actor. He was in WRONG TURN… So he’s a lead in it as well as one of the leads from EXIT HUMANITY, Adam Seybold is in it and I can’t give away too much, because there’s a lot of twists in it, but it’s basically these two men experience this crazy Galactic events and the fall out of that. It all happens in one night and like I said, it’s just kind of very high concept with Tony Burgess’s writing, which is kind of out there. So it’s very performance driven and very frightening and atmospheric. It’s a far cry from EXIT HUMANITY and MONSTER BRAWL.
BUG: So when can we expect to see that?
JTC: That will be done in the fall. It will probably be ready for premieres and release in early 2013 and then we are shooting in July another film for the director of EXIT HUMANITY, one of our colleagues and producers. It’s going to be kind of a throwback ED WOOD type of… kind of a comedy, but just kind of a really weird film about a grave keeper, kind of like CEMETARY MAN I’d guess, but not really and then I’m also directing a film in September, so we are keeping really busy. The one in September is Tony done is just now getting the script done now. It’s kind of a survival horror in the vein of kind of like BURIED, but not really. I can’t’ really talk too much about it or I would give it all away.
BUG: Okay. (Laughs) Well I look forward to hearing more about those films. They seem really cool. So with this company that you are working with, Foresight Features, you guys just kind of came together last year. Is that correct?
JTC: Yeah, like we are all from the same small town. There is three of us with myself, John Gary, and Matt Leary. We tried for years raising money and going to Hollywood trying to get people to buy our scripts or turning short films into features and it never really worked. It’s just the realities of struggling indie filmmakers where nobody really believes in you, so you have to believe in yourself. So we came back to our small town with our heads down and went back to the drawing board and decided it would be a lot better instead of getting people to invest in one movie, to get them to invest in a company, which would make multiple movies and just some revenue purposes it made a lot more sense. So the plan was to make ten movies over five years.
BUG: Does that mean any profits from the first couple of movies roll over into the next one?
JTC: You got it, yep. That’s basically the model and with anything left over going kind of a profit split, but it’s fairly unique up here in Canada, because most films take five years and they go through development hell with government grants and things like that. So we just approach it from a business model of we make films fairly quickly and we have to. We have to keep going or… If we stop, (Laughs) we wouldn’t be able to get back up again. The plan is working and it’s been great. The response has been great and we are fortunate to have… There are 43 investors in this business and we went door to door trying to get them all, which took over a year and you know we’ve all worked shitty jobs during it, but it’s paid off, because now we have a long term future of making films. A lot of filmmakers don’t look that far ahead and they can barely just get the one film off the ground and a lot of times they give the rights away and they will struggle just to make another movie, so we are learning the business and that took a lot of time, but that’s what I would encourage indie filmmakers to do, learn how films sell, how they make their revenue.
BUG: Yeah, that’s a really smart way of putting things together. Canada has such a long history of horror films. You mentioned BLACK CHRISTMAS earlier and it’s great to see you guys kind of carrying on the torch with that. Congratulations with all of your success with these films.
JTC: Yeah, I really appreciate that and they are these quirky horror films and other than that they have cultural dramas, so it’s kind of a renaissance up here. There’re a lot of filmmakers from Ontario and everyone has a new approach and a different way, but it’s kind of like a little community, so it’s good.
BUG: Well congratulations on everything. Is there anything else you want to tell the readers of Ain’t It Cool News about MONSTER BRAWL?
JTC: Yeah, just check it out and have an open mind. We set out to make a fun movie and nothing more, so we are just excited that people are enjoying it. We tried not to take it too seriously and yeah, hopefully… I’d just encourage people to check it out and check out our other films.
BUG: Cool. Well I think you definitely succeeded in making a really fun movie, so congratulations on that and thanks for your time. I appreciate the interview.
JTC: Thanks a lot, Mark.
BUG: Great, well we will talk soon. Take care.
MONSTER BRAWL is available now on DVD/BluRay and digital download!
MONSTER BRAWL (2011)Directed by Jesse T. Cook
Written by Jesse T. Cook
Starring Dave Foley, Art Hindle, Jimmy Hart, Robert Maillet, Kevin Nash, Narrated by Lance Henriksen
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
There’s a lot to love about MONSTER BRAWL. You don’t see many monster mash-ups these days. Films like VAN HELSING, UNDERWORLD, and FREDDY VS JASON try to offer the goods of battling cinematic creatures, but all have failed in one sense or another. Written and directed by Jesse T. Cook, MONSTER BRAWL combines two fun genres: horror and wrestling. Though some might attest that they can be one and the same, it is the first time I’ve seen the two genres spliced in such a way. Basically, the film is a tournament where monsters battle it out in a wrestling ring. Now, if that last sentence has you rolling your eyes, well, this might not be the film for you. But having grown up with a deep love for the sideshow that was the WWF in the 80’s and early 90’s, I found myself endeared to this film.
What strikes me as impressive about MONSTER BRAWL was the treatment of the various monsters. Vampires, swamp creatures, wolfmen, mummies, witches, and all sorts of beasts and undead are all present and an a lot of time is given to explore each monster before they grapple. Though the ideas of meeting in a wrestling ring to battle is a ludicrous one, it’s played like a straight-up wrestling match with fight stats, interviews, and all kinds of pomp leading up to the brawls. KIDS IN THE HALL alum Dave Foley peacocks his comedic chops as the “Mean” Gene Okerlund of the show, with Art Hindle acting as his gruff Jesse “The Body” Ventura-like co-anchor. Both actors announce the matches as if the world’s safety depended on it. Jimmy “The Mouth of the South” Hart even shows up for some on-the-ground ring announcing.
One thing that I think is lacking in this film is that there is no crowd to cheer on the monsters. The crowd has always been an integral part in wrestling. The constant roar, the signage, the cheers and groans--all of that adds to the classic gladiatorial feel of it all. Here, most likely due to budget, there is no crowd, so scenes that could have amped up the emotional connection with the viewer is absent. I found myself thinking what this would have been like with a crowd of undead fans holding up signs and body parts in admiration or in contention to their favorite or least favorite beastie.
Not to be taken too seriously, MONSTER MASH is still a lot of fun. Though I found some of the matches to be somewhat uninspired (especially the final matchup which goes on a bit long and seems to lose fresh ideas halfway through), the cool factor of seeing these classic beasties in a ring together makes for a good time. With a fun cast of comedians, classic wrestling stars, and SHERLOCK HOLMES/300 giant Robert Maillet as an awe-inspiring Frankenstein’s Monster, all narrated by the gravelly yet soft voice of Lance Henriksen, MONSTER BRAWL is worth checking out for a chuckle or three.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in October 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released in March 2012.
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