Book of Monsters is the first Kickstarter funded film I’ve seen. This one billed itself as the horror movie where YOU could choose the monsters — a novel enough idea in which backers could choose from six categories: The monsters, a character’s death, a birthday present, an uninvited guest, a weapon, and a tired horror trope for the filmmakers to subvert with a deadly twist.
If you think this sounds like a lot of fan input that likely leads to a film that feels more like a collection of moments plugged together than an inspired story, then yeah, you’re right. Book of Monsters was made specifically for the people who paid for it, and I doubt it’ll be more than a passing curiosity for those who didn’t.
Book of Monsters
Director: Stewart Sparke
Release: March 19, 2019
Sophie (Lyndsey Craine) is celebrating her 18th birthday. She’s your typical horror high school outcast. She went to an asylum when she was eight after a monster murdered her mother by chopping her into pieces under Sophie’s bed. She has friends Mona (Michaela Longden) and Beth (Lizzie Stanton), who seem normal, but I guess are also outcasts. Mona decides to throw a party for Sophie’s birthday and invites everyone from the school — even though they don’t like her — which leads to the predictable crashing of the party by douches who drink and fuck the place up while picking on the nerds and dorks. Little do they know, however, that Sophie keeps her mom’s old Necronomicon in her bedroom, and one shape-shifting seductress performs a virgin sacrifice which releases five other monsters and sets a bloodbath in motion. Then, it’s up to Sophie and her friends to use the clues left in the book to kill the monsters before midnight, when Sophie will be sacrificed to release all the creatures bound within the tome.
That’s pretty much the bare-bones setup, which Book of Monsters never really expands upon or digs into. We spend the movie watching teenagers fight, run, and die in the standard fashion. Even with a handful of crowdsourced moments, nothing here feels clever or original. The jokes are all of the lazy on-the-nose type. A stripper complains that he showed up to give full-frontal not deal with monsters, and the German exchange student says the opposite of everything her fellow survivor thinks she says. All the gags Book of Monsters farts out are ones you’ve seen before.
Even with as little plot as Book of Monsters has, it fails to fill in the gaps in satisfying ways. Each monster in the book is said to have a weakness that Sophie’s mother either scribbled in the margins or died before she learned, but only one monster has any sort of weakness, and it’s a Legend of Zelda-style bulb on its back that needs to be stabbed. Most everything else dies simply by hitting it a bunch, which is super low-effort. It doesn’t hurt to be creative, to think something all the way through. If you say monsters have weaknesses, then give them some. If you say that the monsters need to wait until Sophie is 18 to kill her, then explain why. Ground some sliver of the story, so everything else can be pulled in around it. Book of Monsters never pulls itself together, so it’s never any better than what’s on the screen from one moment to the next.
That said, what’s on the screen can be decent. Obnoxious teens get ripped in half, heads are thrown like basketballs, and guts and blood are slung across the screen. It’s all suitably juicy. One scene, in particular, features a pair of police officers who pull up to investigate and ends with blood dribbling down the windshield and bathing the cruiser’s interior in red light. A disembodied arm lands on the hood, and the officer screams in terror, all of it looking like something out of a Tales from the Crypt comic. A male stripper also uses a vibrator to kill a garden gnome at one point, so there’s that at least.
Book of Monsters is a movie going through the motions. With a synth soundtrack and copious splurts of blood it aims for an 80’s horror homage, but it lands dead on the 90’s. It has the same timid lack of sexuality despite showering the screen with guts and red fluids, and it leans on half-hearted self-awareness instead of building any real scares. There might be people who have a greater fondness for that era, but I grew up on Leprechaun and Wishmaster not really understanding what the big deal with horror was supposed to be. 90’s horror felt more like they were nodding at other movies instead of being their own thing. Book of Monsters never stops nodding.
It’s interesting to look back at its Kickstarter campaign and read through the choices backers were offered — not to see what people chose, though. What’s more interesting is seeing how the filmmakers intentionally hamstrung themselves. Backers were able to choose one of six different kills, which means five kills didn’t make it into the film. What kind of monster movie built around weird creatures dismembering droves of teens only has one standout murder? Someone could have been squeezed out of their body like toothpaste from the tube and we didn’t get to see that because people didn’t pick it? That seems ridiculous to me. Every selection list is less a collection of choices backers made and more a checklist of wasted potential and missed opportunities.
Backers were offered kills ranging from characters beaten to death with their own limbs to their bowels exploding from the inside out, birthday gifts ranging from a Ouija board to a genie lamp, and weapons ranging from a cheese grater to the family cat — but only one of each got selected. It’s like Cabin in the Woods Junior, like if that movie decided to settle on redneck zombies rather than exploding with ideas and personality by going all in. There are enough pieces in the Kickstarter campaign, enough interesting and creative ideas that could have been filmed to make this disjointed movie at least an unpredictable and exciting ride. What we get instead is something too restrained, never entirely boring but never quite exciting.
I guess as a way of paying a bit of money to say you got to help write a movie, Book of Monsters is successful and, like a string of inside jokes, it’s for sure more made for the folks who backed it than the general public. Aside from its novelty, it’s unremarkable. One of its backer choices was to pick a horror trope for it to subvert and I can promise that it subverts nothing. It follows the same horror lines from beginning to end without so much as a glance in another direction. Book of Monsters is no better than a burrito where you’ve selected your fillings from each designated tray. You can get chicken or beef but never both. Everything is made in advance. The lettuce is a bit wilted. The guac costs extra. It’s nothing special, but at least you get to say you made it yourself.