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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Book of Monsters (2019)

I saw some of my friends online talking about this one and found myself interested. I love monster movies and it looked like the effects work was all practical which is a huge plus. I tracked down a copy the next day and sat down for a watch.

We are first introduced to our main character Sophie when she is a child. It is bedtime and her mother is reading her a story from a very strange book. They call it the book of monsters and it is filled with some rather scary pictures, which don’t seem to bother Sophie. What does is the real monster under her bed that attacks her mother and I think takes her away! The movie moves to years later on the eve of Sophie’s eighteenth birthday. Her friends are planning a big party to celebrate and invite the entire school, including a bully that decides to mess with Sophie.

Here we get to the setting of the birthday party which is where the majority of the action takes place. You have a bunch of teenagers being jerks, and a demon that sacrifices the fat guy in the Hawaiian shirt who is of course the virgin used to summon a bunch of monsters. Hey filmmakers not every fat nerd has troubles with the ladies! The good thing for everyone is that Sophie comes from a long line of monster hunters and that her childhood bedtime stories have prepared her to defend her friends and classmates. Though she does get a little help from her friends and yeah, the bullies get what is coming to them.

Book of Monsters feels like a throwback to movies like Night of the Demon with a bunch of kids being picked off one at a time at an isolated location by monsters. It follows all of the tropes of this kind of movie with them being unable to escape as the monsters always show up between them and their one way to safety. As an exercise I made a mental list based off the first five minutes of the party scene to who was and wasn’t going to live until the end. I was spot on because Book of Monsters follows the formula without variation. The bullies, random fat guy, jock, stripper guy, and her close friends all end up about where you would expect. I find nothing wrong with this as it gives the movie a very comfortable vibe that makes it a fun watch. But no new ground is broken here. That said there is a gag I’d not seen before with an exchange student from Germany that I thought was hilarious.

I guess you could say that they try to mix things up by making Sophie gay and having her lady love interest show up to the party. But is that really all that big of a deal anymore? There are a lot of gay characters in movies, both horror and non-horror. In fact, some of the insults tossed by other characters towards her made me cringe as they just seemed unnecessary and were used to establish the fact that they were homophobic as well as generally just assholes. There is probably a better way to establish that.

With the exception of the lady demon that gets the ball rolling the creatures are very simple effects. In fact, they might be too simple as they look like homemade Halloween costumes. But the filmmakers do score some points from me by giving us a cool set of slug monsters that apparently can absorb what they eat and turn those things into monsters as well. This leads to some lawn gnome fun that I hadn’t expected but really enjoyed. I also thought the monster in the death mask (Middle ages bird look) was executed well on screen. Maybe the costume isn’t particularly awesome, but he does some wicked blade work. And like I said the lady demon who is a shape shifter has some neat forms on screen.

The kills are also brought to the screen with practical effects and for a lower budget movie like this they are fairly elaborate. We get heads exploding, another ripped off, a gruesome neck snapping, guts are spilled, and another teenager is torn in half. My personal favorite is when one particularly nasty girl has her face ripped off by the shapeshifter. I know I’m not supposed to root for the monsters, but she really had it coming. This is a lot of latex and on set blood splattering around for a newer horror movie. That I really appreciate and don’t often see much anymore.

In the end I have to say that Book of Monsters does a decent job of bringing the gore and mayhem together in a package that I think most viewers will enjoy. Consider this one recommended.

© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

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