PURE TERROR MONTH: Monstroid (1979)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bill Van Ryn is the man behind the website Groovy Doom and the zine Drive-In Asylum. He’s the inspiration for me to write more about movies.

It must have been the mid-80s when the price of movies on VHS started to come down — when the format was new, it wasn’t unusual for a new release to cost more than $90 retail, but eventually that dropped to around $40, plus suddenly there were scores of movies that were a lot cheaper than that. I fished a movie called Monster out of the bargain bin one day, mostly because it had a Giger-esque creature on the cover, and when I got it home I was more than a little disappointed by what I saw. This was maybe the worst home video transfer I’d ever seen. The colors were so washed out the movie looked black & white, and even worse, a fixed rainbow filter was over top of the image. In more ways than one, this movie was nearly unwatchable. It was exhibited theatrically as both Monster and Monstroid in 1980, and on home video it was also known as Beast From Beyond and The Toxic Horror. 

Producer Kenneth Hartford started the ball rolling on this one in 1971, with Herbert L. Strock (I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, How to Make a Monster) directing. Doug McClure and Keenan Wynn were both attached in the mid 70s, but this obviously did not happen, and other considerations were Aldo Ray, Burgess Meredith and Cesar Romero. If you were a filmmaker who was considering Aldo Ray for your movie, then you probably already knew you were in trouble, but the coup de gras for Monstroid is the presence of John Carradine. Even more damning were Carradine’s own comments regarding the film; he allegedly said to a crew member “This is the worst piece of shit I’ve ever worked on…and I’ve worked on a lot of pieces of shit.” Eventually the lead went to Jim Mitchum, son of Robert Mitchum, and ultimately Hartford shot some footage in a park with his own kids, edited it into the film, and took full directorial credit from Strock. 

That was a dirty trick, but really it was the kindest thing he could have done for Strock, as Monstroid isn’t a film that anyone would be proud to have on their resume. Mitchum plays an American sent to troubleshoot problems with a chemical plant in a Colombian village; the plant has been accused of poisoning the ecology of a nearby lake, and before you can say Katahdin, a huge stop-motion creature rises from the water with the intention to shove any random human being it finds into its permanently gaping mouth. 

I have a soft spot for stop motion monsters, and while these are not earth-shattering renditions of the art form, the animation is at least on par with other low budget flicks like The Crater Lake Monster. Like that movie, though, whenever the monster is not on screen, the audience flounders with a negligible story and characters we come to neither love nor despise. I got over the disappointment of buying Monster on VHS by recording things over it. I don’t know how you’ll get over it, but I’m here for you if you need me.

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