Monster (1979)

aka The Toxic Horror
Directed by Herbert L. Strock/David L. Hewitt/Kenneth Hartford
Saturn Home Video VHS

Before the opening credits, a title card warns us that, “The story you are about to see is based on fact. The incident occurred in June 1971 in Columbia.” After the opening credits, a second title card proclaims, “This is based on a true story.” Five minutes in, another card boasts, “Put on the next goddamn slide.”

OK, so the third one is a lie. That was actually a snippet of choice dialogue, not a title card. No matter. When you’ve got a mess as huge as Monster, honesty is not an option.

Like its jagged plot, the history of Monster is a rat’s nest of names, places, and vague memories. According to Michael Weldon, anti-art genius David L. Hewitt shot a few scenes of a sea monster with rubber snots around 1971 in Columbia (South America, not Ohio). Ultra obscure director Kenneth Hartford (The Lucifer Complex) took the reigns in the mid 70s. With the help (?) of AIP old skooler Herbert Strock, Hartford constructed an illustrious botch of a film on the cheap. He even brought John Carradine, Anthony Eisley, and Jim Mitchum along for the ride. It is possible for helicopters and macho men to live together in lovely harmony. Just ask Night Of A Thousand Cats. Apparently, Kenneth Hartford didn’t get the memo.

Somewhere in South America, the pollution from a cement plant has unleashed a giant rubber gila monster. It tears people apart and wails like Bigfoot (definitely a distant cousin of The Sea Serpent). Yes, but who is Victor Sanchez? Anthony Eisley breaks up with a girl, then they have sex on a beach. He says, “I feel like a shit.” The monster rips her up and a sexist newspaper man calls professional stud Jim Mitchum for some stoned tough talk (“I’ll kick your ass, Sanchez.”). John Carradine, playing a black cloaked priest, leads a witch burning. Shots of a local news team are constantly thrust forth. Helicopters gain god-like status, based solely on screentime-hogging alone. Eventually, Eisley and Mitchum wade through the padding, string up a dead sheep (to a helicopter!), and blow up the monster with dyn-o-mite. Suddenly, I have a taste for a three egg omelet.

Kenneth Hartford had a 78 minute runtime, a juicy stable of z-rate actors, and a cut ‘n’ paste exploitation plot; all sure signs of excellence in the world of trash cinema. So how did he manage to make the resulting film so damn boring? Good question. It might have something to do with endless talk. Or maybe even the constant village carnival padding? The two annoying teens definitely had a hand. In the end, the air grows stale and no one cares. The laughs deceive like a burglar in the night. You don’t need a huckster title card to figure out why.

Saturn Video churned out some of the most awful video presentations known to man (Blade Of The Ripper fans, take note!). Monster looks like it was shot on Super 8, then transferred in someone’s living room to 3/4″ tape. Constant shakes, tons of damage, and a print washed in two week old coffee grounds. Saturn did have a way with template based cover art though.

In addition to the Kroft Supershow-styled logo montage (once before the feature and once after), the kind folks at Saturn lay out each one of their video releases with a neon color burst behind. A narrator breathes heavily into the non-wind protected microphone and tries to sound menacing. Exhilarating.

As the film’s end credits roll, a scrolling missive reads, “Monster was an Academy International Presentation in Association with Major Financial Investments.” I bet! For your own sake, please avoid.