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Book of Monsters film review

Stars: ★★★★

Directed by: Stewart Sparke

Written by: Paul Butler

Starring: Lyndsey Craine, Michaela Longden, Lizzie Aaryn-Stanton, Daniel Thrace, Rose Muirhead, Anna Dawson

Film Review by: Darren Tilby

 


 

While it’s true that the days of the gore-laden, practical special effects-driven horror movies of the 80s are long gone, they’ve left a lasting impression on those who grew up watching them. Audiences and aspiring filmmakers alike were left shocked, stunned and morbidly fascinated by the gratuitous violence on display in films like Bad Taste, The Thing, The Evil Dead and Night of the Demons. It was a golden age for practical effects. And nowhere can that influence be seen more than in Book of Monsters, in which 18-year-old Sophie’s (Lyndsey Craine) birthday celebrations are dashed in spectacularly blood-soaked fashion when monsters invade her house and begin slaughtering the guests. It soon falls to Sophie and her best friends, Mona (Michaela Longden) and Beth (Lizzie Aaryn-Stanton), to save the beleaguered group of survivors - including male stripper, Carl (Arron Dennis), popular girl, Arya (Anna Dawson) and Sophie’s girlfriend, Jess (Rose Muirhead).


Written by Paul Butler and directed by Stewart Sparke, Book of Monsters is a love letter to 80s splatter cinema. It’s resplendent with the usual over-the-top carnage, clichéd character types, and so many bucket-loads of gore-laden practical effects that it would make Tom Savini blush. It’s a hugely entertaining slice of nostalgic fun.


However, an outstanding cast of characters, instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with horror, ably fronted and performed by Craine, Longden and Aaryn-Stanton (with memorable supporting roles from Muirhead, Dawson and Thrace), provides us with an emotional investment uncommon in 80s horror cinema. We can connect to these people; despite representing stereotypical character types, they feel authentic; we like these people, they aren’t two dimensional; and the fact that there’s an LGBTQ relationship at the heart of this film is incredibly welcome. It’s contemporary attitudes like these that really set Book of Monsters apart from the movies that inspired it, and indeed, other modern offerings too, and both Butler and Sparke should be thoroughly commended for their efforts here.


Of course, the film isn’t perfect: the plot itself, while well-paced, is entirely predictable and unoriginal, and some lines of dialogue felt a little awkwardly delivered or just fell flat entirely. On top of that, Book of Monsters is clearly a small-budget production, which shows at times, particularly with the movie’s creature and makeup effects. However, it’s worth noting this didn’t bother me in the slightest. I still consider the work done here to be a solid representation of the craft and of the benefits of practical effects over CGI. Personally, I felt that it added to the retro charm of the film, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I do worry how younger viewers might receive the movie, though, when these elements that are, for me, so nostalgic and referential, may be conceived as being solely a result of inadequate production design or even lazy filmmaking by a different audience.


Nevertheless, I love it. It’s a what you see is what you get kind of film, and it beckons to the halcyon days of my youth: countless nights spent sneaking downstairs to watch gore and sex-filled shockers, well before I was old enough to really do so. But it does so with a modern attitude, with none of the problematic issues of racism or rape culture so prevalent in 1980’s cinema. Book of Monsters holds a very special place in my heart; it’s one of the best discoveries I’ve made in recent years, and it’s a must-watch for anyone who’s a fan of a good splatter flick.

 

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