Monday, December 15, 2014

DVD Review: Attack of the Morningside Monster

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2014
Images from the Internet

Attack of the Morningside Monster
Directed by Chris Ethridge
Making Monster Productions / Blue Dusk Productions
Apprehensive Films
93 minutes, 2014

The fictional town of Morningside is in New Jersey, and the two top cops are a local (Tom Haulk, played by Robert Pralgo), and one from the Bronx (Klara Austin, embodied by the underrated Tiffany Shepis, who started out in the Troma camp). I really didn’t get a Jersey vibe from the film (it’s based on the more rural Wharton area; I drove through it on 80 more times that I remember) mostly due to the lack of Tri-State accents, but considering it was filmed in Lawrenceville, GA, that’s not surprising. All I’m sayin’ is it goes without sayin’, as I once overheard someone say.

Someone is gruesomely (of course!) killing off some local drug dealer scumbags while wearing a hooded robe and a cool ritual mask (see the DVD cover above). Using various devises such as power slicers and a kind of mace, victims are immobilized and have internal organs removed; sometimes this happens while they’re still alive.

There is nothing exotic or artsy about this film as far as form goes, but sometimes meat and potatoes is just what is needed. Skip the weird shadows, the strange angles, the symbolic lighting, and just get to the “meat” of the matter. Director Chris Ethridge, in his first full length release, cuts to the chase and gives the audience a taut and bloody drama without the bells and whistles, just gristle. Perhaps, over time, this will change, but that’s okay, too. I believe that many directors try too much on their first outing, and find out that it’s harder work than was necessary to advance the action. The fact that this release has won a bunch of awards in festivals shows that it’s definitely reaching where it is needed.

You know what’s a good sign? I didn’t figure out the killer for a while, which is rare. I made guesses, and was wrong on three of them. When I did figure it out, about 20 minutes before the end, I thought “really?”, sometimes the trickiest of all choices is in front of your face.

For a first full feature, Ethridge manages to find some real talent, with lots of credentials. The two leads, for example, are seasoned professionals, with Pralgo being in a bunch of high-level cable shows and major films, and Shepis has a long history in the genre. The big name here, though, belongs to Nicholas Brendon, who was Zander in the popular series Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. Okay, yeah, he’s a pretty one-note actor, but there is no doubt he is known.

For me, the fault that is in the film – and this is true of most genre releases both big and small – is the shallowness of exposition. Why is someone from the Bronx the Deputy Sheriff? What is her background? Who is the Sherriff’s girlfriend (Catherine Tabor)? The bad guy’s wife (more cameo than anything by the lovely April Bogenshultz)? There is, fortunately, some indication of why the Sherriff is so committed to his best bud’s wife (Amber Chaney, who played Avox in The Hunger Games)?

On the flip side, what is great about the writing is that it isn’t cut and dry in that the “monster” is not – er – unhuman (e.g., Jason, Michael). Mistakes are made, and people who should not be involved become victims by accident. I think this is a real bonus and one I’d like to see kept up in other films. Kudos. Also, there is a great red herring a bit over half-way through that is not only well played, but well placed.

Nudity is kept at a minimal, and the gore effects look really good. There isn’t an overabundance of visceral matter, but what is present is nice and messy. Most of it is post-attack, rather than the actual action.

The extras are a couple of trailers and an interesting commentary track with the director/co-producer, writer/co-producer Jayson Palmer, and co-producer Michael Harper discussing the production, actors, and all that. Though I don’t remember who is saying what (one of the problems with three or more people on a track), it’s kind of irrelevant because it’s the info that matters.

I like that the film doesn’t do the usual killer pseudo-teens + sex = death (though there is a bit of a nod to that), and that most who die deserve it, so when those who aren’t “worthy” bite it, it actually makes it more moving. It may be meat ‘n taters, but as I said, sometimes you can get more accomplished by going for why the audience is there in the first place.


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