How Do You Like Your Monsters?

PoppaScotch

So the other day, I watched two recently released horror films that both include a massive amount of special effects.  The two films mentioned were the great low budget indie Jack Brooks Monster Slayer and the less than stellar Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds.   One of the elements that these two films have is common, is their execution of practical monster effects by way of using a grown man in a monster suit.  Not too long ago, that was the industry standard for monsters right next to puppets and elaborate animatronic monsters.    Especially in the low budget arena, the best monster you could get for your money was a guy in a suit wearing some kind of foam latex mask and full latex suit.   Nowadays however, in the era of computer animation, anything that can be imagined can now be projected onto the big screen with a little elbow grease and some technical knowhow.  So if there is all this amazing technology available to every film maker in the country, then why do we still go with regular guys in suits?  We know it's a guy in a suit.  No matter what sound effects you put in the film, or what kind of crazy acrobats you have playing the parts, it looks like a dude in a suit (see Congo for further reference).  But you know what?  There is a right way to do this, and a wrong way to do this.  Let's start with the wrong way which of course is Feast 2.

In Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds, There were mainly two types of effects that were utilized throughout the picture.  The first element was a man in a suit looking like one of the "feast" creatures, while the other was digital effects including the worst green screen I have ever seen.  Now this film is taking a rather common practice of using practical on-site effects and marrying them with digital effects in the computer.  The most prominent role in that case would be the use of digital blood.  In a few key scenes when either fake blood wasn't on set, or the director felt that there wasn't enough, fake blood splatter was splashed into the scenes to make up for it.  And of course, like always, the fake blood looked terrible.  But I digress, the main reason that this movie fits in with the topic I am discussing is because of the main characters in the film.  Whatever the hell those crazy teethed creatures are called, they all are guys in suits running around the streets of this random southwest town.  The first installment of Feast worked out so well because it was dark and we barely saw the monster.  We just got glimpses of it and its frenzied nature of attack that made these characters seem super human.  In Feast 2, they don't even catch up to a human character while they are running down the street holding a baby (I'm not kidding).  We see way too much of the monsters and they just don't look good.  So in this case, you already have bad digital effects which already take me out of the moment and really make me notice the bad suit effects even more.  It's kind of like a piece of canvas (or duct tape).  It is almost impossible to tear, but as soon as you get a little cut, the rest rips easy.  Jack Brooks Monster Slayer however took a whole different approach.

Instead of mixing together computer effects and practical ones, Jack Brooks went mostly the practical route.  In the bookend opening and closing scenes, there is a monster attacking a village that is obviously a guy in a suit.  Now don't get me wrong here with all this F2 hating, I am willing to forgive a guy in a suit of there is something else there like a great story or well developed and utilized characters.  Jack Brooks shows us a perfect case for it.  As we get into the film and see who Jack Brooks really is, we see him fight some kind of weird Jabba the Hut lookin fat guy that eats people or turns them into messed up dead looking soldiers (just watch it, it will make sense).  This monster isn't a computer generated green screen bastardization, but a practical on set monster.  It probably has a number of puppeteers giving it life and making do the disgusting acts that it pulls off.  Now in this case, everything is practical, the monster in the suit is in the film along with a huge puppet.  This helps keep the view in the film whereas if you accept the world of the film, these monsters could easily inhabit it.  You can then get easily lost in the character and the story.

What I'm trying to get at here is probably like most of you horror fans out there, people are willing to forgive a few bad effects or shoddy acting here or there as long as there is another reason to watch the film.  I personally don't like monsters as people in suits (expect for Pans Labyrinth but stilts were involved and it looked amazing) If you rely on gore and effects to make a film and put butts in seats, there really is nothing wrong with that (Michael Bay does it, but with explosions rather than gore) but you better have something else.  It can't just be about the gore.  It's not 1965 where you could get away with some crazy special effects and have them be groundbreaking and shocking to audiences everywhere.  We have literally seen everything as viewers and we need something else to make the film worth watching.  Jack Brook succeeded because we actually want to see a fairly well developed main character overcome his personal and emotional issues to slay a monster that threatens innocent people.  We can easily forgive a man in a monster suit because as the film goes, on we get distracted by the plot, actions, and characters.  F2 fails because we don't care about those people and as far as the filmmakers were concerned, we viewers apparently only want to see some gore.  This is fine if that's all you're aiming for.  Just don't expect your movie to be very well received. 

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