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  Book of Monsters Turn Over A New Leaf
Year: 2018
Director: Stewart Sparke
Stars: Lyndsey Craine, Michaela Longden, Lizzie Aaryn-Stanton, Daniel Thrace, Rose Muirhead, Anna Dawson, Steph Mossman, Arron Dennis, Julian Alexander, Nicholas Vince, Samantha Mesagno, Johnny Vivash, Jessica Fay, Julia Munder, Dave Jameson
Genre: Horror, ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Ten years ago, when Sophie (Lyndsey Crane) was eight, she used to like to pore over a large, leatherbound tome of her mother's, reading this "book of monsters" under the covers in bed for her own amusement. Her mother would indulge her, but worry she would have nightmares, so to take the edge off she would read her parts of the book and make sure to mention the monsters' weak areas where they could be stopped. But one dark and stormy night, after one such bedtime story, it all went horribly wrong for Sophie: her parent was dragged under the bed by an unseen force, and now, a decade later, Sophie still has nightmares about her death.

Book of Monsters was one of many low budget horror flicks to pay homage to the golden age of the nineteen-eighties, in a way that the actual eighties failed to pay much homage to the sixties and seventies, and it was notable the influence that era still extended to even this far into the twenty-first century. It couldn't simply be down to the nineties being somewhat of a letdown for the genre until Scream happened along, it was likely the gusto that advances in special makeup effects had provided, and director Stewart Sparke and his writer Paul Butler were only too pleased to capitalise on the spirit of those latex and fake blood-covered days with these endeavours.

Something else that appealed to these genre filmmakers who arrived after was the sense of humour: horror comedy, sometimes labelled splatstick, blossomed in the eighties, which was a neat style to hitch your wagon to since you can get away with plenty of gory fun if it's supposed to be making the audience laugh. Sparke and Butler embraced that method here by putting their cast and extras through their paces, which in effect meant pretending to tear them limb from limb, or, if they were further up the credits list, splashing them with that fake blood and having them act at something of a messy disadvantage that someone in, say, a historical costume drama needn't worry about.

Needless to say, to call Book of Monsters "crowdpleasing" was not to say every crowd was going to get the joke, and sure enough the film had been heavily shaped by the patrons online who crowdfunded it. They took to this like an eighties kid would to a Choose Your Own Adventure (or Fighting Fantasy) gaming book, making the big decisions under the guidance of the authors, which could have resulted in a mishmash of shocker committee members pulling in different directions, yet there was enough consistency in what they were asked to make their choices about so that translated to the screen. Not everyone was keen on this, and there were those who complained about the casting (the actresses were a shade unconvincing as eighteen-year-olds, but you got used to them).

However, if you were sympathetic to the affection the project had for those eighties touchstones, then you were going to have a lot of fun with Book of Monsters. Fair enough, there was not much opportunity in slavish homage to strike out on your own with an original set of ideas, but nevertheless the regional nature of what they produced here was enough to serve as a distinctive authorial voice, a no-nonsense Northern demeanour. In the plot, which verged on the arbitrary when those effects setpieces were lining up to be included, Sophie arranges a big birthday bash hoping Jess (Rose Muirhead), the girl she has a crush on, will be there, but not only does she turn up, so do a bunch of interlopers (read: cannon fodder) led by her nemesis Arya (Anna Dawson having a fine old time as the bad girl) who is determined to spoil the celebrations because Sophie has suffered mental health issues. Luckily, our heroine has her pals Mona (Geri Halliwell lookalike Michaela Longden) and Beth (goth Lizzie Aaryn-Stanton) in her corner, transforming into a trio of female Ashes from The Evil Dead once the book vomits up the monsters. If that sounds promising to you, then it would assuredly win you over within around ten minutes of it starting. Music by Dave S. Walker (and an actual heavy metal theme tune!).

[Book of Monsters is available on limited edition Blu-ray with such extras as an hour-long documentary, deleted scenes and the original short it was based on. Order from the disc producer Dark Rift and you get postcards, a badge and a signed poster too - perfect for collectors.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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