Book Of Monsters, the latest release from Dread, centers around Sophie’s (Lyndsey Craine) 18th birthday party. Mona (Michaela Longden) and Beth (Lizzie Stanton) convince their best friend to throw a wild party for her big day, as her dad (Nicholas Vince) will be out of town. She agrees, and they start preparing for it after school. Later that night, the party is in full swing, and everyone seems to be having a good time.
A mysterious interloper that no one seems to recognize heads upstairs with a virgin and instead of getting naked, he ritualistically kills her. Using an ancient leather-bound book, he summons a host of monsters into this realm. The book belonged to Sophie’s mom (Samantha Mesagno) before she was killed. What exactly killed her has haunted Sophie all these years because as a young child, she swears it was a creature of some sort. Now, Sophie’s worst fears come true, as she and her friends must fight the supernatural beings, get the book back, and destroy the shape-shifting Jinn (Steph Mossman) who used it.
“…must fight the supernatural beings, get the book back, and destroy the shape-shifting Jinn who used it.”
Once again, director Stewart Sparke collaborates with screenwriter Paul Butler, after The Creature Below. While that film aspired to be a Lovecraftian drama in a fashion, Book of Monsters is nothing more than a pastiche love letter to every 1980s horror movie ever and is pure kooky fun. The movie gets a lot of mileage of recombining elements of slashers, creature features, demonic possession stories, and “The Chosen One” narratives into a seamless whole. The backstory of Sophie, her mom, and what the book represents proves the perfect connective tissue to bring all these seemingly disparate elements together. It keeps the viewer engaged, while still allowing for enough leeway to let the filmmakers throw in every crazy idea they could.
The Kickstarter campaign brought in nearly $35,000 which is not a vast sum of money, but every single cent of the budget is on the screen. The special effects team of Natasha Banks, Dave Jameson, Samuel Oates, Neil Stevens, Mark Wilkins, and Paul Wilkins have brought the monster to life via puppetry, suits, and makeup effects. This menagerie of mayhem is all suitably gnarled in appearance and well detailed. My personal favorite is a forest demon looking creature with horns and a skull face.
“…every single cent of the budget is on the screen…This menagerie of mayhem is all suitably gnarled in appearance and well detailed.”
Book Of Monsters strikes a great balance between comedy and horror, so the punchlines never undercut the creepy tension and vice versa. The movie does falter in the dramatic department though. Aside from Sophie, no one is particularly well developed. Sophie has a few “friends” who are always catty and talking down to her. It is unclear what Sophie gets out of hanging out with such terrible people, and they have no traits beyond pithy, biting barbs, so the hostility they exude also is a bit confusing. As for Beth and Mona, I am not sure I could tell you who did what when, as they are written so similarly.
That isn’t meant to imply the two actors in those roles do a lousy job, as the acting is rather good across the board. Craine makes for a capable, spunky and confident protagonist who handily sells the horror and action. Being a cenobite, starring in Nightbreed as one of the titular creatures, and appearing in more recent horror classics such as The Black Gloves, one might expect Nicholas Vince to be one of the monsters, or possibly the malicious Jinn. However, Vince plays the well-meaning, single father if Sophie and gets one of the best jokes at the end of the movie.
Book Of Monsters is not without flaws as everyone, but the lead is thinly sketched, so feeling empathy towards most of the characters is all but impossible. However, the awe-inspiring special effects for its monsters, the solid acting, and the kinetic directing work together to craft this loving tribute to the horror films of the 1980s into a most enjoyable experience.
Book Of Monsters (2019) Directed by Stewart Sparke. Written by Paul Butler. Starring Lyndsey Craine, Michael Vince, Michaela Longden, Lizzie Stanton, Steph Mossman, Samantha Mesagno.
7 out of 10 Spells