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Monster Man

Monster Man debuts on tonight on Syfy at 11 p.m. Eastern.

The première of Syfy’s new reality centerpiece, Monster Man, is a tale of twos: a pair of twins conjoined at the waist, a bloodthirsty shark with dual heads and, in a way, a couple of distinct shows in one uneven hour. Off the top, a good deal of time is spent on around-the-horn introductions to B-movie special effects guru/Undertaker lookalike Cleve Hall (Troll and Ghoulies rank among his standout credits) and his L.A.-based staff, most of whom are, fittingly, his blood. The opening credits sequence and early interview segments with Cleve, his daughters Constance and Elora, ex-wife Sonja, and Sota FX boss Roy go for the Pawn Stars approach of fashioning Monster Man’s principals as a quirky, loveably dysfunctional extended clan who mix business with family bonds. 

The second—and far more entertaining—half offers a glimpse of the onset production of a low-budget modern slasher picture, complete with a cameo from often beleaguered-looking Friday The 13th director/Last House On The Left producer Sean Cunningham, who’s working on a dreadful flick called The Alone. Whether by choice or as a means to get his movie some free PR, Cunningham has sought out Hall and his crew to fabricate a shared latex waist that fits over the director’s stars—twin actresses playing the aforementioned conjoined twins—like a giant pair of rubbery shorts, concealing assorted tubing and eventually tearing apart in a bloody spray.

The payoff looks crappy as it happens, though some fun shots from the film’s dailies are edited in and give a neat before/after perspective on how guys like Cunningham and Hall make the most out of minimal resources. It’s just too bad Monster Man didn’t capture more of that movie-making magic. There’s a huge audience of people—author of this review included—who still love watching featurettes for horror/sci-fi classics like Alien or The Thing, witnessing the transformation of spontaneous ingenuity into cinematic viscera. Instead, the episode eats up time straining for formulaic tension around the team’s execution of their assignment—and requisite procedural squabbling. All it accomplishes in that space is making Sota’s creations look tacky and counter-effective.

The bigger issue, though, is and Hall and his staff’s unfortunate lack of wit and insight during their interviews (Constance on meeting Cunningham: “It’s a little intimidating. I mean, what’s it gonna be like, ya know?”), which are so essential to the pacing and natural drama of a series that can’t afford to license recognizable pop music or bank on the universal appeal of its subject matter.

What Monster Man does have going for it is the option to vividly show—rather than sleepily tell—the audience what happens in the trenches of making straight-to-video genre features like 2-Headed Shark Attack (which, incidentally and awesomely, stars Carmen Electra and Brooke Hogan) and The Alone. All the segments of Hall and company gluing plush teeth to foam jaws or encasing anatomical molds in fiberglass could be interesting, but would come across as much more instructive and remarkable on an episode of How It’s Made. Instead, we get some entertaining Hollywood-outsider reality and a half-hour of shop class.

Stray observations:

  • I watched this on a promotional screener from the network. On live TV, was there also the strange discrepancy of a shark sketch accompanying teasers for the conjoined-twins project?
  • I think Cleve meant to give the devil horns after salivating over the blood, sweat, and mucus involved, not a pair of peace signs.
  • The most real scene in the première involves Cleve flipping out after Noel leaves and slips into what must have been a native twang. More grit and less, “Look: science!” during that whole first half would help the episode.
  • Interestingly, neither Hall nor his team are listed anywhere in the IMDB credits for2-Headed Shark Attack.
  • It irked me when Constance’s interview about being screamed at cut to Cleve gently checking in about the latex waist-fitting. Talk about trying to manufacture emotion that wasn’t there.
  • Speaking of lacking continuity, Hall initially compliments Constance for working well under pressure because he doesn’t, but later talks about getting excited on the frantic last day. 
  • The tint in the 2-Headed Shark Attack director’s hair: Classic.
  • You have to wonder: Did Syfy go down the line to other, more high-profile makeup guys first? No disrespect to Hall or Sota, but Hall had only worked on two movies since 1990. 
  • I really do root for a guy like Hall and generally support hands-on filmmaking, but Monster Man doesn’t make it seem practical or cost-effective. Or fun.