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The Independent Critic

STARRING
Sara Maas, Mike Christopher, Brad Guerrie, Ray Martinez
DIRECTED BY
Terence Muncy
SCREENPLAY
Terence Muncy, Erica Heflin
MPAA RATING
NR
RUNNING TIME
90 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Sammy Terry Nightmare Theater
MYSPACE PAGE

SAMMY TERRY NIGHTMARES WEBSITE


*Sammy Terry is a registered trademark of Sammy Terry, Inc.
 "Bikini Monsters" Review 
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The tradition continues.

Some people celebrate Christmas Day with a beautiful morning of unwrapping gifts with the family. Some people faithfully attend church every Christmas morning. Some people serve others on Christmas Day.

Me?

I watch a horror film.

It's a tradition that began over 20 years following a significant life tragedy. It began as a coping skill, a way to get myself through the holiday season acknowledging the truth of my experience in a way just a bit tongue-in-cheek.

As someone who grew up without Christmas, this tradition has become one of my most cherished holiday rituals. Even as the holiday season has slowly become a more celebratory experience, this tradition of watching a horror film has remained.

Actually, you might be surprised how often Hollywood actually releases a horror film over the holidays. Either they're dumping off the worst of their worst films at the end of the year or, alternately, they actually recognize that there are a few of us who find the Christmas season the perfect time for a really good slasher flick.

While most years I'm able to experience this tradition in an actual movie theatre, there are times when a horror film is nowhere to be found. While 2011 does have its share of sci-fi flicks currently in theaters, theaters are devoid of an actual horror film. In these cases, I find myself turning to the DVD vault and embracing either a really good holiday horror flick (like Santa's Slay?) or simply turning to a "so bad it's good" indie B-movie.

As it just so happened, I concluded my Christmas Eve preaching (Yes, I still find it hard to believe I'm a preacher!) and found myself face-to-face with a member of the congregation who, knowing of my rather unique holiday tradition, had in her hands an early Christmas gift - Bikini Monsters, a gloriously low-budget B-movie autographed by none other than Indy horror icon Sammy Terry.

Heaven.

For those unfamiliar, Sammy Terry was the creation of a local television host, Bob Carter, in the early 1960's. Every Friday night, Sammy Terry could be found hosting a televised horror film and serving as on-air entertainment. Despite being in what was largely known as a secondary media market, Carter become a bit of a horror legend and remained widely popular long after the television show, "Sammy Terry's Nightmare Theater," ended in 1989. While the television show ended, Terry's performances continued...especially during the month of October. In 2011, Mark Carter (Bob's son) has picked up the Sammy Terry banner and is determined to build upon his father's legacy including a return to local television WTTV and an abundance of public and media efforts including the hosting and release of lower budget indie horror films such as this one, Bikini Monsters, which has become Vol. 2 of the "Nightmare Theater Library" of DVD releases.

Here's hoping it gets better.

This 90-minute DVD release includes woven in segments featuring Mark Carter as Sammy Terry. Carter does an uncanny imitation of his father's performance as Sammy Terry, beautifully capturing vocal stylings and demeanor though, in all honesty, it all feels far more staged than the original Sammy Terry ever did.  It was well known that Bob Carter ad-libbed gratuitously, and as simple, campy and obviously low-budget as his shtick was it also, almost without fail, was consistently entertaining.

Oh heck, who am I kidding? I LOVED Sammy Terry.

This Sammy Terry? I like this Sammy Terry and, given time to grow, Mark Carter may very well succeed in expanding upon the legacy of his father if he goes out and aligns himself with higher quality films.

Trust me, as a film critic who focuses on independent films I can assure you that there's an abundance of quality indie horror that would be perfectly suited to a Sammy Terry Treatment. Heck, I could probably pull a half dozen out of my DVD library from the last year alone.

Directed by Terence Muncy and co-written by Muncy and Erica Heflin, Bikini Monsters on a very loose level brings to mind the recent off-kilter, over-the-top works of director Tom Six, whose Human Centipede films are more known for their ludicrous grotesqueness than anything actually resembling filmmaking. While the first Human Centipede was bizarre enough to attract a modest audience, its follow up film quickly sank at the box-office as the one-note gimmick had already become tired and worn. There's nothing particularly grotesque about Bikini Monsters, but Muncy does seem captivated humanity's potential to be really, really bizarre. In this case, a scientist known as "the beach bum" (Ray Martinez) works in a secluded Florida laboratory in an attempt to devote the ultimate form of beauty, a mermaid. Unfortunately, this rather psychotic venture has led to the disappearance of a few women and detective Elizabeth Wayne (Sara Maas) teams with marine biologist Craig Hoffman (Brad Guerrie) and Captain Nickolson (Mike Christopher) in an attempt to solve the puzzle.

To solve it, she may very well be forced to use herself as bait.

Snicker.

There's nothing wrong with having a film that looks, feels and acts like a B-movie. There's a market for entertaining B-movies, a market that seems to have grown with the advent of the digital world and the ability of nearly every ordinary joe to direct a film.

Just because you can direct a film, doesn't mean you should direct a film.

There's a section on The Independent Critic exclusively devoted to indie horror and B-movies, a sub-genre of the horror world that I openly embrace, appreciate and can review with both critical honesty and a bit of a sense of humor. Heck, I've even become a popular film critic with the fine folks at Cheezy Flicks, purveyors of many of the finest B-movies.

There's a B-movie. Then, there's a bad movie.

Bikini Monsters is, quite simply, a bad movie. Even those able to look past the usual tech issues involved in ultra-indie cinema will find themselves growing weary of the abundant troubles to be found in Bikini Monsters, a film that seems to be primarily targeting the "horny virgin" market with a wealth of attractive, bikini-clad women with large breasts and 70's porn vocal stylings.

In case you're wondering, that's not a compliment.

With a cast able to deliver the cheesy lines with tongue firmly planted in cheek, Bikini Monsters could have been successful in reaching its specific target audience and, yes, could have been a terrific vehicle to help promote the return of Sammy Terry. Unfortunately, the cast here seems to not quite be in on the joke and, instead, nearly constantly tries to deliver the lines with a sense of faux conviction or, even worse, irritating shrieks. While it's doubtful that anyone involved with the film actually intended for the acting to actually be of "quality," it also never quite crosses that line into convincingly campy.

While the acting disappoints, it's ultimately the production values that sink the film. It's difficult to imagine anyone actually sitting through this entire film, an achievement that gives me even more respect for my friend who gave me the DVD than I already had. It was probably a bad sign that she attended a local screening/publicity event for the film where DVD's and Sammy Terry items were intended to be offered as prizes but, instead, they ended up being divided among the three individuals in attendance.

D'oh.

This is not intended to mock the film. Truly. It's difficult for any independent filmmaker to attract an audience, and as a film critic devoted to covering the indie scene I find myself impressed with anyone who is willing to work hard to chase a dream. Yet, the birth of the digital age and the growth of cinema related technology has created the opportunity for amazing things to happen on an incredibly low budget. Quite simply, there's no reason that Bikini Monsters couldn't have been a better film. While the sound, lighting and camera issues are to be expected, I've seen a number of films produced under $1,000 that featured vastly superior lighting and sound quality. D.P. Brett Pittman is at least trying hard to do some interesting things in terms of the camera work, but the film's incredibly inconsistent sound mix and hit-and-miss lighting sabotage any potential Pittman has to create imagery that impacts.

As someone who grew up with Sammy Terry and has long held a fond place in my heart for the local television icon, it's disappointing to see a return marked by such an inferior effort as this one. Sammy Terry is, by far, the most interesting thing about this DVD and here's hoping that future efforts, if they exist, will find the team at Sammy Terry's Nightmare Theatre searching harder to discover quality indie horror that fits better and genuinely entertains.


© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic
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