['Cinema Pixeldiso' is a bi-weekly column by Matt 'Fort90' Hawkins that spotlights movies that are either directly based upon or are related to video games, with an emphasis on the obscure and the misunderstood. This particular installment is the second of a two-part look at couple of horror films.]

Last time we checked out Stay Alive, a film that featured a video game character crossing over to the real world and going on a bloody rampage. The film itself was rather slick, with very contemporary sensibilities (meaning that it's basically The Ring with video games), but for a variety of reasons, it misses the mark. On the otherhand, tonight's film, How To Make A Monster, despite its use of very modern elements, goes for a more 'classical' film attitude, and results are quite different.

[Click through for spooooky moooooreness!]



The film was produced back in 2001 and is actually a remake of an older movie of the same name from 1958, which also happened to be a homage to American International Pictures, a small independent studio that produced numerous low budget, schlock classics during the 50's. Many of these are cult classics today, such as I Was a Teenage Werewolf, which the original How To Make A Monster is a pseudo-sequel of sorts.

But whereas the original had a crazed makeup artist creating monsters from actors via mind controlled makeup adhesive, the remake (which was the second in the Creature Feature line of B movie re-inventions) deals with crazed video game designers creating a different kind of monster, the virtual kind, which one must guess wasn't good enough for the rabid fan-base of the original, who all seem to hate the retelling with a passion. As one angry IMDB-er put it "Samuel Z. Arkoff [one of the founders of AIP, and to whom the film is dedicated] is turning over in his grave." Ouch.

Even if some might take offense to the new modern How To Make A Monster, but there's no reason for the hate. It's simply a fun little movie that tried to be a little different, which as far as video game movies are concerned, is totally appreciated. And not once does it lose sight of what it supposed to be, which Stay Alive certainly did.

Much like Stay Alive, How To Make A Monster starts out with footage of a game being played, which in this film is called Evilution, and the player losing. But instead of some archetypical gamer, the player is a young child from a test group, one from an entire room full, and all of them find the game's final boss most unimpressive. This sends panic throughout the game publisher's management, who sends the designers packing.

A call for some help is given out and it arrives in the form of three men: Sol, the cool black guy, who handles the A.I., Bug, the uber nerd, who does sound (played by Jason Marsden, who provides many of the voices in today's cartoons, but who has a slight cult following due to his role in the old early 90's sitcom Eerie, Indiana which was a precursor to the X-Files, but for kids), and Hardcore, a big muscular dude that handles weapons (played by Tyler Mane, whom some might recall as Sabretooth from X-Men).

Accompanying the programming trio is Peter, the hardened manager, and providing support to all four is Laura, the company's intern. They are given just four weeks to take the existing game and make improvements. A seemingly impossible task, so to help sweeten the deal, a one million dollar bonus is offered if the monster manages to draw impressive focus group scores. It's also mentioned by the company head honcho that she could care less how the money is divvied; split equally or given to just one person. At just the ten-minute mark, the movie is already far and away twenty times more enjoyable and interesting than Stay Alive was in its entire 100 minutes.

After three weeks we see the three programmers on edge and ultra competitive. Its also established early on that one of the five might be a spy for a competitive game company. At this stage of development, the men decide to hold a motion caption session, and none other than Queen of the B movies and former Penthouse Pet of the year, Julie Strain shows up. They force her to wear an extremely oddly designed suit, that has circuits and wires strewn all about, with which they can record all her movements for the game (it also requires her to be nude, hence why the geeks primarily have her to jump up and down so they can gawk at her exposed, jiggling breasts).

Just then lightning strikes the facility and all the computers are taken offline, and every bit of data is wiped out. The back-up files have to be administered, but since no one wants to burn the midnight oil for such a task, everyone engages in a deathmatch session in Evilution, with the first one down having to do the dirty deed. Sol is the first to bite the dust, and to everyone's surprise, Laura lasts the longest. The highlight of this scene of course, has to be the fact that all the bad guys look like mutated Pikachus (from Pokemon).

Afterwards Peter treats Laura to dinner and when the bright-eyed, idealistic intern who hopes to be an entrepreneur asks for some business advice, she is instead told that "Everything is a game.... you're either a winner or a big fat loser" and that the key to success is to be a ruthless monster, which for any regular movie is hardly subtle, but given the sliding scale that most video game flicks reside on, is not as bad. Meanwhile, back at the office, Sol reboots the system and witnesses the game finishing up its programming all by itself, which he attributes to his A.I. protocols, and is therefore very pleased. Unfortunately for him, the telemetry suit also comes alive and kills Sol.

The next day, both Bug and Hardcore discover the body (and the back-up disc is also missing), which results in Bug freaking out and pointing the finger at Hardcore (given that he's big dude with weapons, he appears to be a likely suspect), but Hardcore stops Bug from contacting the cops and instead suggest they continue on with the development of the game, since that million dollar bonus might be their only ticket out of game programming oblivion.

Peter and Laura arrive on the scene, forcing Bug and Hardcore to distract the two, and while this is happening, the suit merges itself with Sol's dead body. It then tries to kill Hardcore, but he manages to fend it off and take it down, but just then Bug comes in, and seeing Hardcore with a bloody axe which he used to defend himself is enough to validate Bug's initial suspicions that Hardcore was indeed Sol's murderer. During this confrontation the suit disappears, then Peter and Laura enter the scene and they too don't believe that the suit has come alive. Convinced he's nuts, they all run away and then discover that Hardcore wasn't lying when they all witness the suit take him out.

Bug then manages to piece together a theory for why everything is happening: the lightning strike must have caused the computer's wires to get crossed, and combined with the suit and Sol's AI chips, the computer is now playing the game itself but in the real world. When Peter and Laura suggest the obvious solution which is to pull the plug on the computer, Bug points out that without the back-up disc, killing the machine would also mean losing all the code up till that point.

Laura then becomes confused as to why the two guys are all of sudden not willing to save their own lives and shut the system down, which forces Bug to reveal that he really needs the money bad because he's tired of being rejected by pretty girls, such as Laura (if a film had a frustrated nerd and close female friend or coworker, the unrequited romance angle is going to rear its heads - it's practically a law). But Peter decides to listen to reason and figures on doing the right thing, with Bug in tow, with hopes of still saving the game information. At this point, the suit decides to get rid off Sol's body, but keep the head, and instead chops off Hardcore's head and incorporate his muscular frame.

The suit then decides to don various weapons and decorative pieces that belonged to Hardcore (which were used for mo-cap sessions) and next thing you know, the suit is a spitting image for the monster from the game. It should also be noted that one of the film's producers is Stan Winston, the legendary costume maker and makeup artist who's responsible for such memorable big screen entities such as the Terminator and Alien among many others, and his handiwork is more than evident here. The monster is most impressive.

While providing back-up for Bug as he figures out what wires to pull, Peter is ambushed by the monster, but is able to narrowly escape, though due to a malfunction with the ultra tight security system, the three survivors are separated. Then Laura's boyfriend shows up wondering where his girl is. It was established early on that he's a real jerk (when she checks her email that morning, it's all mails from him wondering where she is, with the conclusion that she's an unfaithful tramp). He doesn't hear their pleas for helps and simply walks away, and then we soon discover that he also beats her, which further establishes Laura's nature for being too kind hearted and being a push over, which pays off later on. (BTW, the role of the boyfriend is played by Danny Masterson, one of the guys from That 70's Show, but is not credited at all.)

Anyway, as Peter and Laura utilize the ventilation shafts to move about, Bug is confronted by the monster, who while mocking the disheveled nerd, says the line of the movie: "Scary is as scary does!" The monster than throws Bug around the kitchen area like a rag doll, and when a gas line become exposed, Bug makes the ultimate sacrifice to take both him and the monster out. In the end, Bug gets his kiss - though too bad he's dead at that point.

Unfortunately (for the remaining characters), the monster still lives, but Laura then discovers that the way to fight him is via the video game space and is able to save Peter from an untimely fate. She then discovers that the only way to beat the monster is to beat the game, though initial attempts to play via a conventional controller proves unsuccessful, which leads her to get frustrated and become somewhat hysterical, at which point Peter slaps her in the face and then she slaps him back, and Peter responds with approval "Good... I was wondering when you were going to learn." Gee, I wonder where this going! Peter then suggests a VR headset. She puts it on nervously, only prompted by assurances by Peter that he'll be by her side to and if it tries anything, the monster will have to go through him firs. But after some playtime, he's missing and the monster arrives on the scene.

Laura runs like hell and attempts to make another attempt to contact the outside world via a PDA, which Hardcore had been attempting to use previously in the film to review the security cams to see who had killed Sol. And at that very moment she sees footage of Peter stealing the back-up disc. Laura then catches up with Peter as he attempts to make his escape, with his gun drawn, and he then gives the mandatory long-winded speech about how ultimately everyone is a monster and the such. And then, the actual monster shows up and offs Peter in Mortal Kombat fashion, then the big final battle between Laura and the beast, both in the game world and the real world simultaneously ensues.

Who wins in the end? Let's just say that the new game is a hit with the focus groups, and Laura uses it to call the shots and run her own company. And by this time, she's a changed woman: no longer wide-eyed - and hopefull totally no nonsense, all business. Basically she's become.... let's all say it together: a monster.

Final Score...

Cliched? Maybe. Predictable? Perhaps. Preachy? A tad bit. But once again, it is supposed to be a homage to the low-budget and low-brow cinema classics from the 50's, which drove their message home and with little in the area of subtlety. But once more, there's that sliding scale again, so compared with other films that deal with video games, How To Build A Monster is thought-provoking powerhouse. Okay, maybe that's a bit much, but associating this movie with other lame attempts at game related cinematic fare is also a disservice to all that it accomplishes.

Unlike Stay Alive, it doesn't try so hard to be so big, bold, and hip. Instead of flash, there's substance... most of which is cheesy, no doubt, but its still built upon rock-solid sensibilities that worked fifty years ago, and it still works today. It's rather difficult to dial in the precise reason why the movie is so effective and enjoyable. The whole thing simply works. You have your clichéd characters, but unlike Stay Alive's, not a single one of them is condescending or annoying. Everyone is so totally likable and even relatable to a certain extent, thanks to the strong cast. Again, the story is nothing brilliant, but the most important thing is that its never boring (and surprisingly dense). There are also very few logic holes, and the entire mood of the film is rather relaxed; again it doesn't try so desperately hard to be so awesome.

Another primary factor behind the film's success has to be the writer/director George Huang, whose previous film was Swimming with Sharks, which also deals with a young, naive assistant dealing with the harsh realities of big business. Huang is actually a friend of Robert Rodriguez, famed indie movie director who has a definite DIY style of filmmaking, which How To Make A Monster also employs (which also gives it that homage to classics of schlock feel).

Truth be told, the movie looks like a made for TV movie (maybe because it's a made for cable movie), yet its still so much more visually interesting, as well as in other areas, than Stay Alive, which is far too slick and self-conscious for its own good. And that film was the creation of two self professed "gamers" whom one might expect would be the most qualified to tell a tale involving video games. Unlike that confusing borefest, How To Make A Monster is quite simply its own beast. To be blunt, there's really nothing like it and it deserves far more attention that it has received thus far.

[Matt Hawkins is a New York-based freelance journalist and Gamasutra contributor. He also designs games, makes comics, and does assorted “other things.” To find out more, check out Fort90.com.]