Director Stewart Sparke’s U.K. horror outing Book of Monsters is a fun romp full of cool creatures and bucketloads of grue. It recalls the spirit and chutzpah of 1980s monster movies in the best ways, delivering a can’t miss package certain to leave viewers with huge smiles.
The film is the sophomore follow-up to Sparke’s somber, microbudget Lovecraftian debut feature The Creature Below. Both that film and Book of Monsters were written by Paul Butler. The Creature Below was an intriguing effort that showed its budgetary constraints, especially in the CGI effects department, but Book of Monsters obviously had a larger budget. The monsters here, including a shapeshifter and garden gnomes far deadlier than the ones from the Goosebumps franchise, are done with practical effects, and look terrific. The plentiful grue and gore are done with present-day approaches to old-school practical effects, too, so fans of this type of movie-making magic should have an absolute blast.
Shy Sophie (Lindsey Craine) is about to have her eighteenth birthday, having no idea that demons who killed her mother in front of her 10 years earlier are planning to do the same to her on that landmark night. She is reluctantly talked into having a birthday bash at her house by her best friend Mona (Michaela Longdon, who also starred in The Creature Below). Sophie’s dad Jonas (the Chattering Cenobite in Hellraiser) entrusts the house to the girls for the evening, being told that the girls were just planning on a quiet evening in, and soon enough they and their friends Beth (Lizzie Stanton) and Jess (Rose Muirhead) find themselves surrounded by the school bullies, some classmate acquaintances, and a gaggle of people they don’t even know.
This large group of partiers gives the demons and creatures, spawned from the titular grimoire, plenty to feast on and tear apart. And that they do, with the special effects crew stepping up to the task beautifully. Once the bloodshed and gut-spilling commences, Book of Monsters forgest straight ahead with its eye-popping special effects.
The cast dives into their roles with aplomb, with the leads showing strong efforts in both their comic timing and more dramatic moments. The sizable supporting cast members are also a lot of fun, including Daniel Thrace as Gary, a guy so nice that no one remembers his name, and Anna Dawson as Arya, the school’s girl that everyone loves to hate (to put it in a mild, family-friendly manner).
With a heart several times the size of its budget, Book of Monsters is a delightful modern take on 1980s fright fare. Sparke and Butler further prove themselves as names to watch in horror cinema.
Book of Monsters, from Epic Pictures and Dread Central, is available on VOD platforms and Blu-ray as of March 19.