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Monster Kid Home Movies

(PPS Group, $20)
Movies: Come on. The name says “Home Movies,” what do you expect?
DVD: ****

Longtime Digital Dungeon readers may recall us sounding the trumpets for Something Weird’s delightful Monsters Crash the Pajama Party DVD, a wild and wooly assembly of spook show flotsam and jetsam that immediately became one of our favorite DVDs of 2001. Among the many delights of that disc were a handful of home movies made by young monster movie fans. Now, producer Joe Busam and his upstart PPS Group label bring us a whole disc full of nostalgia-drenched 8 mm treasures with the aptly titled Monster Kid Home Movies.

This little gem of a disc collects 30 -- count 'em, 30 -- homemade monster movies. These are short films made by kids for kids, in some instances by youngsters who went on to became famous (or at least well-known in the world of horror fandom). Contributors include Bob Burns, Disney artist Frank Dietz, interviewer-to-the-retired-stars Tom Weaver and film director Robert Tinnell, as well lots of other people who grew up to be ordinary, everyday horror film fans.

As you would expect, the entertainment value of the films varies widely, but I can’t conscience complaining about the dearth of coherent plots and other cinematic merits in no budget, 8 mm movies shot by 12-year-olds. Even the worst of the selections are shot through with enough youthful exuberance and sheer affection for monster movies that they transcend their lack of cinematic acumen. Besides, most of them run only a few minutes. Who has time to get bored?

At their best, these shorts are surprisingly impressive. The early stop-motion animation films by future Disney animator Frank Dietz and the elaborate makeup effects and costumes created by future comic book artist Kerry Gammill are minor wonders. Tinnell’s teenage Frankenstein (1977) shows enough directorial imagination – such as the use of a James Whale-like subjective POV shot – to hint at his future career. But for my money the single most entertaining picture of the lot is Weaver’s action-packed Up for Grabs (1980), starring Weaver’s late brother, John, who dreamed of becoming a Hollywood stunt man.

The DVD itself proves a very polished and professional production, from the sleeve art to the menu screens, and the films look amazingly good given their age and 8 mm origins. Most of the movies were shot silent, and are presented with three soundtrack options: Musical accompaniment, musical accompaniment plus the sound effect of a movie projector clicking in the background (a touch I absolutely love), or an audio commentary by the filmmaker. Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas provides the commentary for the award-winning 36-minute featurette The Gentle Old Madman (1973), since young filmmakers Alan and Mark Upchurch, both of whom are now deceased. I recommend watching with audio commentary.

Monster Kid Home Movies easily ranks among the most enjoyable DVD releases so far in 2005. We only hope that it doesn’t fly under the radar for classic horror fans. For now, the disc is available from Creepy Classics Video. We’ll provide an update when we learn of additional distribution channels. In the meantime, it’s well worth seeking out this disc.