Monster in the Closet (1986)

Rating:

USA. 1986.

Crew

Director/Screenplay – Bob Dahlin, Story – Peter Bergquist & Bob Dahlin, Producers – Peter L. Bergquist & David Levy, Photography – Ronald W. McLeish, Music – Barrie Guard, Special Effects Supervisor – Martin Becker, Monster Designed by William Stout, Production Design – Lynda Cohen. Production Company – Bergquist-Levy

Cast

Donald Grant (Richard Clark), Denise DuBarry (Professor Diane Bennett), Henry Gibson (Dr Pennyworth), Paul Walker (‘Professor’ Bennett), Donald Moffat (General Turnbull), Howard Duff (Father Martin Finnegan), Frank Ashmore (Scoop Johnson), Kevin Peter Hall (Monster), Claude Akins (Sheriff Sam Ketchem), Jesse White (Ben Bernstein), Paul Dooley (Roy Crane), Stella Stevens (Margo Crane), John Carradine (Old Joe Shempter), Stacy Ferguson (Lucy)


Plot

Richard Clark, a reporter with the San Francisco Daily Globe, pushes his editor for a chance at a serious story. Hotshot reporter Scoop Johnson amuses himself by pulling an old clipping out of the wastepaper basket and sending Clark on a wild goose chase to investigate a series of deaths in the small university town of Chestnut Hills where people have all been killed in closets. Clark arrives in Chestnut Hills and begins investigating, encountering Professor Diane Bennett who has theories about what is happening. Together, they encounter a monster that emerges out of closets. As the closet monster proves unkillable by normal firepower, a state of national emergency is called and the military are brought in.


Monster in the Closet was the only film ever directed by Bob Dahlin. Dahlin has a film career stretching between the 1970s and the present where he has worked as a second unit and assistant director with credits on films such as Damien: Omen II (1978), And Justice for All (1979) and Popeye (1980), among many others. Monster in the Closet was picked up for distribution by Troma where it gained a modest almost culty reputation for a time.

Monster in the Closet came out not long after Joe Dante made The Howling (1980) and amid the era of other genre parodies such as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978), Big Meat Eater (1982), Night of the Creeps (1986), Earth Girls Are Easy (1989) and Lobster Man from Mars (1989) where the tongue-in-cheek monster movie – one that spoofed and made references to films of the past as well as featured cameos from actors from these films – became almost a genre unto itself for a time.

Monster in the Closet may have been intended as a movie parody. On the other hand, less than the tongue-in-cheek tone we would recognise from the modern monster parody, it feels more like a film with an absurd premise that is otherwise taking itself seriously. What it does have is a number of scenes that quote other films. The monster is designed as another variant on the alien in Alien (1979), although never seems to do much that is terribly monstrous other than throw people around (this is one Troma film that is notably tame when it comes to their trademark over-the-top gore and creature effects. For that matter, the film never offers up an origin for the creature or any reason as to why it hides in closets, which is probably a wise thing). There is a sort of quote/parody of the Psycho (1960) shower scene. Elsewhere Henry Gibson insists on confronting the monster while tapping out on a xylophone the five musical notes used to communicate with the aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). The film’s most amusing parody is on King Kong (1933) where instead of abducting the girl, the monster instead prefers to abduct the hero (Donald Grant), thus justifying the title – there is even a variant on the classic last line offered up at the end with “It wasn’t the closet. It was Beauty that killed the beast.” This gave Monster in the Closet a certain LGBT community relevance at the time it came out, although nothing more is made of this beyond the reversing of King Kong‘s sexes.

The film has an impressive cast – far more well-known names than you would usually find filling out the cast list of Troma films. Leads Donald Grant and Denise DuBarry have never gone on to any recognition but in supporting roles you have names like Henry Gibson, Claude Akins, Donald Moffat, Paul Dooley, Stella Stevens and Howard Duff, not to mention John Carradine, one of the most prolific B movie actors of all time, in one of his last roles. There are also names such as Frank Ashmore who gained a certain amount of attention in the tv series V (1984-6) and as the monster Kevin Peter Hall, the 7’2″ actor who played both the Predator and Bigfoot in Harry and the Hendersons (1987). The most fascinating though are the names that were unknown at the time. The bespectacled kid who is nicknamed ‘The Professor’ is none other than the late Paul Walker who would grow into an A-list star as the hero of The Fast and the Furious movies, among others. There is also Stacy Ferguson, better known as Fergie, the lead singer of The Black Eyed Peas, who plays the blonde pig-tailed girl who enters the closet and gets devoured in the first five minutes of the film.


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