As a young girl who grew up stuffing my barbies into a toy replica of the monster truck Big Foot, Monster Man screamed out to me. What’s not to love about a couple of dudes getting chased down the highway by a giant monster truck with a coffin-shaped cab that feels straight out of Mad Max? After watching this 2003 release my feelings are a complex mixture of thrill and disappointment. However, what this film did right is what makes it noteworthy and ultimately left me longing for what could have been.
The story follows friends Adam and Harley who are driving cross country to a wedding in a last-ditch effort for Adam to confess his love to the bride-to-be. Along the way they find themselves tailed by the demonic offspring of a 4 wheeler and a tank, driven by a madman with a stitched-up face and a penchant for taking limbs. Along the way, they pick up a beautiful hitchhiker, and Adam finds his desire to chase down an old love waning. Everything comes to a riotous head when they stumble into the lair of the beast in a final twisty showdown.
What is great about this movie is the monster truck itself. Car-based horror movies like Christine have always held a special place in my heart, largely because you know you are in for a good time. Monster Man has the king daddy of all terrifying cars, standing likely over 15 feet tall and with wheels the size of a man that allows the driver to go off-road when chasing down victims–something we get to see.
I grew up going to monster truck rallies in all of their over-the-top glory, and there has always been something so exciting about seeing cars get crushed under their massive wheels. They are absolutely terrifying when you think about it, these chariots of doom that man makes for entertainment. The design of the Monster Man vehicle is slightly more subdued in size, but still a beast. Also, the cab of the vehicle it straight out of an apocalyptic movie, looking more like slabs of steel hap-hazardously welded together than like an actual vehicle.
There aren’t as many car-crushing scenes as I would have liked, but this might have been a budget restriction issue. There is one crushing scene that is fairly enjoyable, showing off just what the bad boy can do. There are also a number of fun scenes with decent effects where soft, squishy human bodies find themselves at the mercy of those giant wheels. One scene at the end still has me chuckling (no spoilers!). A giant monster truck is probably one of the more inventive horror movie antagonists I’ve seen in a while.
My biggest complaint with this movie is that a lot of the humor didn’t work for me, and felt incredibly dated. The comedy for the first three-quarters of the film relies heavily on the dynamic between the two friends; one is an anxious sad sac, and the other is an excessively horny/borderline rapist and offensive best friend that is more choke-able than laughable.
Harley’s constant barrage of bigoted and misogynist comments is so grating on the nerves that he almost manages to make the movie unwatchable. In any other film, he likely would have been the “too dumb to live” — a sacrificial kill for the enjoyment of the audience. Instead, he is the genuine character treatment and given main character attention, carrying the bulk of the dialogue. Worse yet is that the main character is played by Eric Jungmann, who proved his comedic brilliance as a Ducky from Pretty in Pink spoof in Not Another Teen Movie just two years earlier. Instead, Jungmann plays a boring straight man that is devoid of almost any character traits outside of his toxic relationship with Harley and pining over the girl he never dated.
Monster Man is such a product of the time it was released when this type of narrative–anxious and bland man with pervert friend/s gets the absolutely stunning girl–with the pinnacle of this formula released in 1999 with American Pie. Harley is almost the horror film version of Stiffler.
Monster Man comes so close to being a parody but misses from the mark by investing too much genuine runtime into the two male leads. I would have loved to have seen Monster Man rely less on the slapstick and “horny best friend” dialogue, and lean harder into the horror elements. If the runtime of 95 minutes had been cut down to a tight 75-80 minutes, with the bulk of the obnoxious Harley dialogue removed, and more focus on the actual monster truck, then this would have been an incredible B film.
The ending really drives home the frustration of “what could have been” with some bonkers The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and original Texas Chainsaw Massacre hillbilly horror themes and gore-based humor that was a blast. It even has the pedigree with Michael Bailey Smith as the monster man, years before he played Pluto in the Hills remake. If the film had spent a little more time sprinkling this gory chaos throughout the runtime instead of saving it for the big finale, and maybe cut ridiculous scenes with Harley and Adam (like the excessively long slap fight scene), then we would have something truly special on our hands. As it stands though, it’s still a fun film that is nostalgic on many levels.
Monster Man is available for pre-order now on Blu-ray from 101 Films and includes Director’s Commentary, a gag reel, behind-the-scenes footage, and even an animated short!