Eccentric horror novelist Raymond Castle mysteriously dies alone in his New York City apartment. His daughter Jasmin, who never had a loving relationship with her father, returns to her childhood home, self-negative reminiscing about the strenuous verbal arguments between father and daughter with usual themes surrounding her playing with his valuable horror collectibles and her continuous use of the Spanish language despite his desires for an English only language household, but instead of finding the contents of his will or answers to who he really was a person, as a father, Jasmin discovers her father’s latest novel, an anthology collection based off the black magic spells of a 17th century that brings his short stories to life right there in the apartment with her.
I said it once and I’ll say it again until the day I die: horror anthologies are not my cup of tea. Sure, there are excellent oldies, aka classics, out there, like “Creepshow” and “Body Bags,” from the masters of horror and a handful of more modern, done-right, anthologies from filmmakers on their way to such a grandiose title within the “V/H/S” series, but the majority of micro-narratives nowadays are collected from the scrapings of the low-budget trash barrel due in part to the cost-efficiency of short films, shot over a lengthy stretch of time, brought together into a single feature and the types of slim budget stories can sustain a better reception in a shorter format instead of full-length one. Now, I’m not saying Zack and Spencer Snygg collaborated “Monsters in the Closet” falls into the latter category but as one of the first released films of 2022 to come across our ever-critical desk, the indie horror-comedy anthology needed to punch the living daylights out of use to begin the year and whether the Snyggs’ 4-episode, plus wraparound story, anthology slammed dunk or airballed will be covered below. “Monsters in the Closet” is a kickstarter project and a self-produced venture funded by a pair of sub-Hollywood filmmakers in Spencer Snygg, who has worked behind the scenes in the lighting department on some major films over the recent year, and a veteran indie softcore-horror director Zack whose has involvement with indie production companies like Troma and the New Jersey based E.I. Cinema, as you’ll see with a large, splayed display of E.I and Alternative Cinema posters strategically arranged as background fodder. It’s like a Misty Mundae poster celebration on exhibition.
The outer shell narrative that encompasses and unites each separate story entities begins with a frantic Tom C. Niksson as the diehard believer in his own success horror writer Raymond Castle, covered in blood, manically talking to himself, and in the throes of typing away before a cloaked stalker wielding a knife closes in on him. Niksson, who worked under Zack Snygg’s pseudonym, John Bacchus, in that Easter holiday E.I. Cinema favorite, “Beaster Day: Here Comes Peter Cottonhell,” steps into that looming, ever-present figurehead from the grave, delivering random dad joke dialogue while cozying up the audiences for an audiobook rendition of Castle’s latest bestseller, a black magic spell anthology of horror stories that come to fruition when read aloud. Other than his talking head role, Niksson’s involved in some contentious flashbacks with Jasmin as a child, but we never see Niksson and the adult Jasmin Flores (Jasmin) ever in the same scene together as the flashbacks are Jasmin voiceovers. Nikkson’s theatrical behavior perfectly suits the stagecraft atmospherics in erecting the gameshow-esque of a horror host whereas Flores is often stiff as a dry plank of wood. Limitations drawn from her lack of experience keep the actress’s timing and delivery often subdued in an obtuse and ungraceful character when escaping the ever-changing fiction-to-non-fiction villain of the minute. Jasmin, the character, is already inherently underwhelming in a role that has no purpose or buildup to understand her headspace surrounding the sudden death of her father. What do those flashbacks mean to her or are they just melancholic gibberish? And why isn’t she more interested in his death or even showing a lack of care for it? Throughout “Monsters in the Closet,” a fair amount of pleasantly surprising performances from the anthological works pull the overall project together better than those in the wraparound story. Along with a first person view zombie tale as the first short, Luke Couzens and Carmilla Crawford play newlywed new homeowners going through the frustrations of DIY Hell until they off each other with tools, the silver spoon Jordan Flippo becomes tarnished when a camping accident turns this rich daddy’s girl into an unstoppable killing machine to protect her immaculate image, and side-splitting John Fedele (“The Vampire’s Seduction”) as the humbly polite mad scientist Frankenstein who can’t get over the death of Mrs. Frankenstein (Valerie Bitner) and keeps resurrecting her despite her wishes to stay dead.
What I like and thought interesting about the “Monsters in the Closet” corpora is that they’re written in-house by at least one of the Snygg brothers, sometimes both. This extends style and control over the entire body of work boundless to the ideas and the panache of other filmmakers and showrunners without having to associate themselves. The Snyggs’ balanced anthology comes with equal levels of comedy and horror that unearths the humor in humorless scenarios sans the sometimes tired gags that can devalue a project into tedium and, ultimately, into worthlessness and since we’re already being beholden to more than one narrative that jumbles the mind, the mental capacity is too low to withstand different numerous tales in one sitting as well as to try and struggle with the bad unfunny bits. “Monsters in the Closet” at least has a whimsical darkness about it, a sinister playful attitude, and isn’t afraid to get gory from time to time beginning with the Spency Snygg directed zombie existentialistic “Please Kill Me Again” that takes the viewpoint of a recently turned woman with normal inner thoughts and intentions, but the cravings begin to take over. The Snygg brothers follow up with darkly satiric “Home Improvement” involving a new couple’s adversary journey to fix up their rundown new home to the point where they can’t take any more of the repairs or of each other and the overflowing sardonic banter starts to spill blood; this bit is fun, more than you know it relatable, and gets real nasty at the end. The weakest short is “The One Percenters” with a nob’s daughter eager to mingle amongst the common folk during a seemingly harmless camping trip that turns deadly after she accidently kills her boyfriend. Conceptually, the message is sound with the wealthiest subverting the law theme and Jordan Flippo is stunning as a plutocrat’s high expectations daddy’s girl, but the story lacks enough obstacle and tension-filled stuffing for an interesting enough short. “Frankenstein’s Wife” spotlights John Fedele’s equable, light-hearted humor in affectionately reconstructing and resurrecting the wife he accidently kills and with each attempt at bring her back from the dead, her corporeal temple becomes less and less of herself through Frankenstein’s botched cosmetic surgeries. The lovesick cycle is both deranged and full of laughs from Fedele’s riotous desperation take of a classic character.
Gravitas Ventures unchains all the creatures loose in their digital distribution of The Snygg Brothers’ “Monsters in the Closet” anthology now available on-demand and digital platforms this January. None of the audio or visual aspects will be covered since the feature is not a digital release, but when I say The Snygg Brothers self-produced the film, I mean they literally wore nearly every single departmental hat, including director of photography and visual effects that impresses with a wide range of shots from drone, to hand-held, and to tracking done with depth and various levels of focus. There is no one trick pony behind the camera. Some of the digital effects, such as the bullet holes that riddle the basement floor and walls, cheapen the already cheap production and, for the most part, the practical effects reach the passing bar with the obvious lay figure body parts and crude masks/getups. There are no special features or bonus scenes with this release that runs unrated at 88 minutes. Anthology bias be damned, “Monsters in the Closet” is a rarity in a dying breed subgenre with a jocular sense of sinister, social commentary humor braided into a tenebrous fray between man versus man and man versus monster.