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That Mighty Moment of Machine vs Mantis on Monster Island (2004)

Monster Island is a 2004 made-for-TV horror film made in the style of 1950s monster movies about a contest winner who gets trapped in the Bermuda Triangle and must escape. Widely reviewed as a bomb, it features some impressive old-school effects but is stunted by a poor script and bad acting.

MV5BMTk3MTMyMjI5MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjAyMjIzOA@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_It’s not all that uncommon to have stars play themselves in film, often appearing in cameos, or as in the case of the brilliant Being John Malkovich, the star is in the title and remains the central theme of the story. So right away, let’s not compare Monster Island with that film, it serving only as a point. With Monster Island, said ‘star’ is film and television personality Carmen Electra, best known for her internet fame as a nude model but popular on such TV hits as Baywatch and MTV’s Singled Out. And it is with MTV that she partners with for this cheaply made film, meant entirely to showcase her sexy appeal. Sort of.

The story sees scruffy high school shoe-gazer Josh (Daniel Letterle) learn he has won an MTV contest, though his sister is the actual winner, but even so, a gang from the high school all head to a secret island in the Bermuda Triangle where they get a chance to meet Carmen Electra, playing (in a stretch) herself as a singer and model. Problem is, giant winged insects crash the show and steal Electra, taking her to a far away volcanic mountain. Now it’s up to the kids to rescue the beauty and get off the monster-infested island.

Directed by Jack Perez, Monster Island is an ultra-low budget sci-fi adventure film with a cast of B-movie stars in a cheesy, green screen and stop-motion animated film that offers not much for plot and tries to be a kind of modern One Million Years B.C. (among other ripoffs influences) with Electra in the Raquel Welch role. Never intending to be anything but a cheap made movie of the week, the film is barely watchable save for the incredibly fun special effects that somehow have become charming with a purposeful nod to the monster movies it inspired (Adam West even plays a character named Dr. Harryhausen, a name you should be familiar with as the father of movie stop-motion animation). And it is for this reason that the best moments in the film are possible, topped by a fight with a praying mantis. Let me explain. But first, here’s a picture of Ms. Electra.

Monster Island
Monster Island, 2004 ©Music Television

Eight Ball In The Corner Pocket

After the concert where Carmen Electra performed, but was suddenly taken by a monster flying ant that swooped in snatched her and her bodyguard Eightball (C. Ernst Harth), Josh gives an semi-inspirational speech to the panicked audience about how it’s times like this, when celebrities are at down point, including being kidnapped by bugs, that true fans show their merit. For some reason, the crowd goes wild (until they realize their contracts won’t get them any compensation). But Josh is horny brave and wants to save Electra. Be that as it may, a few gather with him and set off to find her. Eightball, being too bulky for the bug, and tossed back to the jungle floor, also joins the expedition.

Monster Island
Monster Island, 2004 ©Music Television

Heading across the island toward the volcano, their cell phone’s inoperable, they end up meeting the mysterious Harryhausen, who claims the animals and insects on the island have been transformed by a radioactive bomb and warms that the island is doomed and will soon sink into the ocean. The group takes heed of the warning and make for an escape, heading back across the island avoiding monsters as they go, but still trying to get to Electra. I mean, wouldn’t you?

Monster Island
Monster Island, 2004 ©Music Television

At one point, as they are being chased by a towering tree-sized praying mantis (that roars like a lion), they run to a narrow bridge over a deep chasm and quickly realize that Eightball, is not with them. But it turns out that big guy has commandeered a nearby and conveniently-parked bulldozer and is plowing toward the monster insect, intending to push the beast down into the gulch. A battle ensues with the bug and bulldozer going head-to-head.

Monster Island
Monster Island, 2004 ©Music Television

Wickedly cheesy, this fight is the film’s highlight in terms of monsters with a decidedly obvious homage of sorts to King Kong (1933), with the the bug and machine going mano-a-mano. As Eightball shouts a number of silly one-liners to the insect, such as “You better start praying now,” “Who’s the big man now,” and “Eightball in the corner pocket,” there is a kind of goofy joy in the filmmaker’s campy approach, fully embracing the Z-grade film’s style and cheap stop-motion animation. At one point, Eightball in close-up, screams to Josh and his friends to run, looking out the right side of the bulldozer cab even though in the wide shot, the kids are on his left. That’s the kind of lack of attention that actually gives the whole thing its charm. The model bulldozer and the rudimentary representation of Eightball within are hilariously underdone while the mantis itself actually quite impressive, despite the hobby railroad set with fake trees and projected live actors.

Monster Island
Monster Island, 2004 ©Music Television

Monster Island is a bad movie. Let’s be clear. But it’s also laugh out loud silly, and the fact that this is its intent helps soften the blow of how cheaply it is made. For die-hard fans of stop-motion animation, there is even more fun to be had, and while no one is going to remember this for its acting or even Carmen Electra, the bugs are the thing that makes this one to put on your guilty pleasure list. At least once.

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