The Monster Disappointment of Syfy’s Monster Man
I love horror movies. I love the great ones and the merely good ones. I love them when they’re bad and I especially love them when they’re terrible. My ideal evening consists of a rubber monster suit, a bucket of slime, and gallons of fake blood spraying everywhere. Seriously, though, my bedroom activities have no place here. Let’s talk about TV.
I watch a lot of SyFy Channel, mainly because they show some awesomely bad horror movies. Often, they’re of the sub-genre “Large, Mutated, Alien, or Swarm of Tiny Creatures Eating People,” which I hold very dear.
Most people don’t understand my adoration of rotten horror, especially once I really get going about Night of the Lepus. I’ll admit that it’s pretty difficult to explain a deep and abiding affection for this kind of trash. I can put into words why I’m into chainsaws clotted with gore, and half-shark, half-octopus creatures eating chicks in tiny bikinis, but I can’t convey the emotion. It’s impossible to bring someone over to this point of view. You either love this stuff or you don’t.
So when SyFy Channel decided to air the show Monster Man, I was a bit excited. The show features Cleve Hall, who’s been designing and building movie props for thirty years. Not surprisingly, he specializes in monsters: the old-fashioned rubber and latex variety, with all the splatter-ific details that accompany them. He’s done stuff for Warner Brothers, Paramount, DreamWorks, and Disney, as well as designing life-size demon armor for life-size cartoon character Gene Simmons.
While I’m not specifically a fan of Cleve Hall – as I am of Tom Savini – I do adore all things monster. I was looking forward to a show that highlights the talents of someone responsible for creating whole armies of creatures and Olympic-size pools of blood.
What I got, sadly, was another example of reality TV ruining whatever it comes into contact with. Monster Man offers wonderful glimpses of behind-the-scenes work required to create fantastic effects, props, and critters. It was amazing watching Mr. Hall detail how he engineers bloodshot eyeballs on a 50s era alien costume. That kind of thing is why I tuned in. But these snippets of real work were buried in the internecine strife that’s unavoidable in any business, especially one that caters to the high-dollar, high-stress world of Hollywood. As unavoidable as these conflicts are, Monster Man‘s producers certainly had the option to focus more on the creative side, and less on the frequent shouting matches. Mr. Hall also works with his ex-wife and two daughters, which only serves to heighten the ridiculous drama.
I didn’t learn a lot about making monsters. I did learn where Mr. Hall’s daughter hides his laptop when she’s mad at him. I also got to spend a frantic ten minutes watching his partner repeatedly call his cell phone and leave whining messages about a missed meeting. During this time, Mr. Hall was relaxing at a local salon, getting his nails did, laughing at his partner’s urgency.
The problem with reality TV in general – and Monster Man specifically – is that it offers up staggering amounts of histrionics, but no real substance. This is frustrating to people that care about the actual subject matter, but are wholly uninterested in watching low-level, pointless conflict. The first time I encountered this was with the mixed martial arts show, The Ultimate Fighter. I had long been a fan of the UFC and mixed martial arts, and, naturally, wanted to see what this show was all about. Since it was an elimination-style reality program, there were constant alliance shifts, backstabbings, clumsy subterfuge, and hours of testosterone-fueled man drama. Over time, the focus of the show – which was called The Ultimate FIGHTER – moved from the actual fighting to the asinine goings-on in the communal house.
I can understand (but never support) why people watch New Jersey troglodytes try to punch the spray tans off each other, or spoiled housewives drunkenly slap-fighting the Botox out of each others’ lips. There’s no underlying theme there; people tune in simply to watch insipid caricatures live their inconsequential lives. The personalities on reality TV are often proudly ignorant and willfully retarded, and they engage in aggressively selfish behavior 24 hours a day. There are some theories that suggest reality TV is so popular because the audience likes to see people who are demonstrably worse human beings than they are. Maybe that’s part of it. But I think it’s more because these people are larger than life in the midst of normal activities. They’re not spies, or lawyers, or renegade cops, or teachers fighting the system; they’re just human cartoon characters who can’t perform any normal functions without shouting, fighting, or having sex. A simple trip to the mailbox becomes a contest for Trashiest Damn Trash In The Trashy Damn Universe.
There’s not really any impetus to change the formula for reality TV. Despite the obvious fact that it’s not reality and it’s the basest form of television entertainment, there’s no denying that it works. Production values are low and a great deal of the generated revenue is pure profit. Much like Soylent Green, as long as people keep eating it up, there’s no reason to mess with it.
I had hoped Monster Man would be different. I thought the typical SyFy Channel fan would be more curious about how Crocasaurus was created than why Cleve Hall can’t be bothered to show up to business meetings.
At the end of it all, I’m wondering one thing: will reality programming ever suffer erosion due to waning public interest, or will it continue its growth into a mountain range of stupidity? As always, the smart money is on stupid.