Pixar had great success by taking that idea of monsters that hide in closets and turning it into a classic of animation. But long before John Lasseter and company explored this concept, so did Lloyd Kaufman and his band of troublemakers at Troma. The end product was quite different, of course. However the resulting film is one of the few times the Troma team ended up with a PG rated film. Released on Halloween 1986 it’s Monster in the Closet.
It seems that a community north of San Francisco has a problem. Several murders have happened lately with two unusual similarities. The victims all have strange marks on their bodies resembling a bite from large snake, and all the victims are found in their closets. A reporter named Richard Clark (Donald Grant) is anxious to get an assignment that is more important than the obituaries, so he sets out to get to the bottom of things. He eventually starts to get some help from a lovely scientist, Diane Bennett (Denise DuBarry) and her brainy son who they call “the professor” (Paul Walker).
The cops think the perp is some sort of maniac, but one night it is revealed that it is actually a large creature with a hulking body and large tongue that is, itself, a snake. A wild haired scientist (Henry Gibson) believes they need to try and communicate with the creature and even comes up with some Close Encounters-ish musical tones to try and attract the beast. He ends up learning the hard way that you can’t reason with a monster. It’s now up to Richard, Diane, and the Professor to find the beast and get the rest of the world to destroy all the closets so it won’t have anywhere to hide. Yep, you read that right…destroy all the world’s closets!?!
Monster in the Closet is supposed to be a horror comedy but it’s not really scary or funny. The film’s biggest attempt at humor is a really stupid string of gags that involve text on the screen indicating the time and place of the scene we are about to see. It gets old after the second time they do it. I feel a bit like the filmmakers were trying to go for an absurdist humor approach; something like Airplane! But they never really commit to that idea. When we get to the end, where the plot device is for everyone in the world to destroy all closets, it just comes across as lame.
One thing that is interesting about this film is the cast. It’s probably got the most (kinda sorta) big names of any film to come out of Troma. It’s got the likes of Henry Gibson, Paul Dooley, Stella Stevens, Claude Akins (pretty much in his Sheriff Lobo costume), John Carradine, Jesse White, and Howard Duff. Heck, the monster is even played by Kevin Peter Hall, who was the Predator as well as Harry from Harry and the Hendersons. Stella Stevens’ brief part is especially strange, at least in the print I saw. Most of her screen time is spent in the shower. I’m sure in the widescreen theatrical version the shot was framed in such away as to keep her lady parts hidden. The film did get a PG rating, after all. In the box-shaped TV version, however, the aspect ratio is different. This means that not only do you see boom mics creep into various scenes from above, but also that Miss Stevens ends up providing a lengthy topless scene in a PG movie. I wonder is she even knows.
These supporting players end up being the highlight of the film. Though the material they have to work with is pretty bad, at least these are performers who know how to make the best of it. The two leads (Donald Grant and Denise DuBarry) are not as up to the task, however. We do need to talk about Paul Walker, though. Yes, it’s Fast and Furious Paul Walker, who would’ve been roughly twelve years old at the time this was made. He actually does a pretty decent job as a pint-sized brainiac. A character like this could’ve become really annoying really quick, but Walker does make the Professor likable enough that we don’t want to see him eaten by the monster. Speaking of the young members of this cast, I also need to mention another child in this film who would become a big star. In the opening scenes, where we see several people pulled into their closets, we have a young girl played by Stacy Ferguson. Today we simply know her as Fergie.
I did think the monster was kind of cool. I dug the snake that comes out of its mouth, a bit like the second jaw of titular creature in Alien. It was a bit weird, though, that it’s mouth kept hanging open all the time like some sort of clown face painted on bean bag toss game. Sadly, like a bad clown, the film just isn’t funny. Without any solid scares, either, I can say that this monster should’ve stayed the closet.