Locarno 2021 review: The Crypt Monster (Daniele Misischia)

An entertaining and affectionate homage to the B-movies of the 1980s, Daniele Misischia’s The Crypt Monster follows a group of young film enthusiasts living in a nonchalant small town near Bologna. This colorful but slight adventure is co-written and produced by the Manetti brothers, whose 2017 feature Ammore e Malavita bowed in competition in Venice, and could enjoy cult status in the near future. While it does not amount to much more than a deliberately cheesy, low-tech exercise, The Crypt Monster manages to offer plenty of rewards for viewers already attuned to this kind of bloody, humorous, and over-the-top genre mix.

The protagonist is Gio, a young man who spends most of his time reading comics written by an author named Diego Busirivici and shooting a ridiculous home-made horror movie with his friends. When dead bodies start to pile up in his town, Gio finds himself in the midst of a cosmic chase that somehow includes a crypt hidden beneath the local church, a secret book of revelations, unfriendly alien forms and more. After he discovers bizarre parallels between the events in his life and the comic book he is reading, Gio makes a quick trip to Bologna and joins forces with Busirivici, who unwillingly becomes his ally as Gio tries to save his friends (and the entire world!) from dangerous monsters.

The Crypt Monster is rather gory and features several violent murders, but also tries to maintain a light-hearted tone throughout. This is partly a coming-of-age comedy in which teenage boys keep talking about how likely this or that couple is to have sex, but with the caveat that those couples can get killed at any time. Part The Goonies, part Indiana Jones, with a dose of Alien thrown in, complete with some A Nightmare on Elm Street-type of teen-slashing. All the parents are conveniently absent during the eventful weekend covered in the film, and the only middle-aged adult (Busirivici) is portrayed as a nerdy man who refuses to grow up, fitting in easily with the rest of the teenaged group of characters.

Part of the fun comes from identifying all the references thrown in together in this genre cocktail. Even though names like Nanni Moretti, Stanley Kubrick, and Marco Bellocchio are quickly dropped in the first few minutes, the bulk of the references unsurprisingly highlight popular hits of the 1980s, ranging from the Back to the Future trilogy to The Karate Kid. Such elements are not very subtly interwoven into the plot, but it is possible to spot a film poster in the background or recognize an iconic character design in practically every scene.

Unfortunately, The Crypt Monster is a long ride, especially considering how thin the material really is. What could work better as a 90-minute escapade gets a bit bloated as it is stretched to two full hours, outstaying its welcome and losing steam in parts. Even though there are many promising elements in the framing device used to introduce Gio’s story, most of the convoluted details about the crypt, the comic book, or the monster get sidelined for lengthy sections of the film. After a certain point, The Crypt Monster boils down to an extended chase between a group of teenagers and a sadistic serial killer, a disappointingly routine template for such a playful film to settle into.

Following its premiere in the non-competitive section of the Locarno Film Festival, The Crypt Monster is likely to attract further attention on the festival circuit, particularly in midnight screening slots or genre-focused events. It could also enjoy a decent theatrical run in its native Italy and abroad, thanks to strong craftsmanship and a solid cast (particularly memorable is a special appearance by Chiara Caselli, well-known for her notable roles in films by Gus Van Sant, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Mia Hansen-Løve among others). The Crypt Monster is not without its flaws, but its considerable charm mostly makes up for the shortcomings.