From the start, we’re in agreement that Attack of the Morningside Monster sounds like a sci-fi cheapie of the Atomic Age, right? Something that Roger Corman would’ve outlined (if not scripted) during a bowel movement? The actual film’s title card drops all but those last two words — not much of an improvement, yet the movie is stronger than any moniker with which it’s saddled.
Morningside is a sleepy (and fictional) town in New Jersey shaken wide awake by a mysterious murder that soon escalates into a string of them — the work of a robed serial killer, keeping Sheriff Tom Faulk (Robert Pralgo, The Collection) and Deputy Klara Austin (B-movie queen Tiffany Shepis, who doesn’t even have to remove a stitch!) busy as those proverbial bees. Said slasher wears one of the silliest costumes this subgenre has ever seen: what looks like a papier-mâché Mardi Gras mask that’s been Bedazzled and sports an overbite so pronounced, any decent orthodontist would go ahead and put a downpayment on that yacht he’s been eyeing.
This thriller being director Chris Ethridge’s long-form debut, seams show — sometimes because a boom mike’s reflection can be seen, sometimes because his direction calls too much attention to itself. And honestly, the killings feel almost secondary, because he and screenwriter Jayson Palmer (Idiots Are Us) do a good job of setting up Sheriff Tom’s world. Dreary though it may be, the lawman’s daily routine with the townsfolk is interesting enough — and Pralgo and Shepis’ performances that damned great — that for several minutes, I genuinely forgot a cult-worshipping killer even was involved.
In other words, if Morningside Monster were just a low-key episode of Cops dealing with nothing more than the drunk and disorderly, I wouldn’t have minded. Heck, it might even be better that way, no matter how many circular handsaws may be missed. —Rod Lott