Chainsaw Pete.
(Courtesy of Thoughtfly Films)

Monsters Wanted (2013) Review

Documentaries have come into vogue over the last decade because of their ability to reveal truths that fiction can’t. No matter how compelling a fictional story is, can it really compare with true events of a similar nature? Would King of Kong work if it wasn’t a documentary? And so Monsters Wanted enters its name into the genre, offering a mostly satisfying look into the little-known world of haunted attractions. But while it shines in presentation and delivers rare insight, the film lacks a meaty emotional core for audiences to sink their teeth into.

Rich Teachout and his partner Janel Nash had a dream of opening their own haunted attraction, and they decided to bring it to life in 2011. Quitting his lucrative day job, Rich poured his life savings into the project, which would become the Asylum Haunted Scream Park in Louisville, KY. Monsters Wanted follows Rich and Janel through the process, from planning to casting to building to opening and all the way through to the last night of operation. Along the way, viewers will meet some of the actors, visit other haunted attractions and experience Transworld – a convention specifically for operators of haunted attractions.

Monsters Wanted looks fantastic. From the opening credits to the closing credits, the film maintains a very slick and polished presentation. There are a good amount of interviews with various people for a rounded perspective of the events. Viewers also constantly get insight from the creators, Rich and Janel, in real-time while they scramble to get the park ready. The cinematography also has a good sense of capturing exactly what audiences want and need to see in what proves to be a chaotic environment. Finally, as a nice touch, many of the title cards are presented as part of the scene, with text graphically overlaid on the ground or a wall, adding visual flair and keeping audiences engaged in a clever and ironic way.

But while Monsters Wanted enters on a high note, it never manages to reach the next level that all viewers can relate to regardless of their experience with the subject matter. For one, there’s not much to make us really care about Rich and Janel. Beyond the long hours they put in building the haunted attraction and enduring a few bumps along the way, the couple seems to be put together very well. They never have any breakdowns or doubts in their ability to pull off their venture. Even when Rich gets into a heated confrontation with one of the partners of the scream park, he’s calm, collected, articulate and is the kind of man anyone would want to go into battle with. That’s not to say that drama should be manufactured for the sake of entertainment, but, since the majority of the documentary focuses on the tribulations of getting this business off the ground, it would have been nice to see more hardships or at least a closer look at the hardships that are highlighted in the film.

The other big issue is that, outside of scream park enthusiasts, audiences will have a difficult time relating to and/or liking many of the featured subjects. Rich and Janel’s personal lives aren’t really shown beyond some bric-a-brac in the background of their home during interviews, so it’s hard for audiences to know if they should root for their success. Some of the haunted attraction actors are also problematic to that end. As visitors to scream parks, audiences want to believe that the environment is controlled, which includes the actors. To hear them speak for themselves, however, reveals some sadistic overtones in their thought processes when they speak about enjoying the “control” they have over visitors and being able to do what they want since they’ll probably never see their victim ever again. One interviewee at a different attraction brags that his attraction is the scariest because the actors there actually do want to kill the patrons. Unfortunately, there’s nothing presented on the other end of the spectrum to balance these interviews. One interview with Chainsaw Pete surrounded by family makes a valiant effort to soften the man and humanize him, but Pete foils the attempt when he starts taunting his grandson who is on the verge of tears.

Monsters Wanted is beautifully shot and has a professional sheen coating its entirety, but it lacks a compelling reason to see it as more than just a look into an esoteric sub-group of humanity. Perhaps opening with a broader look at the haunted attraction phenomena or the psychology of fear and why humans crave it would help put the film’s subject in context. As it is, Monsters Wanted is a wonderfully presented documentary that falls short of delivering a broader message.