For a micro-budget horror pic, the most effective moments in Attack of the Morningside Monster are actually unrelated to the horror. Diehard genre fans who devour anything and everything with a masked killer making meat puppets out its cast are surely the target audience for this little indie slasher whodunit and will still more than likely lap up the gore bits. They might be willing to give it a pass, too, overlooking director Chris Ethridge and screenwriter Jayson Palmer’s lack of resources and experience. While the standard-issue plot brings little that’s new to the fold, this isn’t the worst example of its ilk out there, but perhaps that’s not saying much, either. Even despite some uneven performances and production values, it’s hard to muster up too much enthusiasm for Attack of the Morningside Monster.
The film opens with a little terror: a man opens his eyes, realizing he’s chained to a slab and ready to be sliced and diced by a phantom-dressed serial killer. Forty minutes well into the film, that’s the only kill, but it is still the first in a string of motivated slayings in the seemingly halcyon town of Morningside, New Jersey. Ornery, despicable drug dealer Clyde Miller (Mike Stanley) is reviled by the town, and it’s his buddy (screenwriter Jayson Palmer) who goes missing. When Sheriff Tom Haulk (Robert Pralgo) and Deputy Klara Austin (Tiffany Shepis) find the decomposed body in the woods, they begin finding a ritualistic symbol at the scene of another murder. Who could be behind all of these murders?
Directed by Chris Ethridge and written by Jayson Palmer, Attack of the Morningside Monster is actually most interesting when focusing on the sheriff. He goes fishing with his best pal, local history schoolteacher Mark Matthews (Nicholas Brendon), and has dinners with his own girlfriend (Catherine Taber) and Mark’s cancer-afflicted wife Abby (Amber Chaney). With a film like this, it’s important to give credit to the little things because so much of the production is shoddy. It’s competently acted, at least when none of the abysmally acted drug-dealer characters are on screen. The plotting is so haphazard that the killing spree becomes an afterthought. The murder set-pieces are poorly staged, plus everyone being stalked and killed is either unlikable or a complete dunce, that no tension ever materializes. The Morningside Monster’s Mayan mask is beyond silly. The goopy gore is gratuitous without having that special B-movie charm. So, the little things? Besides Nicholas Brendon of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame and last seen in 2014’s underrated Coherence (he also gets a producing credit here), the rest of the lot is a cast of mostly unknowns. Robert Pralgo (TV’s The Vampire Diaries) fares well in a likable performance as authoritative but jokey Sheriff Tom Haulk, as does Tiffany Shepis (Sharknado 2: The Second One) as his sassy deputy. Amber Chaney even has a touching arc as Abby.
When it comes to feature films that are independently financed and clearly made on-the-cheap, the viewer can tend to cut some slack to a lack of proficiency in the filmmaking, but Blue Dusk Productions’ Attack of the Morningside Monster often crosses into outright ineptitude. Good Lord, a hospital location that is obviously a stage set? Or, the unintentionally laughable delivery of an ER technician with blood all over his scrub top apologizing, “I’m sorry, we did all we could.” Also, the crew member in charge of supervising the blood clearly went a little overboard during a character’s simple fall after a door shuts on him.
Taken on its own very small merit, Attack of the Morningside Monster gets points for the most emotionally manipulative and disgusting motive for a killer in recent memory. There’s even an attempted argument for medicinal marijuana to be legalized. If anything, we can thank the Morningside Monster for keeping his massacre short.