I saw a lot of great AZ indie films during the Jerome Indie Film and Music Festival held back in May of this year. Many films stood out for me as both a great retrospective on where AZ indie has been, as well as films that pointed in the positive direction AZ indie is going. But there was one film that really stood out for me that seemed to simply, yet succinctly encompass everything I liked in an indie film. It was well made, extremely entertaining and left me wanting more. “Night Of The Sea Monkey” is a short (30 minutes) horror/comedy written and directed by Michael Rodriguez and starring Sean Laguna as Toby O’Connor and featuring 70’s horror maven Lynn Lowry as Grandma O’Connor. ‘Sea Monkey’ also provides a heady cast of AZ indie favorites including Stacie Stocker, Rob Edwards, Patrick Giglio and Caitlin Herst.

VH1 pop-ups keep us cognizant of exactly when and where we are in suburban America, as president Ronald Reagan tells bad jokes on TV while the Berlin wall crumbles. Little Toby O’Connor (Laguna) asks his pop (Joe Mannetti) for a couple of bucks to buy some sea critters advertised in a comic book. Happy homemaker Carroll O’Connor (Stocker) thinks it’s a great opportunity to teach the tyke about responsibility and dad reluctantly agrees. But the sea critter eggs never hatch so mom dumps the whole mix down the drain. Dad has a terrifying father-son talk with Toby, telling the tragic tale of his poor, misunderstood pet pooch Tippi, and revealing why the entire family is cursed to forever remain pet-less. Feisty, forgetful and flatulent grandma O’Connor (Lowry) arrives for a visit, verbally abusing poor Mrs. O’Connor and admonishing her hypersexual granddaughter Audrey (Herst) to get busy popping out some grandbabies. Brother Clay (RJ Markham) retires to work on his ride, while Toby gets the checkerboard ready for a game with grandma after she watches her favorite karate chopping televangelist Henny Ben (Gora Chand Saha). But lurking in the plumbing is the angry and vengeful slithering Sea Monkey, springing forth from the pipes and dispatching the freaky family one by one, in hilarious and gory fashion.

‘Monkey’ is a simple and superb film using easy gags to get the entire audience on board in an instant. The fun never stops from the very first frame, with excellent and clever dialog you simply don’t ever want to end. The photography is true to form, looking every bit like an episode of ‘Tales From The Darkside’ while still remaining original and engaging. Sound is crisp and clear and the soundtrack by Luis Javier Obregon is as entertaining and silly as the film itself. The casting in ‘Monkey’ could not have been more cohesive, with superb performances by some of the best in AZ indie. Caitlin Herst nails it as the ditzy, sexy 80’s teen while poor Stacie Stocker has to play it straight in this laugh riot, delivering an excellent performance as the sensible housewife and bearing the brunt of crazy grandma O’Connor’s wrath. Joe Mannetti is a hoot as the likeable but worn out dad, not so wonderful at raising a family but still congratulating himself on a job well done. Rising star Tyler Gallant does a great job checking in as the rock-n-roll boyfriend Johnny, slipping his sweetheart the Spanish fly, while Rob Edwards and Patrick Giglio are a crack up as the two bungling cops who overconfidently battle the mutant sea critter. Lynn Lowry is most certainly the centerpiece of this film with a hilarious performance that is both raunchy and ridiculous. The casting of Lowry for this film was an excellent choice, and provided a serious palm-to-forehead duh! moment when I realized this was the same lovely lady that scared the bejabbers outa me as a kid when I saw her in David Cronenberg’s sociological horror film “They Came From Within” (1975), which provides much of the inspiration for ‘Monkey.’ Very often, and especially in AZ indie, the casting of name actors will either polarize or magnetize a production, and Lowry certainly provides the positive energy that brings ‘Sea Monkey’ together. She’s fun to watch whether she’s just goofing on some solo, reel-rocket dialog to her dead husband or screaming profanities at the murderous monster from the sink. The serious props for “Night of the Sea Monkey” have to go to child actor Sean Laguna for his performance as little Toby O’Connor. Laguna has either done his homework on cheesy 80’s fright flicks, or has somehow channeled the spirit of the child stars of 80’s horror, bringing a superb performance that is convincing and comical, serious and hilarious. While Lowry magnetizes the cast, Laguna illuminates this film with a brilliant performance that is fun, funny and fantastic.

“Night of the Sea Monkey” is currently enjoying a successful run in the indie horror film festival circuit, but can be enjoyed by all. Don’t miss it when it screens at your local film festival. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I wish this film were feature length, as it is a well made and very entertaining throw back to 80’s TV horror that still exemplifies the creativity and originality we have right here in AZ indie. “Night Of The Sea Monkey” provides a terrific teaser and entertaining glimpse of what talented director Michael Rodriguez has in store for us in (what I hope is) the very near future.

Final Take – A must sea.