The AckerMonster Chronicles! DVD Review: A Loving Tribute to the Scary

Forrest J. Ackerman's life and love of horror is spotlighted in this charming documentary.
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If you’ve ever grown up appreciating classic movie monsters, from King Kong to the work of Ray Harryhausen, than Forrest J. Ackerman deserves credit.  His Famous Monsters of Filmland has inspired everyone associated with horror from Stephen King to Joe Dante.  Unfortunately, Ackerman’s final years were mired in legal troubles and ill health, but his spirit lives on.  Director Jason Brock lovingly pays tribute, and creates a solid documentary with The AckerMonster Chronicles!  If you’ve ever wanted to learn about the man behind the magazine, Brock’s documentary whets your appetite and delivers on all it sets out to discuss.

Ackerman wasn’t just the editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland, and The AckerMonster Chronicles explores every facet of Ackerman’s personality.  He loved Esperanto; he was an honorary lesbian, inducted into the group Daughters of Bilitis; he was involved with the nudist movement, and he gave weekly tours of his suburban house dubbed the AckerMansion.  The various interview subjects Brock talks to - including Dan O’Bannon, John Landis, and Ray Harryhausen - all share a mutual love and admiration for Ackerman; to several of them, he gave them their start or took the time to foster their love for science fiction and monsters.  Brock’s elegiac love letter to Ackerman is evident based on how casually the interview subjects are none more so than Ackerman himself.  

Ackerman hilariously recounts his life and various interests, all of which have their own weight in his life.  When he finally has to discuss his various legal battles and the downsizing of his collection, it hurts him as much as it hurts the other interview subjects.  Brock’s documentary is about showing the lives Ackerman touched, and it’s proven best by interviewing the various fans who have visited Ackerman’s house, one being Charles Beaumont’s daughter.  (Brock explored Twilight Zone writer, Charles Beaumont’s life in a 2010 documentary which I desperately want to watch).  The documentary isn’t about capturing a social issue, but a moment in time and a man who took a niche market and spun it out into a genre which millions of people are in love with.  

The AckerMonster Chronicles is a bittersweet viewing experience, especially considering so many of the interview subjects are no longer with us.  Ackerman passed away in 2008, Ray Bradbury in 2012, Ray Harryhausen and Richard Matheson last year.  It’s fantastic Brock was able to capture so much of their camaraderie with each other before they passed.  Even though the interviews are separate, you can identify the strong bond between Ackerman, Bradbury, and Harryhausen; the latter two were given their start by the former.  

It’s evident Brock is a classic horror/sci-fi fan and his documentary is a testament to that.  However, the audience is too often distracted by rough transitions and a constant background behind Ackerman which looks like a Windows 95 screensaver of swirling lights, cityscapes, and, towards the end, actual sequences from movies.  It’s bizarre considering there are sequences where Ackerman is shown in his house, so why the need for the constant backgrounds?  He also has a tendency to use scrolls or long sections of text which can be cumbersome on the eyes.  These are all marks of a low-budget film, so it’s hard to fault him when the documentary is so solid otherwise.  If anything, Brock needs to let the interview subjects talk; there’s no need for bells and whistles when the stories are so compelling.  I have hopes Brock will continue documentary work so hopefully he fixes these in subsequent films.  

The AckerMonster Chronicles is a sweet love letter to a man with a big heart and a love for things that went bump in the night.  Technical issues aside, the story of Ackerman’s life, and his iconic house is worth being explored and it’s wonderful that a true fan received the opportunity to tell Ackerman’s story.  The AckerMonster Chronicles is available for purchase, but note it’s a DVD-R disc which might not work with all players (although it worked perfectly for me).  It includes an intriguing director’s commentary, photo gallery, trailers, additional interviews, and bonus shorts. 

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