When a test group says the company's latest video game, Evilution, is too boring, the game's development team is fired. Businessman Peter Drummond hires three new programmers: A weapons expert named Hardcore, a game artificial intelligence designer named Sol, and a sound effects creator named Bug. Faye Clayton promises $1 million to the programmer who makes the game the "scariest", igniting a fierce rivalry between the trio. During a storm three weeks later, lightning strikes the building and causes all of the computers and electronic equipment to go offline. After a meeting with Drummond, the three programmers decide to try out the game with the help of Clayton Software intern Laura Wheeler. The game involves a motion capture suit that is connected to the computer network and used to program the game's movements. Peter places a backup CD into the external drive while the others set up. Bug, Hardcore, and Sol soon lose the game, and are surprised to see Laura get all the way to the final boss.
Sol inserts his new AI chip into the mainframe and begins to play the game. As he advances to the game's third level, the motion capture suit connected to the computer network comes alive. Simultaneously, the suit attacks Sol in real life while an in-game monster drags Sol's video game character away. The following morning, Bug and Hardcore discover that Sol has been killed and the backup CD has been stolen. Hardcore attempts to review the security camera tapes with his PDA, but accidentally touches the motion capture suit, which has merged itself with Sol's dead body. The suit attacks Hardcore; although he initially manages to fight it off, he is later killed. The suit then merges itself with Hardcore's muscular body and takes all of his weapons, giving it a striking resemblance to the monster in the game. Bug theorizes that the lighting strike combined with Sol's powerful AI chip has caused the suit to believe the real world is part of the video game. Bug, Laura and Drummond decide to pull the computer's plug, although doing so will likely erase all of the game's data.
While Bug tries to figure out which set of wires to pull, Drummond is attacked by the monster in Hardcore's body. With Bug's help, Drummond manages to escape, but the security system malfunctions, seals all exits, and leaves Laura, Bug, and Drummond in near darkness. Bug travels through ceiling shafts and falls into the kitchen area, where he is attacked by the monster. As the monster draws closer, Bug exposes a gas line and lights his lighter, killing both himself and the monster. The monster returns to the motion-capture suit and attacks Drummond, but Laura saves him by virtually fighting the in-game monster. Laura later tries to beat the game but becomes frustrated and hysterical. Drummond suggests that she try a virtual reality headset, promising to stay with her while she fights. However, in the midst of the game, Laura realizes Drummond has left her. The monster appears and, in the real world, Laura escapes to the kitchen. There she finds a PDA displaying a video of Drummond stealing the game's backup CD the night of Sol's death; had Drummond not stolen it, the CD would have allowed the programmers to reverse compile the game and shut down the monster. Laura finds and confronts Drummond at gun point, forcing him to drop the CD. Drummond makes a speech stating that everyone is ultimately a monster. Laura shoots him in the knee and allows the monster to kill him. Laura then dons the VR headset and gloves, acquires a sword, and simultaneously battles the monster in both the real and virtual world. In the real world, she lures the suit toward a fish tank and electrocutes it with the water inside. She then stabs the monster with her sword, finally killing the monster.
With everyone else who made the game dead, Laura turns in the final version of the game and demands the million dollar bonus for herself. The whole event has changed her, making her more jaded and world weary. The video game finally impresses the game testers. Laura uses the game's success to become the new ruthless CEO of the company, which is renamed Wheeler Software.Steven Culp as Peter S. Drummond, a hardened businessman at Clayton Software. He is revealed to have stolen the copy of the evil monster for the game.
Clea DuVall as Laura Wheeler, the kind, 24-year-old intern of Clayton Software. Eventually, Laura kills the monster and becomes a ruthless CEO.
Tyler Mane as Hardcore, the muscular developer who is responsible for designing the game's weapons for motion capture sessions.
Jason Marsden as Bug, the developer who creates the sound and music for the game.
Karim Prince as Sol, the developer who programs the game's artificial intelligence.
Julie Strain as Herself. Strain makes a cameo appearance in the film when she arrives for a motion-capture session.
James Sullivan as the Monster, who is brought to life through a motion capture suit as a result of a lightning strike.
Colleen Camp as Faye Clayton, the head of the computer software company Clayton Software.
Danny Masterson as Jeremy, the abusive boyfriend of Laura Wheeler.
How to Make a Monster was released on DVD on June 11, 2002. The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen and its audio is presented in 5.1 surround sound in both English and French. Extra features include a "making-of" featurette, photo galleries of drawings and behind-the-scenes images, and theatrical trailers for other Columbia TriStar horror films. The DVD also includes DVD-ROM content for personal computers.
Nathan Rabin of The A.V. Club wrote, "Huang's film intermittently qualifies as an intriguing experiment, but it quickly runs out of ideas and energy." Maitland McDonagh of TV Guide rated it 2/4 stars and wrote, "One in a series of made-for-cable, in-name-only remakes of cheesy cult classics, this sci-fi horror picture is tailor-made for people who hate video games." Beyond Hollywood wrote that the film's budget limitations and technological ignorance make it "at best silly, and at worst pure crap". Adam Tyner of DVD Talk rated it 2/5 stars and concluded, "It's not an awful movie, after all...just a decidedly lackluster one."