The Scoop: 1987 PG-13, directed by Fred Dekker and starring Andre Gower, Robby Kiger, and Stephen Macht
Tagline: Call them for a monster-ous good time.
Summary Capsule: The Goonies’ cousins from two towns over fight monsters instead of criminals
Drew’s Rating: I’m sorry, but there is no “r” in “nads”…
Drew’s Review: I’m not proud to admit it, but in my childhood I was what you might charitably refer to as “a total wuss.” Nowadays, of course, I’m all grown up and appropriately desensitized to heads being lopped off right, left, and center; but back then, forget it… while Kyle’s precocious ass was soaking up Friday the 13th marathons with gleeful abandon, my idea of sating my bloodlust was a double feature of Ghostbusters and Gremlins 2. Likewise, I remember turning my head away from the Nazis’ faces melting in Raiders, and a friend’s birthday party attendance of Die Hard 2 saw me focusing on the seatback in front of me with laser intensity for two hours. (An example, I still maintain, of incredibly shoddy parenting on his mom’s part… we were like what, 10?)
So as you can imagine, my tastes in Halloween movies leaned more towards the comedy-horrors than straight-up slasher flicks. Enter: The Monster Squad. How I stumbled onto this little gem is forever lost in the mists of time, but it doesn’t matter — what’s important is that as a kid, this was one of the very few movies I found scary enough to be worth watching for genuine thrills, but funny enough that I wasn’t diving behind pillows like Lissa at a shark movie. But while I loved this film in my youth, as a low-budget deal with an almost nonexistent theatrical run, you can imagine that copies are not exactly three for five dollars on every street corner nowadays. So when an opportunity to lay my hands on a copy recently presented itself, I jumped at the chance and settled in for my first viewing in probably a decade… excited, yet fearful that nostalgia would once again make a fool of my raised expectations. And what I discovered is that Thomas Wolfe doesn’t know what he’s talking about — you CAN go home again, and while it may be just a bit smaller and less glamorous than you remember, it’s still great to be there.
Plot-wise, let me put it this way — there’s very little you can’t guess just from hearing the words “monsters,” “kids,” and “amulet.” Basically, an ancient McGuffin with the power to either grant immortality to evil creatures or banish them to limbo (handy) is traced by Dracula to a decaying mansion in Anytown, USA. Gathering together the collected forces of darkness — played in tonight’s performance by the Universal movie monsters, let’s give them a big hand — the good Count prepares to rock the casbah, but has reckoned without the discovery of his old enemy Abraham van Helsing’s diary by local monster-obsessed schoolkids. Piecing together the mystery, the Scooby gang now must race against time to recover the amulet and perform some hasty hocus pocus before Drac ‘n the boys can put the permanent monster mash on the world. And since it’s an 80’s movie, there’s probably a montage and some hideous clothing in there somewhere too.
Okay, so let’s not dance around the issue — there’s very little that’s particularly original about the film. It’s The Goonies meets Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, but with lower production values. That said, I totally couldn’t care less… this is a movie that wears its cult status proudly, from a low budget to cheesy, overdone cliches. And in fact, a big part of the Squad’s appeal stems from exactly that element — while most films have stereotypes up the wazoo and just hope you won’t notice, this one alternately defies those stereotypes and owns them. Every 80’s movie you’ve ever seen with a plucky group of youngsters includes the fat kid, but how many actually name him “Fat Kid”? Likewise, they all feature the slutty older sister of one of the main characters, but how many have her non-virgin status be an important plot point? Or don’t even bother giving her a name, even in the credits? But on the other hand, we also get the sunglasses-and-leather-jacket-wearing cool kid who smokes but has a heart of gold, and what’s his name? Slash? Jason? Max Power? Nope… Rudy. Rudy, who rides a BMX instead of a motorcycle. Truthfully, I have no idea how much of this is tongue-in-cheek and how much was intended to be taken seriously, I just know it’s freakin’ hilarious.
The other thing to love about Squad is that it’s very much a relic of a bygone era — this film could absolutely never be made today. A kids’ movie that’s genuinely scary and a bit gory in places, plus has healthy doses of profanity, smoking, and bad role models? Well that’s just not very PC now, is it? These days, Fat Kid would have to be renamed “Horizontally-Challenged, Chronologically-Impaired Individual.” Also, you think you could get away with having a kid wield a shotgun or chuck dynamite around in a modern-day movie? Yeah, good luck with that. And sure, you can argue that our parents’ blasé attitude toward what we watched back then has led to a generation of desensitized, emotionally stunted individuals with no understanding of concepts like basic human respect and peaceful coexistence, but shut up or I’ll kill you.
Frankly, I’m actually kind of surprised at how well the movie holds up, all things considered. It’s not Shakespeare, but the adult actors all play their parts straight rather than phoning it in and seem to be enjoying themselves. In particular, the guy playing Dracula (Duncan Regehr) is quite good, for my money way better than certain other interpretations of the character (*coughVanHelsingcough*)… sure, he’s melodramatic as hell, but then, so was Dracula. And for the budget they were working with, the costumes and special effects are impressive — that’s a pretty convincing werewolf transformation. Yeah, the amulet reeks of plot device, no question; but even so, I’m impressed that even things I had assumed they’d just have glossed over — like how it got from Transylvania to America — are actually given a brief but straightforward explanation, contrary to my memories.
There are things to quibble about with this movie, yes. (For instance, the Mummy and Gillman both come across as completely nonthreatening… you get the sense they walked in on Dracula planning this caper and he had to invite them.) There are some truly dreadful lines mixed in with the good ones (“band-aid breath”?), and there are elements that will appeal to aging Children of the 80’s but few others, like the fashions and lingo. These things are all true. I don’t care, and if you’re any kind of a cult movie fan, you probably won’t either. The final word is that The Monster Squad really nails that Evil Dead 2-esque combination of horror and comedy, something that’s no easy task in itself, but also serves it up in a more kid-friendly package that’s reminiscent of every 80’s movie you can remember. I strongly advise you to take whatever steps are necessary to watch it, if for no other reason than to see the Wolfman learn what the capital of Thailand is.
Man, I just hope he didn’t want puppies someday…
- Is it standard practice to drop stowaways out the cargo bay of planes just because they smack you? What if they’re not all vampires?
- Drac’s been taking lessons from Yoda on getting things out of the water!
- Right after Frankenstein’s Monster is revived, check out Gillman gettin’ jiggy wit’ it.
- “Van Halen diary.” Heh.
- Ah, the classic Dracula/Alucard reversal. They’ll never figure that one out!
- The My Pet Monster on Eugene’s dresser is a nice touch.
- Wait, how DOES that dog get up there?
- Everyone else is making plans and weapons to use against the monsters, and Patrick makes… business cards? Who let that kid in?
- His name… is Horace!
- The town square is the same one used in Back to the Future.
- In the film, Sean and Rudy discuss that the creature’s name is Frankenstein’s Monster, not Frankenstein… and then he’s listed as Frankenstein in the credits. What the monkey?
- Like Van Helsing, this film makes use of most of the classic Universal movie monsters, with the exception of the Bride of Frankenstein. To avoid copyright infringement, the Creature from the Black Lagoon is renamed “Gillman” and given a slightly different design.
- Rudy is only shown killing 2 of the 3 brides of Dracula; when asked, director Fred Dekker claims he just got lazy and cheated, assuming people would know the third had been killed too. He likens it to what the film’s editor said about the dog constantly changing positions while Sean’s looking for a trap door in the mansion: “If the audience is watching the dog while the kids are about to be killed by monsters, we’re in big trouble.”
- Sadly, Brent Chalem (Horace) passed away from pneumonia in 1997. Rest in peace, Fat Kid.
- Is It Worth Staying Through End Credits? Well how else are you going to learn all the words to the Monster Squad theme song? (But, uh, no. No.)
Patrick: Wait, I just wanna say one thing. I mean, Mrs. Carlson’s a nice teacher and all, but she’s boring and has an odd-shaped head. That’s why Sean and the guys call her Meow Mix, ’cause her head’s shaped like a cat head. But I don’t, sir, ’cause how rude.
Sean: Look, Wolfman doesn’t go to work, he’s not like a guy!
Patrick: What are you talkin’ about, he walks around, he wears pants.
Sean: He had to wear pants, those movies were made in the 40′s! He had to wear ‘em so you wouldn’t see his… wolf-dork.
Phoebe: Mom says you have to let me in the club or else it’s prescription!
Sean: That’s discrimination, jerkoid! Prescription’s drugs, which is what you’re on if you think you’re getting up here.
Fat Kid: Scary German Guy’s bitchin’!
Dracula [to human werewolf]: Well, I’ll ah, go have a bite while you change into something more… comfortable.
Eugene: Creature stole my twinkie!
Rudy: Look, what your brother is so delicately attempting to inquire, and let me add my own personal curiosity, is the degree to which you may have, or have not, at some point in time… been dorked.
Sean: Kick him in the nards! Kick him in the nards!
Fat Kid: He doesn’t have nards!
Sean: Do it, do it!
Fat Kid [awed]: Wolfman’s got nards!
Patrick: We just went through some major [crap], where’s limbo?!
Scary German Guy: Are you absolutely sure that she is a-
Patrick: You’re not a virgin, are you? No? No, what do you mean, no?
Sister: Well, Steve, but he doesn’t count!
Patrick: Doesn’t COUNT?!?
E.J.: Hey, Fat Kid – good job!
Fat Kid: My name… is Horace!
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