Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Monster Squad

Today’s entry is an odd one of sorts—not because of the film itself but because of my discovery of it—and the reason for its oddity is that I hadn’t heard of it until maybe a few years ago.  But I’m glad I’d come across this film as it falls under the luck I’ve had with finding retro movies that I happen to encounter and end up appreciating.  I actually love it when I decide to finally see a film that I’ve heard good things about and end up praising it myself.  Such is the case with 1987’s The Monster Squad, written and directed by Fred Dekker and co-written by Shane Black.

In the last few years, I must’ve heard people talk about this film incessantly, quoting certain scenes and claiming how much of a classic it was.  But I was lost in the conversation, not knowing what they were talking about and just thinking it must be a bad movie for me not to have heard about it.  One of the reasons it was probably discussed lately was that the film celebrated its 25th anniversary back in 2012.  However, that bit of discovery didn’t do much to help me remember this film and I realized this was yet another film that had escaped my radar in the 80s.

Well, it didn’t take much for me to place the disc on my Netflix queue and wait for it to arrive in my mailbox a meager two days later.  Shortly after pressing “play” on my remote, I was into this movie and silently scolded myself for never hearing of it.

Let me give you a short synopsis of the film.

Sean (Andre Gower) and his friends—Patrick (Robby Kiger), Horace (Brent Chalem), and Eugene
(Michael Faustino)—are into the classic monsters of horror films, forming a club to talk about them in and out of school.  When Dracula (Duncan Regehr)—along with The Wolf Man (Carl Thibault), The Gill Man (Tom Woodruff, Jr.), The Mummy (Michael MacKay), and Frankenstein’s Monster (Tom Noonan)—arrive in the kids’ small town, Sean and his friends—along with local cool kid, Rudy (Ryan Lambert), and Sean’s little sister, Phoebe (Ashley Bank)—jump into action to stop Dracula’s plans.

First off, being a big Universal Studios fan, I love the inclusion of the classic monsters in this movie.  I’m amazed how this film was able to get the rights or permission to feature these characters, being thatThe Monster Squad was not a Universal joint but a TriStar Pictures film.  I’ve heard a few anecdotes about how Universal allowed the famous monsters to be in the movie as long as their appearances are altered and not to look exactly like the originals.  Whatever the case, this movie is great just for the fact that the famous characters are in it.

As for the framework of the film, most people will notice right away that the whole structure is worked in the same basis of The Goonies.  The arrangement of having a group of preteens forming a group or club to have adventures usually works if done right.  Not only has The Goonies been successful with this concept, but also Stand By MeE.T., even 2011’s Super 8.  There’s something about a film that puts the adults in the background with the kids as the main protagonists that just succeeds perfectly…when done right.  With those movies, and especially The Monster Squad, one can feel like a kid again when watching this film.

I’d call this a family film, but the film does boast a few bad words and at one point refers to a (wolf) man’s testicles.  But if you’re okay with that and want to introduce your children to a mild horror film that familiarizes these classic monsters while having fun with it, then The Monster Squad is a perfect starter.

Like I’d mentioned, in order for this film to have these monsters in the film, their appearances had to be modified.  Whether that’s true or not, the famous monsters look a bit different and are not exactly how you’d remembered them.  Dracula is more or less what Universal gave us back in the 30s with the notorious vampire dressed in black and sporting a cape, but the Transylvanian accent is not present.  The Gill-Man whom we all know from the Creature From the Black Lagoon film looks a bit more streamlined in its design and not as clunky as its 1954 predecessor.  The Mummy looks like the traditional monster we’ve seen over the years after the original Boris Karloff model where we just see someone wrapped in bandages.  Probably the most different in appearance is Frankenstein’s Monster as the character’s design accentuated the actor playing the creature rather than trying to duplicate the famous Karloff look.  Finally, the Wolfman’s design is a bit special as, with all of the monster designs, the late Stan Winston created it.  But the thing about the Wolfman in this film, and you’ll notice when watching this movie, Winston based the facial features on his own.

Not only did Fred Dekker direct this cult classic well, but it really helped that he had the writing assistance of Shane Black.  If you go back into Black’s résumé of writing credits, you’ll see that he’s had a hand in some good action films over the years.  He’s responsible for theLethal Weapon series and, most recently, wrote and directed Iron Man 3.  Also, he’s probably best remembered as the geeky soldier, Hawkins, in Predator.  But Black really penned a memorable film with The Monster Squad that should go down as a classic in the family horror film genre.

Yes, Dekker should be praised for his efforts in The Monster Squad.  For me to be able to pick up this 25-year-old movie and enjoy it as much as I had, that shows how timeless he’d made it.  So many times I decide to watch a film from the 80s that I’d missed when first released, only to laugh at it or just flat out hate it.  It’s funny, though, because Fred Dekker has only directed four films in his career, two of which I’m featuring this month.  Maybe it’s his choice, but I would’ve thought he’d have a pretty lucrative career by now with a lot more directing gigs under his belt.  One thing, after watching The Monster Squad, he definitely has a way with directing the children in this movie which sort of has a Steven Spielberg vibe to it.  He made this fun for me and I’m sure anyone, of any age, will enjoy this.

One last thing…if there’s anything that tells you that this is an 80s movie, it’s the music by Michael Sembello during a montage and the end credits.  You may recognize his name as Sembello had a hit in the 80s with “Maniac” from the Flashdance film.  But the song featured in this movie, “Rock Until You Drop,” is so 80s, you’ll most certainly take a mental trip back to those days (if you’re from my generation) and it’ll definitely make you smile. 

My final “bit” on The Monster Squad?

If you love movies like The Goonies,Little Monsters, or Super 8, you’ll love The Monster Squad.  It’s fun, adventurous, and safe for the whole family (I’d have no qualms about showing this to a younger audience).  If you want to see an exciting horror movie without any gore or excessive violence, this film shouldn’t be missed…especially during this Halloween season.

Thanks for reading a Happy Halloween!

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