I can’t recall whether I saw The Monster Squad (1987) in the theater, but something makes me think I did. Even as a kid I thought of it then as a sort of store brand Goonies, albeit a very fun, entertaining, and surprisingly violent one. Except for the infamous “Wolf Man’s got nards” line, I more or less forgot about the film until I saw it in 2004 while visiting a friend (thanks, Scott—always the classy host!).
The Monster Squad is basically a kid’s horror film featuring what are traditionally thought of as the Universal Monsters: Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolfman, the Mummy, and the Gillman (a.k.a. the Creature from the Black Lagoon). However, unlike other monster mashes like the recent Van Helsing, The Monster Squad wasn’t a Universal film; Universal only owns the trademarks to the character names (meaning you can’t call your movie just “Dracula”). In the case of Dracula and the Monster, the novels are long out of copyright; while the Mummy, the Wolfman and the Gillman are just generic monsters (though I do think they’re on shaky ground with the Gillman, given how much he resembles the Black Lagoon creature).
The Monster Squad is one of the few cult films I like that’s still a cult film. It’s not even out on DVD yet. Eventually some executive will figure out that it has something of a following, then there will be a big special edition DVD Director’s Cut, a big-budget remake, an action figure line and t-shirts saying “Wolfman’s Got Nards.” If those don’t already exist. If they don’t, someone please make one on CafePress and send it to me for my birthday. It’s December 29th.
Despite its reputation, The Monster Squad has a decent pedigree. The screenplay was written by Shane Black, who had a string of successes in the 1980s as the writer of the first two Lethal Weapon films and The Last Boy Scout, as well as appearing as one of the soldiers in Predator, before his career tanked with Last Action Hero. (Black has recently resurfaced with the indie film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang featuring upcoming Iron Man star Robert Downey Jr.) Squad was directed by Fred Dekker, whose Night of the Creeps is another cult classic not available on DVD.
The film opens with a battle in Transylvania between Dracula (Duncan Regehr) and Van Helsing (Jack Gwillim), who are fighting over a mystical amulet. In a surprisingly good special effect, the amulet opens a portal to Hell or something and everyone vanishes. Cut to contemporary small-town America, where young Sean Crenshaw (Andre Gower) and his friends, including Horace, a.k.a. Fat Kid (the late Brent Chalem), spend more time on their monster club than their schoolwork. One of the less interesting monsters in their lives is E.J. (Jason Hervey), a bully who quickly gets his comeuppance by the leather-clad Rudy (Ryan Lambert), in what has to be one of the last roles in a mainstream American film where a minor smokes openly.
Meanwhile, Dracula shows up in town, looking for the amulet, which has someone wended its way to America. He enlists the aid of the Mummy (Michael Reid MacKay), the Wolfman (Carl Thibault), the Gillman (Tom Woodruff Jr.) and Frankenstein’s monster (veteran actor Tom Noonan). But neither the Monster nor the Wolf Man (when in human form) seem particularly inclined to help Drac, and when the Monster Squad discovers the Monster, they become fast friends. With the aid of Scary German Guy (Leonardo Cimino; see above), the Squad prepares to do battle with the monsters.
The film was largely dismissed upon its release and has been more or less ignored since except by its fans. But there’s a surprising amount of entertainment here. As one of my friends pointed out to me, much of the story and gags are lifted from Abott and Costello Meet… movies, but presented to an audience that almost certainly has never seen them before. What I like even more about the film, though, is its legendary un-PC attitude.
If ever a film deserved the then-new PG-13 rating, Monster Squad is it. Forget Goonies and its statue-penis joke. Squad features the aforementioned teenaged smoking as well as said teen making silver bullets in shop class; parents who argue with brutal realism in front of their children; much discussion of a teenaged girl’s virginity (or lack thereof); a father who watches a slasher flick with his ten-year-old son; a wolfman who gets blown to bloody chunks by a stick of dynamite; a ten-year-old kid wielding a shotgun; a cop who screams in terror before getting blown up in a car; a Dracula who threatens a five-year-old girl and calls her a “bitch”; and the same five-year-old girl saying “chickenshit.”
None of this, however, is particularly mean-spirited or even that irresponsible; irreverent is probably the best word for it. You just couldn’t make a kid’s movie like this anymore—hell, this movie would probably get an R rating now. The portrayal of the ten-year-old’s world is refreshingly realistic, even more than Goonies, without being cynical. And it’s got some great one-liners, many of which, upon my recent viewing, I realized I’d remembered ever since (such as when Drac blows up the Squad’s treehouse, coldly uttering “Meeting adjourned” as he walks away). Also, the monster effects are quite well done—not surprising since they were designed by Stan Winston and his studio.
I spent some hard-earned cash on a bootleg Monster Squad DVD, which is about as much of a recommendation as I can give a movie like this. It’s a very entertaining monster film as well as a good children’s movie. I’d probably wait to show it to my (currently nonexistent) kids until I was sure they were ready to handle the violence, and I’d definitely give them a long talk about smoking. But as Halloween treats go, this is one of my favorites.