August 29, 2017 The Monster Squad – A Monsterously Good Time 30 Years Later
“One hundred years before this story begins… it was a time of darkness in Transylvania… A time when Dr. Abraham Van Helsing… and a small band of freedom fighters… conspired to rid the world of vampires and monsters… and to save mankind from the forces of eternal evil… They blew it.” This opening text graced the silver-screen on August 14th in 1987 in Horror Comedy classic The Monster Squad.
Co-written by Shane Black and Fred Dekker, even though Dekker was rejected from two film schools, he put out what became an ’80s cult classic in 1986 with Night of the Creeps. This in mind, the talented director seemed to follow the same framework afterwards when he followed up a year later with The Monster Squad. While Night of the Creeps was a great film, in many fans’ eyes, Dekker outdid himself with The Monster Squad. In fact, he almost emphatically admits that the two films are similar aesthetically in the scenes where Detective Del Crenshaw (played by Stephen Macht in The Monster Squad) and Ray Cameron (played by Tom Atkins in Night of the Creeps) both share nearly identical dialogue. Both characters state: “The problem is 2,000 year-old dead guys don’t get up and walk by themselves.” An interesting tidbit, The Monster Squad is a film well-worth dissecting further as it turns 30 years old.
Essentially, The Monster Squad was The Goonies meets The Universal Monsters. As far as The Monster Squad and The Goonies, both films feature two groups of uniquely different kids going on epic quests to save their small towns from destruction; only to learn some very important life lessons along the way. The Monster Squad follows a tree-house club that consists of Sean (Andre Gower: Sweet Deadly Dreams 2006, Changeover 2016), Patrick (Robby Kiger: Children of the Corn 1984, Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael 1990), Rudy (Ryan Lambert: Kids Incorporated series, An Elder Man 2017 short), Phoebe (Ashley Bank: Cagney & Lacey series, Paranormal, Burbank series), Horace (Brent Chalem: Small Wonder series, Quantum Leap series), and Eugene (Michael Faustino: Blank Check 1994, Married with Children series). Different from other clubs, these kids are deeply immersed and knowledgeable in the world of horror. While it is certainly not unnatural for kids to love monsters and comic books, what this group does not realize is that their shared love for horror will ultimately be vital to their survival.
Dracula (Duncan Regehr: Zorro series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine series) and other memorable figures from the Horror genre – such as The Mummy (Michael Mackay: Sleepwalkers 1992, Insidious: Chapter 3 2015), Gill-Man (Tim Woodruff Jr: Pumpkinhead 1988, Race to Witch Mountain 2009), and The Wolfman (Carl Thibault: Waxwork 1988, One Foot in the Grave 1998) – invade Baton Rouge, Louisiana, trying to locate an amulet that is crucial to their dark plans to wreak havoc and disaster within their wake. When the kids find out and try to alert the town, no one believes them and they try to stop them on their own with typical criminal law tactics. Try as they might, they soon realize that no modern methods will work against these terrifying Horror villains. With the help of the gentle-giant Frankenstein (Tom Noonan: Manhunter 1986, 12 Monkeys series) and Scary German Guy (Leonardo Cimino: Amityville II: The Possession 1982, Waterworld 1995), they take matters into their own hands and attempt to the save the world as The Monster Squad!
A fun time at the movies, The Monster Squad was not initially the best-received film at box office. Truth be told, it only spent two weeks in theaters and was largely ignored by critics. Nonetheless, it gained a cult-like following through the years, thanks largely to home video rental and curiosity among children and teenagers alike. Why? Well, while only being rated PG-13, The Monster Squad had a hell of a lot of adult content: from the language the kids used, to the talk of finding a virgin to open the portal to send the monsters into limbo, to some of the situations they are in. No one needed to know what a virgin was – not the characters in the film or the kids watching – it still worked and the result was funny as hell.
The bottom line, The Monster Squad built a massive following over the decades, one that had people memorizing lines from the film and reciting them years later. Then, in 2006, in an early celebration of the film’s 20th anniversary, a screening at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas took place on two special nights and sold-out almost instantaneously. Realizing the impact of the film, a remake has been discussed since 2008, but reports say original Producer Rob Cohen wanted no part in directing the remake of the film. Two years later, in 2010, plans resumed to begin the process of remaking the film with Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes signing to produce the film with Cohen alongside Mark and Brian Gunn writing the screenplay. For better or worse, in 2014, Platinum Dunes announced that the film was no longer happening, and everything surrounding the potential remake went cold.
Remake or not, the original film was memorable for many reasons. Aside from what many considered to be “corny” appearances of the monster characters, Dekker did a lot of things surprisingly well that made this film so special. The special effects, makeup, and costuming were well done for the time considering everything they went through to make the characters creatively different from its Horror counterparts. While the movie was meant to pay homage to some of Universal’s greatest Horror icons, Universal did not want anything to do with the film until Tristar agreed to produce the film.
Furthermore, while the acting was not great among ace Hollywood standards, the humor was well-done and the cast of kids were actually well thought-out with some pretty amazing acting considering their ages. Dracula (Regehr) and Frankenstein (Noonan) stood in character the whole time, even when they were not filming, so that the kids would not become adjusted to their actual human forms. Even when it came to casting for The Mummy, they actually placed an ad for a “skinny anorexic” man in which Mackay had auditioned and was cast to play the part. These educated decisions made the performances in front of the kid actors appear that much more believable to the audience. As far as writing and humor, the film comes across as campy and very tongue-in-cheek, but in all the ways in which films like The Evil Dead series were so well remembered for.
Beyond the humor, it was also poignant because it goes beyond what mere childish minds could comprehend at the time. There is so much inside the meaning of this film that people only come to realize as adults. For these reasons, it is very metaphorical but also simplistic in its delivery, similar to the formula of classic Disney films. Audiences could enjoy these films as children but as they approach adulthood, become more appreciative of the weighty, complex themes portrayed. This is heavily apparent dealing with innocence and how monsters in stories can transgress into what makes a monster in reality.
For example, viewers get a glimpse of this with Scary German Guy’s character persona. Though his name precedes him being the monster, the number tattoo on his wrist proves otherwise. With just a quick pan down to his wrist and very simplistic dialogue in which Horace exclaims, “Man, you sure know a lot about monsters,” with Scary German Guy responding with “Now that you mention it, I suppose I do.” What does this mean? Well, Scary German Guy knows real monsters: the metaphor here linking a fictional character with the Holocaust and the true monster Adolf Hitler himself. Such a heavy metaphor might have slipped the mind of many at a child’s level, but it becomes more apparent as they begin to learn about the real world and the horrors that have taken place in it.
There is also the running metaphor of innocence and how fear cannot touch those that are unaware of its existence. Such is true for the friendship that exists between Phoebe and Frankenstein that, under normal circumstances, would not exist; she has no prejudice and is able to befriend him no matter how terrifying or different he may look to others. Though simplistic in its delivery, it is a very beautiful and poignant message of love and understanding that goes beyond the concept of looks and vanity. Instead, it is a friendship that is built on the concept of one’s ability to love beyond another’s outer appearance and to appreciate inner character.
Simply put, this movie is a beloved Horror Comedy with an amazing story, nodding to Horror myths and lore of the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, while appealing to the child in everyone. That is why everyone still wants to join The Monster Squad 30 years later!