The Monster Squad (1987)

27 Jan

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

One of my favorite movies from my childhood was “The Monster Squad,” a 1987 horror-comedy/kid-adventure with a neat premise—think of the original Movie Monsters vs. the Little Rascals, and you have “The Monster Squad.”

I loved watching this movie when I was a kid. It was entertaining, had a neat story idea that came through, and couldn’t find a single flaw. Watching it now, I notice differences between the movie I loved as a kid and the movie I’m watching now. But I still enjoyed the movie. It’s not the classic I remember, but it’s still an entertaining watch.

The Monster Squad in the title are a group of savvy middle-school outcasts who form their own club in a treehouse, where they talk mainly about their favorite subject—monsters. They draw pictures of “spider with human head” in science class, have discussions of whether or not Wolfman can drive a car, and in initiating a new member, they ask questions like how to kill a vampire and “What’s the second way to kill a werewolf?”

But meanwhile, Count Dracula (Duncan Regehr) is alive and plans to rule the world. To his aid are a wolf-man, a two-thousand-year-old mummy that just gets up and walks away from a museum, and a Gillman who…is just there. There’s a lot of story to go with this plan, but I’ll try and explain. But don’t ask how all of these Movie Monsters got associated with it because it’s never really explained. That’s not the main concern and besides, who cares anyway? They’re all here. It’s movie magic.

Anyway, there’s a magical ancient amulet that maintains some sort of balance between good and evil in the world, which can shift if the amulet is destroyed. It’s indestructible, but every one hundred years, the amulet can become vulnerable until a young virgin can read a magic spell that will maintain the amulet’s power and the balance between good and evil. Dracula hopes to find the amulet and destroy it so he can rule the world.

OK…I don’t quite get it either. I didn’t think about it too much when I was a kid, but I can’t ignore it anymore. This story is much more complicated than any other with a magical element. The amulet is simply there as a McGuffin—a story catalyst to get the story where it needs to be.

Anyway, the monster club finds out about the appearance of Dracula in their hometown, and following an old diary with sinister information, they find out what’s going on and set out to find the amulet and fight the monsters, thus the appointed name the Monster Squad.

Maybe the kids in this movie are not the Little Rascals, as I metaphorically described—even though these kids hang out in a clubhouse and have a cute little dog with them, they are also slightly older than the Rascals, are modernized for their time, and cuss because they think it’s cool.

Actually, the kids’ constant swearing, and some occasions of intense violence, is the reason this movie was granted a PG-13 rating. Because of this, audiences didn’t know why they should see this movie—a lot of people thought it would be too scary for kids, while others thought the exact opposite; thinking this was a kids’ film. Therefore, the film did very poorly at the box office. But it did gain a strong cult following by people who discovered it on TV and practically demanded a 20-year anniversary special edition DVD, which they got.

What makes this film so special? Well, for all the “80s cheese” movies that people hold in regard, “The Monster Squad” does have a great deal of production value. Director Fred Dekker and his crew used every ounce of their budget to give the movie an epic feel. You can tell right away in a well-crafted opening sequence set in the 1800s, when Abraham Van Helsing (yes, the scientist from “Dracula”) and his band of freedom fighters storm Dracula’s castle to kill monsters. The interior-castle set is incredible, as it incredibly resembles Dracula’s castle in the original 1931 “Dracula” film. And the creature effects—skeletons that come to life and grab people—are legitimately frightening.

You could argue that this opening sequence is better than the movie itself, but let’s just keep going.

The special effects are quite good, particularly the creature makeup on creatures like Frankenstein’s Monster and the Gillman. Although, the Wolfman isn’t as successful—there are times when you can tell the actor is wearing an obvious mask. (But the wolf-paws look realistic.)

Everyone remembers three particular members of the Monster Squad—the leader Sean (Andre Gower) for his wits and bravery, rebel Rudy (Ryan Lambert) for his bad-boy style and the lion’s share of the monster slaying, and Horace (a.k.a. Fat Kid—well, at least he’s supposed to be a stereotype) for not only playing a stereotypical fat kid (I mean, why else would he carry around a slice of pizza if he wasn’t use its garlic to burn Dracula’s face?), but also for delivering the film’s infamous line after kicking Wolfman in his personal area—his reaction in shocking bewilderment, “Wolfman’s got nards!”

The climax of the movie—in which the kids and monsters battle each other at the town square—is pretty exciting, with one showdown after another without getting boring. How can you not love the part where Horace kills the Gillman with a shotgun?

Duncan Regehr has fun with the role of Dracula, and there’s also Tom Noonan as Frankenstein’s Monster. Dracula brings “Frank” back to life and orders him to find the kids and kill them. But the Monster instead turns on Dracula and winds up befriending the Squad, particularly Sean’s innocent, cute little sister Phoebe (Ashley Bank).

So what about “The Monster Squad” doesn’t hold up very well for me? For starters, the story is all over the place and is a little too much for a film that runs about 82 minutes. In fact, parts of the movie just seem rushed at times. We don’t get enough of this likable Frankenstein character (though he does have an awesome final moment) and the subplot involving Sean’s bickering parents (Stephen Macht and Mary Ellen Trainor) is overlooked once the monsters appear. Oh, and there’s also a recluse simply known as Scary German Guy (Leonardo Cimino) who, in one shot, shows an interesting background that we’d like to get to know about, but no.

Actually, that’s a problem with “The Monster Squad”—for a movie with a short running time as this, it’s pretty overstuffed. Additional stuff with Sean’s police officer father and his comedic partner (Stan Shaw), the human form of the wolf-man (Jonathan Gries, simply credited as “Desperate Man”), and the school bullies (Jason Hervey and Adam Carl) are glanced over and then forgotten without much of a payoff, with the possible exception of the bullies who witness Horace killing the Gillman and respect him for it.

Also, there are quite a few nonsensical moments. For example, when Sean reads a message from someone named “Alucard,” how does he automatically know that the name is an anagram for Dracula? And there’s a scene in which the Squad’s youngest boy—Eugene (Michael Faustino)—tells his father that the Mummy is in his bedroom closet, which he certainly is. Why in the world is the Mummy in a little boy’s closet?

And while Sean, Rudy, and Horace are all entertaining while portraying their stereotypes, the other members of the Squad aren’t as much. One of them—Patrick (Robby Kiger)—is simply on hand so he can have a sexy sister that likes to undress in front of a window that the boys can see with their zoom-lens camera from their treehouse. Oh, and he makes calling cards with just “MONSTER SQUAD” printed on them—no number, address, or anything. Who let this kid in? I can also ask the same about Eugene. Eugene is in this monster club and yet he closes his eyes whenever he gets scared. He doesn’t even do anything in the actual battle except scream and close his eyes at crucial points. (Oh, and he complains constantly, “Mummy came in my house.”) His cute beagle Pete is pointless as well.

I mentioned “80s cheese” before. That’s how you can explain other parts of the movie, like the central montage of the kids getting ready for battle while a cheesy 80s rock song by Michael Sembello plays. Actually, this montage is kind of fun—it shows how the kids are able to get their hands on wooden stakes and also create silver bullets. And the song isn’t that bad either. But there’s another song by Sembello that is just terrible—it’s a rap song (that’s right—a rap song) called “Monster Squad.” It’s one of the cheesiest things you’ll ever come across.

Did I leave anything out? Boy, I hope not, because this review is getting pretty long.

The bottom line is that, despite its flaws, “The Monster Squad” is still as entertaining as I remember it. The filmmaking is nice, there are a good dose of amusing moments, the monsters are entertaining, the kids are likable, and the final battle is quite fun. And yes, Horace, Wolfman still has nards.

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