Review: The Monster Squad (1987)

 "Call them for a monster-ous good time."

“Call them for a monster-ous good time.”

THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987)
Rated PG-13 / Color / 82 minutes
Directed by Fred Dekker
Also Known As: Monster Busters
Purchase it at: Amazon.com (DVD) | Amazon.com (Blu-ray)

The battle between good and evil has been an integral part of humanity’s storytelling since time immemorial. Typically, good always triumphs (though the bad guys are more stylish and seem to be having way more fun), but what happens when the forces of good totally botch things and allow evildoers to escape and fight another day? That’s exactly what sets the stage for Fred Dekker’s cult classic, THE MONSTER SQUAD.

The film opens with the invasion of Dracula’s castle by Abraham Van Helsing and his band of freedom fighters. Armed with guns, stakes, and explosives, they intend to end the vampire’s reign forever. Utilizing a magical amulet, Van Helsing and friends hope to open a portal into purgatory and trap their ancient foe in limbo for all eternity.

They manage to complete the ritual, but Van Helsing fails to nab his undead arch-nemesis, and ends up getting sucked into limbo himself! (DOH!)A hundred years later, Dracula has returned to seek out the amulet and destroy it. Doing so will tip the scales and allow the creatures of the night to rise up and conquer the world, resulting in a neverending age of darkness!

But who can stand before the Dark Prince and his monstrous minions? Surely not modern day adults, for they all have closed minds and are too caught up in the daily rat races to notice a supernatural invasion. Instead, humanity’s salvation rests on the shoulders of “The Monster Squad,” a group of kids that obsess over monster movies!

Hard to believe that in just a few short years, they'll be obsessing over boobs instead.

Hard to believe that in just a few short years, they’ll be obsessing over boobs instead.

Led by Sean Crenshaw (Andre Gower), the team consists of Horace (a.k.a. “Fat Kid,” played by the late Brent Chalem), Eugene (Michael Faustino, a.k.a. Bud Bundy’s little brother!), Patrick (Robby Kiger), Rudy (teen heartthrob Ryan Lambert), and Phoebe (the adorable Ashley Bank). Aided by a Holocaust survivor they call “Scary German Guy” (Leonardo Cimino in his most memorable role), the kids prepare for battle against Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy, and Gillman, in an attempt to pull off what Van Helsing blundered a century earlier.

Backed up by a Michael Sembello-scored montage (CLICK HERE to “Rock Until You Drop!”), Sean’s police-dad Del (Stephen Macht), and the Frankenstein Monster (Tom Noonan), these kids might just pull off a big win for the good guys! THE MONSTER SQUAD is a very special movie to me. Growing up, it was one of the main flicks my parents would allow me to rent weekly from the local mom & pop video store. (R.I.P. – Electric City Video) I just couldn’t get enough of it, and honestly I still can’t!

The film was written and directed by Fred Dekker (NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, ROBOCOP 3), a rather imaginative filmmaker who I feel never got the respect and adulation he deserved. Fred crafted a fun adventure film here that treats the classic Universal Monsters with respect, and delivers believable preteen characters.

Writing dialogue for children is tough, but Dekker’s fellow screenwriter Shane Black (PREDATOR, IRON MAN 3) helped craft some fun one-liners for all of the kids. The end result is a smart script that delivers likable characters that all interact extremely well. In particular, I absolutely love one of the early conversations between Sean and his buddy Patrick about the classic Wolfman.

It’s funny, honest, and leads to a subtle joke later in the film:

Sean: “Look, Wolf Man doesn’t go to work. He’s not like a guy!”

Patrick: “What are you talking about? He walks around, he wears pants.”

Sean: “He had to wear pants! Those movies were made in the 40s! He had to wear ’em so you wouldn’t see his… wolf dork!”

Patrick: “Wolf-dork?!”

The Wolf Man calls his agent to make sure that that "pants rule" from the 40s still applies.

The Wolf Man calls his agent to see if the “pants rule” from the ’40s still applies.

So what’s the joke? Well, throughout the movie, the Wolf Man is wearing pants and a tattered shirt, even after being blown up with dynamite! This is also doubly funny because this failed attempt at werewolf destruction is foreshadowed during an argument about the ways to kill a lycanthrope. (Second way to kill a werewolf other than a silver bullet? Well… “Car crash? Accident with power tools? Old age?! Falling out a window… onto a bomb!”)

Speaking of the film’s antagonists, Dracula and his gang of monsters are thankfully not played for laughs. They aren’t cute and cuddly in the least, which is a major plus. Sometimes kid-oriented horror flicks try to tone things down, but not here! Dracula is truly a sinister villain, that wantonly kills cops and viciously threatens children. Duncan Regehr is a brilliant Count Dracula and exudes an air of charm, disdain, and menace whenever he’s on the screen.

The other monsters in the film, while impressive to behold (thanks be to the legendary Stan Winston) prove to be a much smaller threat. Aside from the Wolf Man, the remaining creatures pretty much just slink around in the shadows until called upon to wreak havoc by Dracula. And when they finally do attack, their screen time is cut short by the film’s young heroes. (Because monster movie knowledge is power!) Although you’ll cheer when these kids succeed, you almost feel a bit cheated as each monster comes to a swift, and violent end.

Then there’s Frankenstein’s Monster (played by Tom Noonan), a lovable lunk with all the innocence of a child. Though he’s sent to kill those meddling kids and retrieve Van Helsing’s notebook, the Monster has a change of heart after spending some time with little Phoebe Crenshaw. They form a bond in the brief time they spend together on the screen, but it is just enough to create an ending that still makes me all misty-eyed to this day.

Screw Old Yeller getting shot. THIS is what made me cry when I was a kid!

Screw Old Yeller getting shot. THIS is what made me cry when I was a kid!

Go ahead and laugh it up, but I still get choked up every time I see “Frankie” clutching a teddy bear, and waving good-bye to Phoebe as he is sucked into limbo. In my opinion, it is one of the most emotionally stirring good-byes in cinematic history! But don’t take my word for it, watch a little girl have the same reaction I do to this scene HERE.

Along with great creature effects and an awesome cast, THE MONSTER SQUAD also boasts an awesome soundtrack with original music done by composer Bruce Broughton (STAY TUNED, HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS, MICHAEL JACKSON’S MOONWALKER)! Broughton’s music is atmospheric, and really helps boost the proceedings, but it is sadly overshadowed by the film’s catchy pop tunes.

In all honestly, if you ask anyone who’s seen this film what they thought of the music, they’d probably immediately start waxing nostalgic over Michael Sembello’s ROCK UNTIL YOU DROP, and/or THE MONSTER SQUAD RAP.

I probably should take some time to talk about this movie’s faults, but in my eyes, THE MONSTER SQUAD is damned near perfect! It manages to successfully balance all of its horror and comedy elements, and delivers a satisfying conclusion. It’s highly quotable, has many likable characters, and even manages to squeeze in a few arcs during the film’s brisk eighty-two minute running time.

I can watch this movie repeatedly and never get tired of it, and I genuinely admire the imagination and hard work that was put into it. I love the THE MONSTER SQUAD completely and utterly and I can’t recommend it enough! While some of you may be too “late to the game” to fully appreciate this movie, I urge you to experience it with an open mind. And to help further convince you, I hereby bestow upon this Fred Dekker cult classic, my highest rating of:

BLU-RAY REVIEW

Note: This review is for the now out of print 20th Anniversary Edition of THE MONSTER SQUAD, that came out in November of 2009.

The Packaging: THE MONSTER SQUAD comes in a standard Blu-ray case with the terrible photoshopped cover art that was also utilized for its 20th Anniversary DVD release.

Audio & Video: The movie has been remastered in 1080p, and presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. As a fan that has seen this movie on 35mm film, VHS, bootleg DVD-R, and DVD, I can easily say that without a doubt, this is the best presentation of THE MONSTER SQUAD you will ever lay eyes on!

The film looks beautiful and I’m extremely grateful to Lionsgate for giving it so much TLC! The disc offers up two audio options: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, and 2.0 Dolby Digital. Both are more than adequate, with no noticeable issues!

The Extras: Holy smokes, this disc is packed with goodies! There are two audio commentaries, both featuring director Fred Dekker. The first one has Fred and several cast members discussing the film, while the second track pairs him up with his Director of Photography, Bradford May. I have yet to listen to these, so I cannot comment further, but I do plan on remedying that in the near future.

The next big item in the special features menu is a five-part retrospective that covers the making of the film, and it is loaded with cast and crew interviews! Again, as long as I’ve owned this disc, I have failed to go through and watch this documentary in its entirety. I really need to take a day off and just immerse myself in these extras!

The rest of the disc is rounded out with the original theatrical trailer, a TV spot, a stills gallery, deleted and extended scenes, an animated storyboard sequence, and a classic interview with Tom Noonan in character as Frankenstein’s Monster.

"GIVE ME THAT BLU-RAY YOU BITCH!"

“GIVE ME THAT BLU-RAY YOU BITCH!”

Final Verdict: Lionsgate’s 20th Anniversary Blu-ray of THE MONSTER SQUAD is a real treat! The terrible cover art aside, the presentation and wealth of extras makes this a definite must own for fans of the film. This is probably the closest we’ll ever get to a definitive edition of THE MONSTER SQUAD (until it reaches its 50th anniversary), and I have no problem in giving this disc:

A lot of love went into this release, and it’s a total shame that it is currently out of print. Does that mean that the movie itself is impossible to find? Not at all! You can grab the Olive Films Blu-ray HERE. Although it has significantly better cover art, the disc itself (unfortunately) completely bare bones.