Wednesday, September 3, 2008
#58: The Monster Squad
The Monster Squad
Directed by Fred Dekker
Written by Shane Black and Fred Dekker
Released August 14, 1987
Never underestimate the power of nerds.
That sentence is just as applicable to the characters in The Monster Squad as it is to the fans who made it a cult classic and video hit. Without those nerds and their largely Internet-based support, this horror comedy would never have seen the light of day on DVD (in a double-disc "collector's edition," no less).
Had it not been for this deep well of geek love, I wouldn't be reviewing the movie today. Don't get me wrong; when I was a kid, I remember gleefully watching this movie a couple of times. When you're 11 years old, what's not to love about a Goonies-esque gang of kids taking on the classic Universal Studios monsters (Dracula, The Wolfman, Frankenstein and The Creature from the Black Lagoon)? They cuss, smoke cigarettes and murder the undead. It's an adolescent boy's dream come true.
When I stumbled upon this geek worship while reading websites like Ain't it Cool (ground zero for pretty much all movie geekdom, and a pretty unreliable site if you're looking for objectivity because of that same unchecked geekdom), I wondered where all of this crazy Monster Squad nostalgia was coming from. Was this movie really as much of an awesome classic as these geeks remembered? I was hesitant to add it to my Netflix que, but then I figured that this 365 movies project of mine wasn't above a visit to my childhood (see my Empire Strikes Back review for further proof).
As the "tough kid" from Kids Incorporated pulls up on his bike, lights a smoke off the heel of his penny loafers, and defends "fat kid" Horace from a bully (played by classic bully Jason Hervey, who played Kevin Arnold's asshole brother on The Wonder Years), I smiled and tried remember how cool this movie was to me as a kid.
The plot, in a somewhat convoluted nutshell, goes as follows: this crew of kids, who have built their own club based on their love of horror movies, stumble upon a crate containing the body of Frankenstein's monster. I know, convenient, right? In addition, one of the kids gets a gift from his mother: a diary from the legendary vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing. The coincidences keep piling up. A 2,000 year old mummy escapes from a museum... a man shows up at a police station claiming to be a werewolf and begging to be locked up... and Dracula drops in on the same town. There's a little bit more about an amulet that can control the fate of good or evil and an incantation from that aforementioned Van Helsing diary, which of course must be read by a virgin.
Yeah, it's a bit convoluted and silly. This is basically an action/horror movie for kids, after all. Of course, there's a level of violence and scariness that really puts that "for kids" label to the test, including make-up genius Stan Winston's well done effects make-up. Director Fred Dekker (creator of the silly cult zombie classic Night of the Creeps) co-wrote the script with Shane Black, who is probably best known as Hollywood's go-to action guy in the late '80s and early '90s. Among other bloated massive actioners, Black wrote scripts for Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and The Last Action Hero before disappearing for over a decade, returning only to write and direct the excellent Robert Downey Jr./Val Kilmer comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
I was honestly surprised at how much The Monster Squad has held up. There were a few scenes that actually made me laugh out loud, especially one brilliant blink-and-you'll-miss-it scene where the kids ask their older buddy if he knows any virgins and he responds with a spit take.
It's to Black and Dekker's (wow, never noticed that pun before) credit that the script does not make fools out of the young characters, and it's to the young cast's credit that they don't annoy the shit out of the viewer for the duration of the movie. Try watching The Goonies again if you haven't seen it in a long time and try to tell me the same about that cast. Sure, it has its moments, but I can't imagine an adult viewer who can endure the entire movie without wanting to fastforward through some of the nonstop yelling and hijinks.
Look, nobody is saying it's Fellini, but The Monster Squad is still pretty damn fun.
For more on The Monster Squad:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia.
- Buy the 20th anniversary DVD.
A couple of scenes from The Monster Squad: