Because I’m a terrible person, there are a number of films I missed in my youth that friends of mine like to remind me that I haven’t seen yet. Along with The Princess Bride and The Godfather, one such film was The Monster Squad. This has now been remedied. Below is my review. Now shut up. I’ll get to The Princess Bride eventually.
Monster Squad has one of them pretty cool kid’s dream like plots. Essentially the classic movie monsters from Universals early horror days are all real and have come to the modern day, well… 1987, in order to do some mystic nonsense and bring about darkness or some shit. It’s up to a group of kids, obsessed with monsters and part of a club they call The Monster Squad… hence the title… to defeat Dracula (Duncan Regehr) and his evil minions. Magical adventure, occasional light gore, horror themes and whatnot abound in this 80’s classic from director Fred Dekker and writer Shane Black.
First thing I need to point out, yes, Fred Dekker did direct RoboCop 3. No, I will not be holding that against him for this review. It is only fair to be as impartial as I can be. That said, God damn you Dekker. What the hell did RoboCop ever do to you? Anyway, Monster Squad, good film. If there’s another film out there to liken this to it’s the all too obvious example of The Goonies. The dark kid’s adventure tone is almost identical. This is a tone that’s oddly absent from similar films today. The only modern parallels would be Super 8, Paranorman and Monster House. What the Monster Squad really does well, though, is maintain the depiction of the monsters in a manner that is entirely familiar and classic to how they were depicted in the original Universal films. From their horrific moments right through to the lighter tones of the later films.
The monsters themselves have been redesigned by Stan Winston but not to so much of a degree that they look unfamiliar. In fact, they’re pretty classical in their appearance. Dracula looks like Bela Lugosi’s version, The Wolfman (Carl Thibault) like Lon Chaney Jr’s. The Creature from the Black Lagoon is tweaked a little but it’s really just a case of modifying the techniques used in the mask and rubber suit. The Mummy is The Mummy… the original… not Arnold Vosloo. Of the monsters it if Frankenstein’s Monster (Tom Noonan) that’s the furthest removed in appearance from the Boris Karloff design, looking more like Peter Boyle’s version in Young Frankenstein. The film could, in theory, be seen as taking place in the same universe as the classic Universal films, but that would likely open a St. Elsewhere sized can of worms.
Much like the kids from The Goonies, the main cast here are all likeable outsiders thankfully free of any form of sugary sweet veneer. The kids, led by Sean (Andre Gower), enjoy a decent amount of light swears, they’re streetwise within the confines of their young world and they have defined interests and conflicts giving them a level of dimension often lacking from children’s adventures. The story isn’t so laser focused on the monster based shenanigans that it forgets to give Sean a series of home based conflicts that are, for once, not based around parents not understanding him. In fact both his parents support his interests actively. His father, Del (Stephen Macht), doesn’t talk down to him and he, along with his wife, are open with Sean about the marriage counselling they’re undergoing. This is all quite refreshing to see and all helps create a genuinely real feeling home life with which to juxtapose against the after dark adventure Sean and his friends are about to go on.
The aforementioned Stan Winston isn’t the only good looking part of the film. Special effects work is pretty damn solid for the day, and the majority of the effects work holds up in that timeless way that some of the great effects work of the time does. Think how the effects in films such as Total Recall and Aliens still manage to look incredible. There’s even one of them big old swirly portal films that all fantasy films were required to have back then. You know the kind. Coloured water being swirled around in a black tank and then chroma keyed into the scene for various people to be sucked into. Classic effects work. There’s also a few cool stunt moments, mostly in the finale, that serve to remind you how fake stunts have become in recent years. Weird how people just don’t get thrown through windows or off roofs these days without using wires and stuff.
There’s a number of elements to the film that didn’t entirely work for me. The actual number of interactions between the kids and the monsters is quite low, barring Frankentein’s Monster who eventually joins the kids. The Creature from the Black Lagoon pretty much just appears to lift a coffin out of a lake and get shot, which is a shame cos he’s a cool looking monster. There’s a number of shots that seem to have their background focus set incorrectly creating a light amount of double vision rather than the usual light blur, although this wasn’t uncommon to films at the time. I could pick holes in moments where The Wolfman could have easily eviscerated the kids but that sort of whining is stupid and people shouldn’t do it.
Overall, The Monster Squad is pretty much as good as people have been telling me it is for about 25 years. I don’t feel as if part of my youth was missing, because I had plenty of other films to watch back then, but I am quite glad to finally tick this film off the list. The film is pretty much as you’d expect. Fun, grisly and loaded with cool little details and quotable lines. Despite not being set at Christmas it really does have a lot of the Shane Black style dialogue and comedic elements too, and I certainly support kids being introduced to Shane Black’s work from an early age. Didn’t hurt me after all. I spent most of my early years watching the Lethal Weapon films over and over. I may fear Christmas based traumas now, but I also have a taste for quick witted dialogue and thematic plot subversions. Monster Squad does both at various times and I’m all for that.