Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Monster Squad (1987)

If there was a perfect age to see THE MONSTER SQUAD, I was it. In 1987 I was 13 years old and fascinated by the old Universal monster movies. Why it took so long to do a movie that features all the classics - Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein's Monster and the Creature from the Black Lagoon - in one big smash-up a la ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN is beyond me, but do it they did, and in grand style in Fred Drekker's homage to the horror films of the 30's and 40's, comedy like Abbott and Costello and The Little Rascals and to being a kid whose life is all about the monsters.

Watching it again 20 years later I'm amazed at how well it holds up. There's so much to love, little moments that directly recall the old Universal films, nostalgic 80's minutia, great special effects and monsters thanks to Stan "JURASSIC PARK" Winston and kick-ass dialog thanks to first time writer Shane Black, who might be a little better known now for writing a small independent film called LETHAL WEAPON. Maybe you've seen it?

Get all the World Famous Monsters together and you don't really need much of a plot, but THE MONSTER SQUAD has a doozy. 100 years after being foiled in Transylvania Dracula summons all the monsters together to obtain a sacred crystal that will bring about the end of the world. And since no grown-ups believe monsters exist, it's up to a band of young kids who call themselves the Monster Squad to save their beloved town and the rest of the world. There's really not much more to it: the structure is just sturdy enough to hold together all the great set pieces that Drekker cooks up for his cast.

So many great things to talk about. The dialog is vintage Black: where else would you get kids talking like Sean and Patrick, grumbling about a visit to the Principal's office:

PATRICK: Yeah, he was patting my shoulder and touching me and stuff.
SEAN: Yeah, he was totally homo-ing out.
PATRICK: I smell like the 40's.

The last time I heard anyone talk like that it was 1987.

There are a lot of great moments that echo the older films. The opening set piece in Transylvania begins with armadillos creeping around the castle floors, just like Todd Browning's DRACULA did. The scene with the girl tossing flowers in the pond in FRANKENSTEIN is also echoed, albeit with a much different conclusion here.

There are some great visual jokes, including the "There's a monster in my closet" gag that works great here because of both the boy's total sincerity and the father's hysterical attempts to placate him. I remember my own father soothing me and checking under my bed to make sure that Frankenstein's Monster wasn't under there to get. The Dad in THE MONSTER SQUAD isn't so thorough:

But in the end the movie rest firmly on two sets of shoulders - the Squad and the Monsters. In the Squad we have a dynamic group of kids that begin as stereotypes and quickly evolve into a cohesive unit that is equal parts funny, brave, and cool in a way that only an 80's movie can make you. Sean's the Leader, Patrick's the Best Friend, Horace is the Loser, Eugene's the Kid, Phoebe's the requisite Girl, and Rudy? Rudy's the Cool One, the one who you immediately know is cool because he in leather.

Sure, he's also in penny loafers and rides a bike with a banana seat, but in '87 that made you the Shit, my friends. And even though Sean is the leader of the group, Rudy gets all the best stuff by breaking the conventions of what his role typically entails and stepping up time and again. Sure, at first he's only joining the club to spy on the girl next door, but he winds up killing two vampires and the Wolf Man. Rudy rocks, my friends, loafers and all.

The monsters fare equally well. Even though he had to be careful not to step on Universal's toes, Drekker and Black make sure everything you always knew about the monsters are represented. Stakes through the heart, silver bullets, turning into a bat - all accounted for. But they also get the smaller things right, such as the Wolf man's ultimate wish to be stopped, Frankenstein's Monster basic good nature, and the Count's ability to use dynamite and drive a stick shift.

Yeah. This isn't your father's MONSTER SQUAD. It's your MONSTER SQUAD, the one you always wanted when you were 13 years old, and still had a small piece of your hear that believed that somewhere, someplace, those monsters were out there, and you knew you had to be ready, just in case. Watching it again all those same fun feelings came back, and I can't wait until my son is old enough so he can be prepared, too.

Never know when you might have to kick Wolf Man in the nards.

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