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STUDIO: Lions Gate
RUNNING TIME: 82 Minutes
• Audio Commentary by writer/director Fred Dekker and “Squad Members” Andre Gower, Ryan Lambert, and Ashley Bank
• Audio Commentary by Dekker and DP Bradford May
• Monster Squad Forever: A Five-Part retrospective documentary covering every aspect of the film
• A Conversation with Frankenstein
• Deleted Scenes
• Trailer and TV Spot
“Nothing says ‘Family Entertainment’ better than Shane Black, multiple uses of the word ‘Faggot,’ and a horde of vicious monsters trying to rend our kiddie protagonists limb from limb!”
Andre Gower, Duncan Regehr, Stephen Macht, Stan Shaw, Tom Noonan
I thought Dracula’s big “To-Do” list consisted of just sucking blood, hanging out with hot vampire succubi, and acting as Eurotrashy as possible. Apparently, I need to amend that with “find ancient amulet and rule the world,” because that’s what good old Count Alucard’s up to in this one, along with the help of The Mummy, The Werewolf, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Frankenstein’s monster. Nothing stands in their way…save for a plucky group of 12-year old adventurers.
Yep, it’s one’a them there nostalgia flicks…
"Goddammit…Mom! Phoebe’s brought home another hobo! Hide the whiskey!"
This flick falls squarely into the sub-category of “Nostalgic Pleasures,” which is always a tricky place to wade through. It’s become terribly trendy as of late to champion nostalgia, regardless of how good or bad it is (Legends of the Hidden Temple, I’m looking at you). Equally irritating is the knee-jerk reaction to this that some folks have, which is to trendily decry all forms of nostalgia. That’s even more obnoxious, I think. The way I see it, it’s simple: you enjoy something for the right reasons, and that cuts through all the crap. Nostalgia’s fine if the product in question is a legitimately good one (John Carpenter’s The Thing or The Goonies, and I’ll draw swords with anyone says contrary to that last one), or if it makes you feel good. Maybe it’s not the best flick, it may not even count as a “good” one, but you have a good time watching, and it brings back good memories.
The Monster Squad falls squarely into this latter category.
It’s certainly not a “good” movie. I respect Fred Dekker’s attempts to fashion this into a 1980s homage to Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein-type of picture, but I think it leaves him stranded in terms of how to approach the material. He can’t decide if he wants it to be funny or scary, and so he tries for a half-assed mixture of both. It doesn’t quite work, leaving us with a flick that won’t fully please either comedy (note: I didn’t say unintentional. More on that in a minute) or horror fans. I think that might be why young kids (myself most certainly included) gravitate towards this flick—when you’re five, this shit is mad funny and scary.
Aww, doggies that kill Mummies are so adorable.
I guess to compensate, Dekker and co-writer Shane Black throw in a little bit of everything to their monster film. This is a short movie, only 82 minutes (and it comes in at close to 75 without end credits), and yet there’s a lot of extra fat included. In addition to the “A” plot (Drac and the gang vs. The Monster Squad), they include the marital problems of Squad leader Sean’s parents, a whole subplot with cops Stephen Macht and Stan Shaw that feels like Black’s early prep work for Lethal Weapon, and the E.T.-like relationship that grows between Frankenstein’s monster and Sean’s little sister. It’s a bit much, and not only does it feel like padding, but it takes away from the main story. The flick feels like it’s missing huge chunk of vital material, as in: more scenes with the Monsters or the Squad. More reasons as to why the amulet is so important, and why it works the way it does. Some kind of connective tissue showing the Squad’s transition from movie-crazy kids to monster slayer. But nope. We get the setup of conflict, all sorts of extraneous business, and then straight to the climax. A good twenty or thirty minutes extra could have really helped this flick.
It also doesn’t help that the Squad itself never pops as it should. Again, part of that has to do with the lack of material on them, but the actors just aren’t that strong. Andre Gower probably fares the best as the stoic leader, and Ryan Lambert’s Rudy is hysterically memorable for all the wrong reasons (he smokes, he swears, he dresses like he’s going to a Fonzie convention…all from the bucket seat of his bicycle), but the rest…ehh. Brent Chalem’s Fat Kid has become memorable for his “confrontation” with the Wolfman and his final line, but I liked this character better when he was Chunk in The Goonies. Ashley Bank’s your stereotypical cute tyke, and Robby Kiger and Michael Faustino don’t register at all. At one point in the documentary, the Monster Squad is said to be to monsters what the Ghostbusters were to ghosts, and that’s horseshit—they don’t have any of the charisma of the Ghostbusters, and they don’t do enough monster killing to even justify their name!
The result, I’m afraid, is a mess.
But dammit, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable one. I think that while much of what worked for me as a kid no longer holds true (the intentional humor, the scares), there’s other stuff in it that I enjoy so much more now than I ever could at five. Chief amongst these are the violence and the language. Remember, this is a kids’ movie, yet it has more uses of “homo” and “faggot” than any kids’ movie I’ve ever heard. Throw in ample uses of “nards,” “shit,” and one crowd-pleasing “butt-love,” and you’ve got a decently profane flick aimed squarely at the ‘tweener crowd. Plus, even though it’s no Saving Private Ryan, what violence we see is pretty graphic, from shotgun blasts to multiple impalement to (my favorite) the Wolfman’s use of a stick of dynamite as a jock-strap. It’s messier than I remember, and that’s a good thing.
"Dracula, we’re going to Denny’s, not the Ritz! You don’t need to dress up."
The unintentional humor factor is way high here too. This movie fails hard at being legitimately funny, but there’re enough “no way did they plan that” moments to trick you into thinking this is a full-fledged comedy. The “Rock Until You Drop” montage would be worth the price of admission by itself, but we also get Rudy’s “Fonz on a ten-speed,” which comes out from nowhere, and we are all the better for it. Or Black and Dekker (sounds like a Drildo manufacturer) trying to give Scary German Guy (no shit, that’s his fucking name) relevance by making him a Holocaust survivor.
I also love the wildly incongruous monster moments, like Gill-Man’s crazy breakdance, or Wolfman getting pissed at nothing at a gas station. The best has to be Dracula, though. This guy has super-strength and flying abilities, and yet does he use any of these when he gets really pissed? Nope. He lights a stick of dynamite and blows up the Monster Squad’s treehouse. Not their actual house, mind you, which he has to pass through to get to the treehouse, but just the treehouse. Classic. Top that off with one of the most inane ‘thumbs ups” ever caught on film and a groin-grabbingly bad end rap song, and you’ve got a pretty campy little howler.
And by the by, there actually is some intermittent solid moviemaking going on here. The end showdown in the town square (the same one used in another childhood favorite of mine, Back to the Future) is quite exciting, a bit of Spielberg-lite. Dekker may have bungled things in the script department, but the film looks great—his direction is assured and the cinematography is wonderfully atmospheric. And all of the monster makeup is awesome. I think Stan Winston really did a great job, considering the budget, especially on the Frankenstein monster and the Gill Man.
The Monster Squad doesn’t hold up to my childhood memories the way I’d hoped. It’s just not a very good movie. But it’s dammed entertaining and never boring, and a hell of a trip down memory lane.
Just bring some beer with you. Beer helps.
The widescreen image is a first for this flick, and it looks pretty good. It’s not razor-sharp, but I found the slight grain added to the atmosphere of the flick. Same goes for the 5.1 audio: pretty good, but not extraordinary. I rightly hate the box art—it’s bad Photoshop, and what makes things worse is that the original poster, which should have been the cover, is included inside as an insert. Rub it in, why don’t ya.
This disc has only a few special features, but they are all very solid. Both commentary tracks are great. The first one with Dekker and the “kids” is very funny, and no one seems to take the movie too seriously. The one with Dekker and the DP is drier, but it’s not boring at all, and there’s little overlap since it’s more technical.
Disc two kicks off with the five-part Monster Squad Forever documentary. To call it comprehensive is a great understatement—it runs longer than the actual film. Pretty much every aspect of the film is discussed in detail, and only Gower and Dracula actor Duncan Regehr grate on the nerves. Both men think far too highly of the film (unironically so), and Regehr seems to have taken his job much too seriously. The highlight here has to be anything with Tom Noonan. He seems like a world-class prick, but he’s an entertaining one; a running gag is someone will say how much fun working with Noonan was, and then he’ll say something to the effect of, “Yeah, so and so was a prick.” That candor is fascinating, as is the documentary. I’ll even go so far as to say it’s better than the actual movie.
Then, there’s Noonan doing an in-character interview. I normally find these insanely grating, but this one was funny and enjoyable. The deleted scenes were less so. They mainly only cover more marital issues for Sean’s parents, although we do get a card (and bits in the commentaries) talking about additional footage that has been lost. That would’ve been nice to see, but I understand that interest in this flick is relatively recent by comparison. The disc ends with the original trailer, which is nothing to write home about.
The Monster Squad is not a very good movie, truth be told. It’s a bit of a mess. But it is really, unreasonably, unintentionally funny and amusing, and, at least for me, a fun romp through Nostalgia Field. The disc looks and sounds good, and the special features are pretty much all solid.
Plus, I’m sure you can score it for between 10 and 15 bucks, and it, plus some friends and beer, makes for a hell of an evening.
Dude, stop masturbating! I guarantee you that shit on your back isn’t normal.