Dracula is out on a mission to find an ancient amulet. With it he can rule the world! To obtain this thing he’s going to need the help from some old friends. Frankenstein, the Wolfman, the Mummy and Gill Man come to lend him a hand.
As these classic monsters terrorize a small town on they’re search, the world’s only hope is a group of kids who call themselves the Monster Squad!
Ghostbusters, Fright Night, An American Werewolf in London, Night of the Creeps, Evil Dead II, House, Gremlins – there were so many horror comedies that came out of the 1980’s. I don’t know where all the horror/comedy hybrid movies went. Maybe it’s become too complicated a genre to pull off today and it’s safer and more profitable to just make shaky cam/handheld movies that consist of straight up grisly gore and gross out scenes. It’s too bad.
Anyway, Monster Squad is one of those fun little movies that have endured since its release. Through the years it has gained much more popularity than I remember it initially getting. At the time I recall it being viewed as just sort of a Goonies knock-off. But as with most movies, original fans have kept it alive, new younger ones went on to discover it and it gradually attained the status of a cult movie.
And it’s not a bad horror/comedy.
I never liked this movie as much as so many others have grown to though. It’s ok. The real allure to me was the teaming up of all the old classic Universal monsters in one movie.
Of course, they’re not exactly supposed to be them – Universal owns the look of the classic monsters and we have to be careful not to step on their copyrighted toes – but they’re slyly updated, but never fully lose any of the original charms or looks. We all know who each of these monsters are supposed to be.
Director/writer Fred Dekker and writer Shane Black obviously had a real reverence for these monsters. The movie never mocks them and allows them to be as scary as they’re supposed to be so old school fans should be entertained by seeing them again. For kids who might not have ever seen any of the original monster movies, Monster Squad is a good introduction to seeing who these guys are and making them want to learn more about each of these classic movie characters.
Duncan Regehr and Tom Noonan get the most screentime as Count Dracula and Frankenstein. It’s hard – almost impossible – to play either of these monsters without being in the shadow of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, but both actors do a commendable job. They don’t try to emulate the classic performances, but rather do their own interpretations and they’re good. Regehr is a flat out unstoppable dastardly villain and Noonan makes his Frankenstein monster draw in your sympathy.
The Wolfman (Carl Thibault) is the muscle in the group and when he’s all hairy and fanged out is a pretty intimidating monster. Much like Frankenstein he’s being used by the Count to do his bidding and just seems like he’s a misguided monster. Unfortunately when the full moon is out the human side of him doesn’t have much of a say as to what he does.
I was always disappointed that while The Mummy and the Creature From the Black Lagoon are here – which is great – they sadly don’t get as much to do and are more like background thugs. Other than his confrontation scene with the Monster Squad the Mummy just hobbles along with no clear mission. Luckily that one scene when he meets up with the kids is a good one.
Same with the Gillman. He just kind of hangs out in his swamp and doesn’t get in on the action until the climax. I always wanted to see more of him because he just looks fantastic! Legendary Stan Winston helped update all the monsters and they all look so good that when they’re on screen you hope they never leave.
The real payoff of the movie is the last twenty minutes when the kids find themselves encountering one monster after another as they race to the center of town to stop the big amulet ceremony.
The Monster Squad themselves are a bit of the weak point for me. Granted it’s hard to compete with the excitement of seeing the classic five monsters together, but I always found all the kids rather bland. The little girl is cute and the kids have some good lines here and there (I guess the most famous line from the movie is “Wolfman’s got nards!”), but none of them were ever very memorable to me.
Really the only things I always remembered about them was one of them was named Fat Kid and the leader kid wears a ‘Stephen King Rules’ t-shirt at one point.
There’s a little subplot about team leader Sean’s parents having a strained marriage, but it’s hard to get invested in it with all the cool supernatural stuff going on.
It all moves at a good pace, it’s a bit edgier than the usual family-fare we see today (which I found refreshing rewatching it) and while it might not be great, it is entertaining.
I recently showed it to my nephews who had only heard of these monsters and never saw them in action before. Once they did they’ve been hooked on them and are fascinated by all the rules and mythology behind them (“Oh so Dracula doesn’t like garlic”, “The only way to kill the Wolfman is with a silver bullet”).
They also loved all the kids, so maybe I’m being too old and jaded towards them. As with the original Monster Squad audience, they think the ‘Wolfman’s got nards’ line is hysterical. I guess that line will be timelessly funny to kids.
Ah yes…I remember watching the Monster Squad in 1987 back to back with the Lost Boys on Video. I was probably a couple of year too old to identify with the kids in the film (I identifed more with the Corey's) but I loved seeing the Universal Monsters updated. Unfortunately, I agree with your assessment and rememeber thinking the same at the time – The child actors didn't have the screen presence or dynamic of some of the more successful 80's group hero childrens films like 'The Explorers' or 'The Goonies'. Still overall it was fun and Universal Monsters never get old.
One of my childhood favorites. It's actually aged really well for me, personally. Recently re-watching it, I think this film has a nice tight narrative. It's a brisk hour and twenty minutes but it uses every second to tell its story and nothing feels in excess, and nothing feels like it's missing. Also, by far my favorite Dracula. What a badass.