Today’s review is by Evan Valentine, stand-up comedian in Atlanta and writer for Collider. His favorite horror movie is Monster Squad.
When one really thinks about your favorite horror movie, there are any number of criteria you have to keep in mind when coming up with an answer. Do you go with the scariest movie you’ve ever seen (For me, this would be Martyrs, Candyman, the Conjuring, and the Ring)? Do you pick a film that had your skin crawl? For me, I’m going with the “horror” movie that’s given me the most enjoyment during my 31 years on this earth: Monster Squad.
For those of you who haven’t seen this 1987 gem, Monster Squad follows the story of a group of kids who discover that not only is Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman real, but they’re all in their town and threatening to end existence using the power of an ancient amulet. What makes Monster Squad such a strong story is that there are absolutely no punches held back and it’s just masterful storytelling all the way around. Our groups of protagonists, the Monster Squad, are real kids in the sense of Goonies, in so much as they swear, they shoot the shit about what they love in their leader’s clubhouse, and generally just act like real kids without dumbing down the story to reach a target demographic. The amount of one-liners and quips these kids throw out in the film is staggering and nearly all of them knock it out of the park. One of the best examples is the group having arguments throughout the film about what can and cannot kill a werewolf, which is played up to amazing effect later on in the movie.
On to the monsters themselves, this is the stable of monsters from the Universal films albeit different interpretations (Don’t expect Boris Karlof or Bela Legosi showing up in any capacity here) and in my opinion, it’s the best interpretation of each of them. The makeup is outstanding and scene like the werewolf transformation in the phone booth along with the Gillman in all of his glory emerging from a manhole are amazing to look at. In terms of their individual characters, this can be interpreted differently by viewers. There’s one scene in particular toward the tail end of the film where Dracula appears, crackling with sexual energy….errr lighting… and begins slowly walking toward “Scary German Guy,” the team’s de facto parental figure, and the youngest member of the group as they attempt to exile the monsters into limbo. Dracula begins marching toward them, as wave after wave of police run in front of him, only for each of them to be dispatched swiftly as Drac breaks their necks, flings them to the side, and never stops gazing at his prize. It’s reminiscent of that one scene from True Detective that is one long shot over the course of five or so minutes. It’s something to see, that’s for sure.
In terms of budget and effects, this almost feels like a big budget film, especially when the monsters descend upon the town in the final act. As I mentioned earlier, a debate had been running amongst the Monster Squad for a portion of the movie where they determined what was the best way to kill a werewolf, and when one of the kids and his detective father encounter the Wolfman, they put this to the test. How you may ask? Well they hit him in the back of the head with a golf club, stuff a stick of dynamite down his pants, and push him through the window, only for him to explode into pieces in the alleyway below. This leads to an amazing fx shot of the Wolfman’s pieces flying at one another, allowing him to reconstitute himself.
Aside from the monsters, the kids, and the amazing effects, there actually is a lot of heart to the movie as well. Sean, the team’s leader, lives in your stereotypical suburban household with a mother, a father, and two kids, brother and sister. The father though is hardened detective who’s marriage is slowly crumbling as his job gets in the way and marriage counseling is doing little to help. There’s this really great scene where Sean is talking with his dad, trying to let him go see “Groundhog Day 7”, clearly a riff on Friday the 13th, with his friends. The banter between the two seems genuine and heartfelt, as the Sean’s father doesn’t take any of his crap but clearly loves the kid and is trying his best to be a good father…all of course while smoking like a chimney but hey, it was the 80’s. Also, when the team is joined by the child-like Frankenstein Monster later on in the film, and they show the monster a mask of himself they bought at a Halloween store, Frank smacks it away, holds his face in his hands and let’s out a pathetic, “Scuh…Scary.” I DARE you to not shed a tear during the final few minutes of the film.
Monster Squad was never really a smash success when it came to the box office. I go back to an earlier statement about not really reaching a target demographic, which for me is a strength, but really it was a weakness when it came to raking in the dough. It wasn’t a movie for kids, see Wolfman being blown to pieces in gory detail, and the fact that the movie revolved around a group of kids may have put off potential viewers, but it’s well worth the watch. Luckily for you, Monster Squad is available on DVD and Blu-Ray (you have no idea how long I had been waiting as it seemed like one of the last movies ever to get the DVD treatment and I had long since stopped using VHS). If you have an open night, pop this one in, and take a journey back to your childhood with the Mummy rising from his tomb and Wolfman getting kicked in the “nards”.