Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Monster Squad (1987)

Who's In It: André Gower (Valerie), Duncan Regehr (Zorro on the '90s TV show), Stephen Macht (Nikolas Rokoff in Tarzan: The Epic Adventures), Stan Shaw (Rocky, Fried Green Tomatoes), and Tom Noonan (Manhunter).

What It's About: A gang of bicycle-riding '80s kids fights to prevent classic Universal Monsters from destroying the amulet that's preventing them from ruling the world.

How It Is: The main group of kids is largely forgettable. Neither their leader Sean (Gower) nor his best friend Patrick (Robby Kiger) have any charisma and it was irritating that they referred to their friend Horace (Brent Chalem) as "Fat Kid" for most of the movie. And I never did figure out why tough kid Rudy (Ryan Lambert) hung out with them.

The only ones I really liked were Sean's little sister Phoebe (Ashley Bank) and scaredy cat Eugene (Michael Faustino, who's the little brother of Married... With Children's David Faustino). Phoebe is basically a less-tragic version of little Maria from the 1931 Frankenstein, which Monster Squad directly references a couple of times. Eugene doesn't have a lot to do, but his reactions are priceless; especially in a hilarious scene where he tries to convince his dad (Ernest Saves Christmas' awesome Robert Lesser) that there's a monster in the closet.

But even though most of the gang is bland, the movie's improved by pitting them against an all-star gathering of monsters. Dracula (Regehr) leads them and is the brains of the outfit. In fact, he's the only one with any personality at all. I guess that's not surprising considering the nature of the Wolf Man (Carl Thibault), the Mummy (Michael MacKay) and the Creature from the Black Lagoon (Tom Woodruff Jr, though the character's simply known as the Gill Man, since Monster Squad wasn't released by Universal). It would have been nice to give Dracula maybe one other, intelligent monster to interact with - the Phantom of the Opera or Mr Hyde, maybe - but I'm not dinging the movie for that. These are the heavy hitters and they work best by just mindlessly chasing the kids around.

I haven't mentioned Frankenstein's Monster (Noonan) yet, but he's especially great. True to the character, he melts when he meets the brave and compassionate Phoebe, so he switches sides and starts helping the kids. That's the Monster I want to see and it's lovely that the movie gets him right.

Monster Squad was written by Shane Black and Fred Dekker (who also directed), and it's clear that they have a lot of love for the old Universal movies. From the opening scene, which put armadillos in Dracula's crypt, I knew I was in good hands.

I wish that the main kids were more fun, but the concept itself and the love with which it's handled makes The Monster Squad an above-average example of its genre.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 monster gangs


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

This may be the ultimate example of a cult classic since in the fall of 2016 pretty every movie podcast I follow (Nostalgia Critic, Film Sack, Cult Film Club) dropped a review of this movie, all bringing up similar points but without ever repeating what the other had to say.

For as cheesy a time capsule this is I'll still take a movie that has all the major monsters in it at once over Universals plan of reintroducing the Monster Mash concept one character at a time.

Michael May said...

It was certainly more fun than the Tom Cruise mummy movie.

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

For sure.

Otherwise the consensus seems to be that it's playing follow the leader with movies like Goonies and taking the tag line from Ghostbusters probably didn't help. (Which is probably it feels like such an 80s time capsule, taking off with the latest trends)

Leaning hard into the then new PG-13 rating probably didn't help attract the intended kid audience either.

Caffeinated Joe said...

The kids are kind of bland, which sucks. Imagine if this had been a Goonies sequel, with those kids mixed with the monsters? Or maybe that would have been too weird. But those kids did have personality. :) Still a great flick. The kind of monster mash-up we want from Universal.


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