Thursday, October 21, 2010

Film Review: THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987, Fred Dekker)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 82 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Co-written and directed by Fred Dekker (NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, ROBOCOP 3, writer of HOUSE), co-written by Shane Black (LETHAL WEAPON, KISS KISS BANG BANG, THE LAST BOY SCOUT). Starring Andre Gower, Robby Kiger (CHILDREN OF THE CORN), Brent Chalem ("Tubby" in DANCE 'TIL DAWN, "Spud" on PUNKY BREWSTER), Stephen Macht (TRANCERS III, GALAXINA, GRAVEYARD SHIFT), Tom Noonan (MANHUNTER, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL), Jon Gries ("Roger Linus" on LOST, RUNNING SCARED, TERRORVISION), Jack Gwillim (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, PATTON), Leonardo Cimino (DUNE, HUDSON HAWK), Duncan Regehr (V, THE LEGEND OF ERROL FLYNN), Jason Hervey ('Wayne' on THE WONDER YEARS, PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE), Stan Shaw (TRUCK TURNER, ROCKY). Music by Bruce Broughton (TOMBSTONE), songs by Michael Sembello (of 'Maniac' fame). Executive produced by Peter Hyams (RUNNING SCARED, BUSTING, 2010, OUTLAND, THE RELIC).
Tag-line: " You know who to call when you have ghosts but who do you call when you have monsters?"
Best one-liner: See review.

A clever cash-in on THE GOONIES' success and a throwback to the classic Universal monster flicks which tried to jam as many monsters into one movie as was humanly possible (HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, HOUSE OF DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN), THE MONSTER SQUAD is a loving tribute to an age where one's primary curiosities lie in the morbid, the dark, the gross, and the monstrous. As such, Shane Black and Fred Dekker bring us a clever (but not too clever for its own good), self-referential (a decade before Kevin Williamson), tightly-wound (82 minutes!) horror film whose primary- nay, only- objective is to ensure that we have a hell of a good time. And though copyright issues disallowed the makers from using the actual Universal monsters, we have extremely solid Stan Winston facsimiles, and there are enough obscure nods to the originals (armadillos in Dracula's castle!) to satisfy the die hards. I shall now proceed with an empirical analysis of THE MONSTER SQUAD, one which seeks to separate MYTH from FACT:

MYTH: Dracula is class. He's all about the opera, and literature, and Gothic architecture, and, oh yes, that inconvenient matter that comes up from time to time– that of drinking your blood.
FACT: Dracula, in THE MONSTER SQUAD, is a total douchebomb. His nonstop dickery imperils not only the members of the titular Monster Squad, but even his fellow monsters as well. Will Dracula be having your son?

You bettah believe he'll be having your son. What if a gang of kids starts harassing him?

He will blast their treehouse to shit with dynamite and mutter to himself smugly, "Meeting adjourned." Just look at his face:

Have you ever seen a vampire more pleased with himself? Have you seen a monster with a more blatantly self-congratulatory attitude?
And while I guess this was the era of the PG-13, I love the way he deals with a five-year old girl who's got the mystical monster amulet:

The first time I saw this I was sort of disappointed with Duncan Regehr's take on Dracula, but now with the benefit of age and wisdom, I've gotta say: like the fine wine (that he never drinks), Drac's incessant, unrelenting superior form of douchebaggery only improves with age.

MYTH: Dracula can change his form, but he's limited to man, wolf, and bat.

FACT: Well, if we're counting one-frame subliminal messages, add "Bulging-Eyes-Skull-Head-Monster-Man" to the list. (Maybe this is somehow related to Dracula's headscratching appearance as "The Grim Reaper" in CASTLEVANIA II: SIMON'S QUEST?)

MYTH: Dracula cannot journey in daylight.

FACT: Evidently he can, in bat form, whilst exiting a vintage B-24 that he's commissioned. And is this some kind of abstruse reference to the B-24s used in the WWII bombing of Ploesti, Romania, the same nation whose borders lay claim to Transylvania?

MYTH: Jon Gries would make a pisspoor Wolf Man.

FACT: After cutting his teeth on roles like "O.D. the Metalhead" in TERRORVISION and "King Vidiot" in JOYSTICKS, he possessed the necessary derangement to pull of an extremely solid Wolf Man, and one with occasional pathos to boot.

MYTH: A Wolf Man traverses this life without 'Nards.
FACT: See below.

MYTH: The Wolf Man can be killed by stuffing dynamite down his pants, defenestrating him, and exploding him above a deserted alleyway as he plummets to the ground.

FACT: Only a silver bullet can kill the Wolf Man. (And what precisely does this movie have against Wolf Man genitalia, anyway?)

MYTH: Like many a lame-ass kids' movie since, THE MONSTER SQUAD censors itself.

FACT: No. It refuses to. It keeps the foul-mouthed pre-teens, the gore (watch for Dracula's brides munching on furry animals, raw- amongst other things), the five-year old girls being strangled and called bitches (see above), and all the other stuff that lets kids know they're not being pandered to.

MYTH: When the (quasi) Universal Monsters get together, they commence with death and destruction... immediately!

FACT: Actually, they simply cavort with one another in a shot which (comically, but surely unintentionally) goes on for about three seconds too long.

MYTH: The Creature from the Black Lagoon is underrated.

FACT: No, The Creature from the Black Lagoon is rated just as he should be. Hands down, the shittiest of the mainstream Universal Monsters, I'd rather see his #5 spot occupied by Mr. Hyde, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Man who Laughs, the ape from Rue Morgue, the Invisible Man, the Bride of Frankenstein, Dr. Pretorius, the crazy brother from THE OLD DARK HOUSE, Poelzig from THE BLACK CAT, or even a random Mole Person from THE MOLE PEOPLE. That being said, Stan Winston did a pretty superb job of reimagining him for the 1980's. And I guess the Creature gets a few points for having Clint Eastwood in the sequel. Anyway.

MYTH: Harold Ramis was the first to consider a film entitled GROUNDHOG DAY.
FACT: A fictional flick named 'GROUNDHOG DAY' is viewed within MONSTER SQUAD, a reference to the many 'holiday-themed slashers' which ruled the video shelves of the 1980's.

MYTH: TERMINATOR 2 was the first movie to end with a corny, gargantuan father figure sacrificing himself to the pit in order that others may live.
FACT: THE MONSTER SQUAD makes a pretty good go of it with Tom Noonan's Frankenstein.

Noonan is great. At 6'6'', he makes for a great Monster. Although never did I think I'd see 'Francis Dollarhyde' (the name of his character in MANHUNTER) holding a little girl's hand in a genuinely sentimental moment.

His catchphrase is "Bogus!," which should be enough to make your average FRANKENSTEIN fan's hair curl in dismay, but somehow Noonan imbues the role with enough sincerity that he makes those cringeworthy moments extremely palatable.

MYTH: "The problem is two-thousand year-old dead guys do not get up and walk away by themselves."

FACT: "See ya later, Band-Aid Breath!"

MYTH: It is impossible to 'rap' adequately about "amulets."
FACT: Stay for the end credits, and listen for yourself. I'm not saying that Michael Sembello should be named Poet Laureate or anything, but give him a chance.

Four stars.

-Sean Gill


Cinema Du Meep said...

The Monster Squad is a pure silly movie pleasure. It came out in 1987 when I was 12, so it was like the perfect treat.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I missed it, but you forgot character actor Stan Shaw as the partner blown up in the car.

In other words, this movie did a cop killing as an after thought, which is still pretty friggin dark and amazingly fast how quick it happens.

J.D. said...

Well, I have to defend the Creature from the Black Lagoon's honor since ya trashed him in your review! ; )

I always had a soft spot for him and I think he's ripe for re-imagining. I know Carpenter was going to take a shot at it at one point until a Hollywood studio ripped him off and sadly he'll probably never get another chance.

THE X-FILES had a pretty creepy Creature-esque monster called Flukeman (I believe) and even BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER did a pretty cool high school swim team is turned into the Creature ep. way back when.

Sean Gill said...

Cinema du Meep,

Definitely a childhood favorite for me, too- and I'm horrified by the thought of the impending remake.


Ah, yes, how could I neglect to mention Stan Shaw? He gets some good lines here, and as you say, nearly a throwaway death scene. The Creature snaps some policemen's necks without much fanfare, too!

Perhaps I exaggerate- I don't actually HATE the Creature, it's just the last of the Universal monsters that I delved into, and I guess the bar had just been set a little too high. I would love to see a Carpenter reimagining (a la THE THING?!?! who knows what might have been).