To have been a child in the 80s meant you were the imbiber of many a cultural phenomenon. And depending on your personality you may have gravitated to certain zeitgeists more fervently – well, somebody had to wear all those safari hats.
I had a natural affinity for movies that began at an age where I can remember virtually nothing save the Friday night videos my father and I watched. Even my fourth-grade teacher noted during a collective icebreaker for a new student that I was an accomplished “movie buff.” But this is hardly unusual given my impressionable presence during one of the biggest and most influential media revolutions of the 20th century: the rise of the home video and the video rental store. Give a child the opportunity to view and review the same movie over and over (and over) again, and trust me, he will internalize every component of that film down to the last frame. And with so many brilliant and endurable titles popping out at the time, it was impossible not to want to take them all in. Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Rambo, Spaceballs, Back to the Future, Lethal Weapon, Ghostbusters, Die Hard, Friday the 13th, Batman, Police Academy – it’s amazing to think there were moments of my childhood when I actually saw the light of day (the natural event, not the Michael J. Fox-Joan Jett film, though I saw that, too).
My favorite movies were monster movies. Not necessarily the ones from the 80s, which admittedly were a bit too intense for a child (although I often watched them anyway). Despite the runaway craze of serial killer flicks in the 80s, I maintained a fascination for the old Universal monsters of the 30s and 40s. So much so, I cultivated a friendship with a kid in the second-grade for the sole purpose of accessing his parents’ classic monster movie collection. When my mother threw me a birthday party I invited him over under the condition he bring King Kong vs. Godzilla, which I watched in its entirety while he and all the other kids played party games in the backyard.
Indeed, it was hardly “cool” or “bitchin'” to spend a good deal of your free time watching movies your grandparents were once too young to go see, but I got lucky with one particular gem from 1987 (that’s not true, as again I can hardly remember anyone else liking this move at the time). The Monster Squad was a cinematic exercise in duality: a film by intent meant to invoke that which nightmares are made of, and yet sate the dreams of every horror movie cinephile. Here we have a modern movie, in all its advanced costume and special effects glory, featuring the five most recognizable monsters in movie history.
The story is simple and sweet; a group of archetypal youths – fearless leader Sean, loyal sidekick Patrick, chubby-but-kind Horace, rebel Rudy, and nerdy Eugene – comprise The Monster Squad. They’re avid fans of classic monster films (enter relatability) and operate a social club out of Sean’s inexplicably elaborate and spacious treehouse. After coming upon a centuries-old book written by Abraham Van Helsing, the boys discover, via translation provided by ‘Old Scary German Guy,’ that Dracula is alive and attempting to capture an amulet in their hometown that controls the balance between good and evil. If he succeeds, he will use the amulet to plunge the world into darkness. In order to secure his objective, the Count recruits the Wolfman, the Mummy, the Gill-man, and Frankenstein’s Monster to aid his mission.
Recognizing the imminent danger – that is of course dismissed by every adult outside of the old German guy – The Monster Squad set out to find the amulet first and then have a female virgin read an incantation from the book that will open a portal sending all the monsters into Limbo.
Although the squad runs into constant opposition from the monsters, they are aided by the help of Frankenstein’s Monster, who is a gentle creature touched by Sean’s sister Phoebe’s kindness. A final battle breaks out near midnight in front of the local church, and only with the help of Phoebe, who was always desperate to join Sean’s club, is The Monster Squad able to banish the monsters back to Limbo and save the world.
As mentioned, a simple story, but much of the merriment comes from the humor (apparently you can kick a werewolf in the nards should you ever be attacked by one), the genuine sentiment of pubescent boyhood, and the opportunity to see new, detailed interpretations of classic monster characters. The film was co-written by Shane Black, famous for penning the first two Lethal Weapon screenplays. Black’s quick-witted humor is present throughout the script, but what he really excels at is recreating an authentic youth experience. The protagonists’ dialogue never feels forced or unnatural; it precisely mirrors what any 11-year-old boy would say, think, or do in the same situation. Credit Black and director Fred Dekker in developing a sense of immediacy and dread in the cast that is altogether genuine for its intended demographic. And that’s another great element to The Monster Squad, that while there are some intense moments (the Wolfman’s transition from human to wolf form is one of the best ever captured on camera thanks to late makeup master Stan Winston), the movie is kid-friendly.
Lionsgate released a 20th Anniversary Edition of The Monster Squad on DVD in 2007. Until this time the movie had only scene distribution via VHS. It wasn’t until over year after a special screening with a cast reunion at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas that had lines formed around the street that the copyright owners decide to do a digital release. Two years later, Lionsgate released the film on Blu-ray.
I’ve seen neither DVD release thus far. Scenes from the film often replay in the recesses of my conscious, but as a fan, I’m sorry to say I am the most superficial. Perhaps it is only because I watched it so often as a boy, I fear reacquainting myself may be disappointing. A number of my favorite flicks from childhood have suffered this fate. What held up for an eight-year-old, or 1989, often won’t in today’s aggressive film arena.
But there are ways to combat any potential antiquity, namely a screening with an unfamiliar party. I see it actually working wonders for a blossoming romance. Nothing says endearing as much as reminiscent romp through some adolescent innocence… even if the Wolfman does get blown up with a stick of dynamite (note: of course he’s not dead, and I trust you’ve come to the obvious conclusion at to why not).