The Monster Squad was a pivotal film from my childhood, and looking back on it now, it’s really easy to see why. Independently produced and released by TriStar Pictures in 1987 (I was seven…) and given the then-golden rating of PG-13 when it actually meant something, I was taken to the theater to see this film by my parents, who probably didn’t know there’d be some wonderful, envelope pushing humor (for the time) that I’d become completely obsessed with for months to follow, and some genuine scares for youngsters. Co-written by Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Predator, The Long Kiss Goodnight), executive produced by Peter Hyams (Capricorn One, 2010, Busting), and co-written and directed by Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps), this is a kick-ass, totally awesome movie for the kid inside of all of us, made by smart grown-ups who never looked down on the childlike fascination that they must’ve know the film would inspire, especially from those of us who were raised on a steady diet of monsters, ghouls, and assorted nasties of the night. With fantastic make-up effects from Stan Winston (Terminator, Jurassic Park, Iron Man), the film involves a group of pre-teen boys who form a Monster Club in their back-yard. This is the same sort of idiocy I used to pull in my days of horsing around outside in the summer, so it was very easy for me to latch onto the narrative.
The kids meet their ultimate match when they discover that, naturally, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Mummy, and the Gila Monster are all living in their neighborhood, all in cahoots with each other, all hell-bent on world domination, all being fueled by Dracula’s quest to find some sort of green amulet that controls interdimensional travel. And wouldn’t you know it – it’s up to the group of intrepid youngsters to stop them! All of the child actors did a great job, even if none of them went on to do anything major other than solid TV work in the future. But no matter — those kids were the Monster Squad — and that would have been enough for me! There’s also a solid, late 80’s supporting cast featuring Stephen Macht and Mary Ellen Trainor as the lead kid-hero’s parents, Tom Noonan(!) as Frankenstein, the sensational Duncan Regehr as Dracula, Jon Gries doing a super job as Wolfman, Stan Shaw as a cop, and Leonardo Cimino as the immortal “Scary German Guy.” Seriously…this movie is just so much FUN, and despite the critical swats and box office indifference back in the day, it’s formed a massive cult following (VESTRON VHS POWER), and over the years, more and more kids from various generations have discovered this low-budget gem ($12 million according to Wikipedia) that was high on humor and horror without ever becoming intensely gory or over the top.
Bradford May‘s shadowy and full-bodied 2.35:1 widescreen cinematography captures all of the various monsters with a fantastic sense of atmosphere and genre classicism, and the various action sequences, especially the climactic battle on the old set from Back to the Future, Gremlins, and To Kill a Mockingbird, have an integrity to them that’s rather smashing to notice in retrospect. It’s also a film that relied on traditional, old-school monster transformations (love the editing when showing Dracula shape-shifting and the practical werewolf effects are rather stunning) which, for me, will always trump the latest CGI advancement. The opening credit sequence which showcased Van Helsing tracking his lethal prey before getting swallowed up into Limbo is a loving recreation of old school monster movie and genre influences, shot with candle and moonlight and displaying a daring, violent attitude during the opening moments. This film always had an edge – it was that “cool movie” that some kids loved but others weren’t allowed to see – and I’ll always cherish it, even I there’s slicker (more cynical) “kiddie” product out there. The Blu-ray special edition is loaded with special features and sports an excellent image and sound transfer.