80’s Amblin nostalgia fuses together with classic Hammer horror characters in The Monster Squad, a film I never even knew existed until it was brought to my attention by twitter peeps the other day, but after one viewing I’m immediately in love. This exists in the same cherished vein of stuff like The Goonies, Flight Of The Navigator, Gremlins etc and the aesthetic is always irresistible no matter what, then throw in this classic horror flavour too and you’re pretty much guaranteed to win me over. Monsters are loose in small town Americana, and that’s pretty much all you need to known plot-wise in a review. A band of local kids who call themselves The Monster Squad because they’ve always been prepping to fight imaginary beasties finds themselves hurled into a very real fight against a very real posse of them lead by Dracula himself (Duncan Regehr). There’s also a nervous Wolfman (Jon Gries), a mummy (Michael Reid Mackay) and a surprisingly benign Frankenstein’s monster played by the great Tom Noonan. It’s all very playful, loosely structured and down to earth, the child characters emblazoned with the kind of aggressively cute, profane yet ultimately sweet personalities that only the deepest of 80’s cuts in cinema could offer. The best part of the film for me was the warm-hearted, touching friendship between one of the squad’s baby sister (Ashley Bank) and Noonan’s monster who are both unbearably adorable. Blessedly prosthetic monster effects, a campy yet very smartly written tone and vivid, memorable characters make this an absolute treasure.
I love those films that revolve around a feverish, high profile celebrity boxing match, whether the stakes are placed on the fight itself or on the characters spectating. There’s a sense of intrigue and danger to that kind of sporting event that makes for great mood setting and story establishment. In Brian De Palma’s Snake Eyes, Nicolas Cage and Gary Sinise find themselves pulled into a shadowy assignation attempt on the life of the Secretary of Defense as a fight rages just past ringside in Atlantic City (Vegas Lite).
The character dynamic between the two actors here is superb; Cage is Santoro, a cheerfully corrupt detective who dresses like a pimp, ruthlessly schmoozes his way into profitable exchanges and has hopes of one day being the mayor simply due to the fact that he’s well connected. Sinise is Commander Dunne and couldn’t be cut from a more different cloth, he’s a buttoned down, modest, even toned military man who resents Santoro for being such a merciless showboat but has reconciled that with the fact that they grew up together. After the chaotic assignation, they’re tasked with interviewing any and all witnesses and let me tell you in an arena that crowded and fired up, this is no easy task. Stan Shaw (remember him from Fried Green Tomatoes?) is terrific as Lincoln Tyler, the hulking prizefighter who clearly knows something based on the dark, sheepish looks he casts around when being interrogated. Others involved include Carla Gugino as a mysterious operative, John Heard as a fast talking politician, Kevin Dunn, Michael Rispoli, Luis Guzman, Mike Starr, Peter McRobbie, Tamara Tunie and more.
I’ve heard claims that this film builds into a third act that’s bombastic and ridiculous, but hello people, this is a Brian De Palma film and the guy is in love with overblown sensationalism. That’s not to say he doesn’t have tact or skill in building slow suspense either. He has a way with long, uneasy tracking shots (I’ve always thought he’d be a great helmer for a Michael Myers Halloween film) as characters pursue each other through detailed, densely populated environments. There’s an extended sequence set in a hotel here where a baddie searches for a witness with cold resolve that’s among the best thriller set pieces I’ve seen anywhere. Of course it gets kind of WTF in the third act but I love that turn of events just as much, it adds a level of political paranoia that rises above simply a few people conspiring to take out a leader they don’t like, and the fun is in watching each hilarious new piece of the puzzle land with a boom n’ crash. I’ll tell you one thing, although I could have guessed early on who the mastermind behind all this hubbub is, I would have *never* in a million years guessed why or how it plays out or the reasons behind the whole thing, and you have to give De Palma and screenwriter David Koepp mad props for pulling that off. Plus the thing just has energy, adrenaline, personality and fucking awesome visual panache to spare. Great film.