Viva la 80’s! It seems like everywhere I turn lately there is a great cheeseball horror movie from the mid-80’s. What a great decade for fun. This week I checked out The Monster Squad for what I thought would be the first time. Turns out I’ve seen it before, but I can’t say I was angry about the revisit. The Monster Squad isn’t your typical goofy 80’s horror movie though; it’s actually a reasonably well scripted story with enough allusion to make a grown man squeal. Well maybe that was just me, but when you lump every Universal Monster together in a kid-driven modern version of House of Frankenstein, you really can’t go wrong.
The basic plot centers around Sean and his group of monster-obsessed friends, dubbed The Monster Squad. They mostly sit around in their tree house and talk about how cool monsters are, but when Sean obtains Van Helsing’s secret journal from a yard sale all hell breaks loose. Dracula has returned, and with him the Mummy, the Wolfman, Frankenstein and the “Gill Man”. Drac sets to work trying to find an amulet that will destroy the world while the boys concoct an equally daring plan to retrieve the amulet and send Drac and his friends back to limbo where they belong. With the help of a hilarious set of misfits including little sister Pheobe, “Fat Kid”, Eugene and “Scary German Guy”, Sean takes the battle to Dracula’s home court.
The most entertaining part of The Monster Squad is their portrayal of the classic Universal Monsters. The writers really took the time to develop these “villains” into characters, just as each monster’s original creator did. Also, with the exception of Dracula, they stayed true to their original characters. Dracula, because they needed a main bad guy, was a super evil count bent on conquering the world. I guess that could work, but Dracula is more of a romantic in my eyes. Dr. Frankenstein would have fit better in that role, stereotype-wise. Frankenstein’s monster (and in true fanboy fashion the boys make sure to mention that time and time again), on the other hand, is the same lovable, lumbering, not-so-bright giant that you loved back in 1931. Wolfman is again a tragic hero, a good guy in man form but a veritable killing machine as a wolf. Gill Man, my favorite, is just about as scary as he is in his marquee film Creature from the Black Lagoon. Which is to say, he looks scary but really doesn’t do anything. And then there’s the Mummy, who takes on the more “mainstream” role of the mummy, the bandaged bad guy who seems scary but eventually is unraveled and destroyed. All in all, each monster puts a smile onto the faces of fans.
The titular “Monster Squad” is made up of Sean and his friends, an odd assortment of kids who hang out in a tree house and talk about monsters. The clubhouse set itself is awesome, action figures everywhere and walls swathed in horror movie posters. We’re not sure exactly who is in the club and what their real motives are (I’m talking about you, Rudy), but they band together when it counts. The driving force is that they all are obsessed with monsters, and know just about everything there is to know about them. Except, of course, what the two ways to kill a werewolf are. One is obviously a silver bullet, but the second seems to be a real brain teaser… you’ll see. The characters of the good guys are just as interesting as the villains, which is another testament to Shane Black and Fred Dekker’s prowess in character development and dynamics. Sean is the kid that all of us used to be, “Fat Kid” has a name that speaks for itself, and Eugene is such a goof you can’t help but love him. Really the center point of the movie, the fictional characters that make up the Monster Squad make it very easy to relate to the movie, making it infinitely more enjoyable.
For all it’s pluses, The Monster Squad does have it’s downsides. Why else would it only have seven stars on IMDB? First off, the directing is lackluster. Not that it really detracts from the film, but it’s really nothing special. The visual effects and sound, really the whole of the production, is not really worth a whole paragraph. Shots and angles are basic, we get the usual lightning effects but nothing too cool, and the score is forgettable, not in the good way. The plot itself is also fairly weak. That’s not to say that the story is lacking, but it terms of a motivating force for the action of the film, I found myself a bit bored. The characters really make up for the plot, and that is what you remember after the credits roll. You’ll see I’m still giving this a good “STORY” score, but only because I’ve just explained myself. There’s much more to STORY than just a plotline.
In conclusion, The Monster Squad is a fantastic movie for what it is. People that aren’t fans of horror probably won’t like it and will find it stupid. People who are casual fans will enjoy it, but not as thoroughly as the more hardcore aficionados. And then there’s the guys that are still very in touch with their inner child: You will be like me, rolling on the ground laughing most of the film. I’ve often made the comment that I love movies about movies; well, this one isn’t about movies, but it’s about horror fans, and what better than a movie about yourself? I told the people I was watching this with, “This movie was made for eleven and twelve year olds. This is the movie you snuck into if you were under thirteen in 1987”. If you can’t relate, you probably have no business watching this. But then again, if you can’t relate, you probably will never stumble across this gem from the days where horror was fun.