Shit That I Love – ‘The Monster Squad’

Because what better way to start documenting the things I’m into right now than by bringing up a 25-year-old movie?

Yep – 25 years. A movie released in cinemas (in the U.S, at least), on my 7th birthday. Wow… now I feel old AND a little lame…

Just briefly, the plot concerns Dracula enlisting the help of a crew of legendary monsters to search for an amulet that will DUH-DUH-DUUUUHHHHHHH… allow him to rule the world. The only thing standing in his way? 12-year-old Sean, and his rag-tag crew of monster hunting enthusiasts… THE MONSTER SQUAD!

Author’s Note: That paragraph is wayyyyy more effective if you imagine it being read aloud by Vincent Price.

Author’s Note #2: But then, everything sounds better being read by Vincent Price.

Let’s push on.

Most people who haven’t seen ‘The Monster Squad’ (and let’s face it, a lot who have) would just write this film off as a family friendly, post-‘Goonies’ era rip-off. And in many ways, they’re not completely wrong. Both movies feature a pre-teen protagonist, who along with a small group of loyal friends, become involved in a thrilling adventure with life-and-death stakes. Hell, once you replace the Fratelli’s with some classic (albeit uniquely designed) Universal monsters, is there any real difference between the two flicks whatsoever?

If this kid does the truffle shuffle, I'm asking for my money back...

Well, yeah. There’s a huge difference, really. First and foremost, check out the ‘written by’ credit on the poster above. One name might stick out… Shane Black. This was one of Black’s first scripts produced after he graduated from UCLA. A few other films written by Shane you may have heard of? Well how about ‘Lethal Weapon 1 & 2’, ‘The Last Boy Scout’, ‘The Last Action Hero’, and ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’. Combine that with the fact that Black managed to talk his way into starring in ‘Predator’ with Arnie while he was doing punch-up re-writes on the script for Joel Silver, and… well… there’s a reason why I’d kill to have a career like Shane Black.

Pictured, the only male cast member of 'Predator' that took a REASONABLE amount of steroids & growth hormone

Black’s script for ‘The Monster Squad’ (once director Fred Dekker talked him out of an opening sequence that would have supposedly cost the entire film’s budget) is positively FILLED with Shane Black-ism’s. He includes the following exchange between 2 cargo pilots, flying a light aircraft (which, SPOILERS, contains Dracula’s coffin & Frankenstein’s remains):

PILOT #1 (dejected)

I’m depressed

 

PILOT #2

What for???

 

PILOT #1

What do you mean, what for? I’m flying a world war 2 bomber, with wooden crates in it and a dead body. I should have a party?

 

PILOT #2

Do they complain? Do they get airsick? Do they ask for more of those little almond things?

 

PILOT #1 (suddenly cheery)

You’re right. This is a great job. I’m really happy.

 

The movie is full of these little asides between the adults, moments that make it especially to clear to the intended audience, ‘Hey – the grown ups… ? They have no idea what they’re doing either!’ Bear in mind this is ostensibly a kids movie, the only one Black would ever pen.  

Which is a damn shame. Because Black’s script, and Dekker’s direction, pulls absolutely zero punches. This is a family film that, unlike the current crop of sanitized ‘products’ marketed to kids, is unafraid to be a little ribald, a little honest, and a little goddamn scary when it needs to be.

I love the fact that (within reason) these kids curse – 5-year-old Phoebe gets to tell her older brother and his friends to stop acting so chicken-shit. Perhaps the most famous sequence in the film…

… involves the Wolfman getting kicked right in the nards. Yes, that’s right – the nards.

And Dracula? He’s a real bad ass villain, totally prepared to call a little girl like Phoebe a bitch if she gets in his way!

For realsies.

Rudy, the smooth, leather jacket-wearing, teenage member of the gang , makes smoking look as cool as cool gets. One of the team has an older sister who’s recruited to recite an ancient passage to vanquish the monsters, one that can only be read by a virgin (a plan that goes slightly awry when she’s pressed on the subject of her virginity “Well… there’s Steve, but he doesn’t count!”). Kids handle a shit-ton of weapons, including guns, bows and arrows, explosives, shotguns, and a garlic pizza. NONE of which would make it into a family film anymore.

It also has Jason Hervey, the older brother from 'The Wonder Years', calling Fat Kid a faggot. I'm not sure which is more offensive these days, the 'f' word, or Jason Hervey

Cast wise? There is practically no one that was recognisable in 1987, let alone 2012. Nope, no Sean Astin. No Corey Feldman. No Josh Brolin. It DOES feature a moment of Goondocks cross-pollination though. Mary Ellen Trainor plays an extremely similar Mom character to ‘Monster Squad’s’ Sean as she did to Sean… sorry… Mikey, in ‘The Goonies’. It’s no huge coincidence however, when you see Mary’s face…

I AM the 80's, Bitch!

And realise she starred in approximately 87% of all movies made between 1984 and 1989 (like how about ‘Romancing the Stone’, ‘Die Hard’, ‘Lethal Weapon’ 1 & 2, ‘Action Jackson’, ‘Scrooged’, ‘Ghostbuster 2’ & ‘Back to the Future 2’?).

In fact, the biggest name cast member in ‘The Monster Squad’ didn’t even make the final cut of the movie. He wasn’t even filmed. His character, a Renfield-like minion of Dracula’s, was cut by Dekker from the script just before filming, after casting had already been completed. It was a way to save time and money during the shoot. No big loss, just some young Irish fella named Liam Something-or-other.

Consider it a bullet dodged, Monster Squad

Perhaps one of my biggest joys when it comes to the movie? The creature make-up by the one and only Stan Winston. The guy who, in my opinion, remains the greatest creature artist in the history of American cinema.

He was a genius. And rather than continue making this entire blog post one IMDB bio after another, I’ll just post this embiggenable picture that I’d strongly urge you to click on. THIS is one of the boardrooms at Stan Winston Studios in California…

You can also click here to visit an interactive studio tour to see the room in greater detail, where up in a corner, you might just happen to see the Wolfman, the Mummy, Gillman & the Frankenstein monster taking 5.

See, although Dekker’s film would feature an array monsters from Universal’s classic horror films from the 1930’s & 40’s, the ‘Monster Squad’ was produced by Tri-Star Pictures… not Universal. Enter Stan Winston, Monster Creator (yes, that is his actual credit from the film). So as not to violate Universal’s copyright on classic characters like the Frankenstein Monster, Winston was tasked with creating a new, idiosyncratic look for each of the creatures.

He succeeded. In spades. Cos he was Stan F'n Winston!

Winston’s creatures were fresh yet extremely familiar, visually interesting, scary but not too scary for a young audience. And while they never surpassed the original monster designs of the 30’s and 40’s for me (even as I type this I’m wearing a t-shirt I bought at Universal Studios featuring Lugosi, Chaney, Karloff & Co… #NERD!), they did play an important part in my maturation as a horror fan.

As a 7 or 8-year-old, I’d quickly become fascinated by the film ‘Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein’. As I watched, and re-watched the movie on our Beta video player (the VHS would not enter the Monkey household for a year or two yet) I was formally introduced to some of these classic horror characters, whose monstrosity was filtered through the usual Bud & Lou shenanigans. I remember watching the whole movie end to end countless times, all the while marvelling in my head that it was scary AND funny.  I loved the scenes set in Dracula’s old castle, in his secret dungeons, and in the misty forest nearby. More than anything the monsters actually DID in the movie though, I loved the potential for unspeakable horror each creature represented.

Enter ‘The Monster Squad’, which I saw at my friend Matt’s place when he rented it from the local video shop. A year or two older and wiser, I was impressed by how much bigger the movie was than A & C’s dabble into creature features. How much scarier, and bloodier the monsters were. Sean was the kid that I wished I could be (smart, brave, a leader… oh, and slim – very important to a chubby kid). Again, I watched from start to finish, sitting next to Matt on his couch, even sitting through the god-awful end credit music all the way through. I didn’t know it, but ‘The Monster Squad’ had changed me.

And then I didn’t watch it again for almost 20 years.

What can I say? The only movies we owned in my house were the ones we’d taped off the television, commercial breaks and all. None of our local video shops had a copy of ‘The Monster Squad’. Besides which, Matt was busy introducing me to other video’s over the next few years… movies like ‘Evil Dead II’, ‘Jaws’, ‘Clerks’, ‘Brain Dead’ (or Dead Alive, for my American friends)… all amongst my favourite movies of all time, even to this day.

But even so…

‘The Monster Squad’ had been an important movie in my young life. It was my ‘gateway drug’ to more horror. More movies. More books. An adolescence writing stories, and filming horror-comedy short films with my friends. Sam Raimi. George Romero. Stephen King… boyyy, did it lead to Stephen King. Eventually I’d head off to university, where the only thing I wanted to pursue was more cinema. A post-grad screenwriting course. And now a career (admittedly, a career tilting at windmills) working my way up in the film and television business.

Was it all because of movies like ‘Star Wars’, ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’, ‘Grease’, and ‘The Monster Squad’? Who knows. I do know that there is still no other industry I’d rather work in, no other dream I’d want to chase. Even if said dream is more often than not a slippery, incredibly elusive, heart breaking she-bitch, capable of making you metaphorically crotch-punch yourself to tears. Or become a Production Runner. 

"Sorry? No, of course I can pick up fresh organic blueberries, 8 litres of goats milk, a high viz vest and a power adaptor for a 2002 Macbook on the way to set without being late"

I was on Amazon.com in 2007  when I saw that ‘The Monster Squad’ was finally being released on DVD to commemorate it’s 20th anniversary. And you better believe I ordered that shit faster than you can say ‘exorbitant international shipping rates’. I popped the disc into my Samsung DVD player one sunny Saturday afternoon. Grabbed a Pepsi from the fridge. Plugged a few more companies in hope of some sponsorship dollar dollar. And pressed play.

82 minutes later… the verdict?

Judging by the smile on my face you’d have thought the film had been remade, starring all of my favourite actors, set in my hometown, and featured an all new love interest played by Scarlett Johansson, who repeatedly mistakenly called Sean by my real Christian name (hint: it’s not really ‘Button’).

Nostalgic sentiment washed over me, coupled with the realisation that the movie actually held up pretty goddamn well (at least in my eyes). It’s not a perfect film by any means – there are a few awkward cuts, the score is probably best left in 1987, and some moments manage to transcend cheesiness, attaining a state of being that I like to call IncrediCheese™! 

Rock on, Van Helsing!

And yet, it’s gone beyond a guilty pleasure in my house. It rests atop a pretty short stack of DVD’s that I can throw on as white noise, or for my (much younger) siblings when they visit, that I can watch intently, or that I can ignore while I go about my day. I know that I never actually feel like a kid again when I sit down for what must be viewing # 214. But it does enable me to remember who that kid was, what he thought about, and the things that he enjoyed. It reminds me of the joy he felt when he realised half way through a movie that he was discovering something that he loved for the first time. It reminds me why he started chasing his/our dreams in the first place.

It was one of the best 20 dollar purchases I ever made, and a movie experience I hope all of you get to have, at least once in your life.

So… what do you think about that, Van Helsing?

Man, he's really stoked he finally caught that toothy bastard, huh?

If you made it this far, thanks for sticking with me. I’ll do my best to remain a little more concise, and on point, next time.

Until then, remember to secure your clubhouse, it’s always handy to have a tough, cool older friend, and most of all…

Wolfman’s got nards!

BPM

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One Response to “Shit That I Love – ‘The Monster Squad’”

  1. evanb Says:

    I have never heard of this film, and I watch WAY to many films. As soon as a finish ‘My Dinner with Andre’ – Thank you very much Community, you bastard. This is next on the list.

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