The Monster Squad (1987)

Nostalgia has gotten out of control in the past couple of years, particularly when it relates to pop culture born in the ’80s and, to a lesser extent, the early portion of the ’90s. The worst part of it all is that I know it’s my generation’s fault*, so I would like to offer up an apology to society on behalf of all of us. What us twenty and thirty somethings need to take pause and remember is that just because we as children voraciously consumed a television show like Full House or a movie like Megaforce or because we got a Howard the Duck toy in our happy meals** on the weekly family jaunt to McDonalds doesn’t mean these entertainments are worthy of the “underrated” tag or the heaps of praise lavished on them online. Before you freak out, let me put my money where my mouth is by offering up a personal example.

As a child, I fucking loved He-Man. I had all the action figures my parents would allow in our modest home, and at one point, they even went on an odyssey to find Merman, who, for some reason, was the hardest action figure to find in the history of action figures. I had Castle Greyskull. I had assorted vehicles and Battle Cat and Panthor. The show and character are now 100% responsible for my unwavering loyalty to Dolph Lundgren. There is no way around it, facts are facts, I was pretty much obsessed with the show, watching it on a daily basis. But holy hell does that show suck now, a fact that was cruelly learned when I got a boxset containing the first season of the show a couple of years back. I got through around 7 episodes—which was a feat of nostalgic strength, I assure you—before I had to throw in the towel, realizing that the animation was elementary (if I had to see He-Man deep squat and toss a boulder at bad guys one more time, my mind may have snapped) and the stories rudimentary in the worst possible way.

Even worse is when I allow myself to be tricked into watching a film that a friend holds dear due to viewing it in his or her formative years, that for some reason (being grounded, the tape was always rented, rock slides, etc.), I missed as I was growing up. This never works out for either party. My reaction to the film falls into the range of ambivalence to outright violent dismissal 99% of the time, leading to awkward conversations once they pose the inevitable “Did you watch {insert film title here}?, Isn’t it awesome?”, questions that I then have to answer honestly because I’m that type of guy, unwilling to lie about not liking an arbitrary piece of pop culture. This happened to me when I caught The Wizard a couple of years back at the behest of several friends, all of whom have above-board taste in film, by the way. While the Fred Savage opus isn’t the worst offense ever put to celluloid, it’s rather bad, essentially a 90 minute ad for the original Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Mario 3, quite possibly the most hyped video game ever up until that point in time. I was bored to tears but at least my friends recognized my response to be rational, some even admitting that they hadn’t seen it in a long time, and with hindsight being 20/20, they may even feel the same way if they were to screen it now. For these reasons, I put off watching Monster Squad for a long time, a decision I have come to regret as it truly is an effort worthy of the cult status it attained after it bombed so spectacularly upon its release. Fred Dekker’s film is a blend of genre types, including action-adventure, horror, and comedy, making it a solid title that also makes viewers that grew up in the era responsible for Reganomics appropriately nostalgic.

The story follows a young lad by the name of Sean (Andre Gower) who, along with his friends, have formed a club based around their shared love of old-school horror films and their respective icons, Dracula, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Frankenstein’s Monster to name a few. They take science fiction and horror seriously; their rooms are decorated to the nines with vintage movie posters (Vampire Circus!) and action figures of the characters they hold dear. To enter their exclusive coalition, one must pass a pop quiz featuring a smattering of questions designed to make sure the potential member has the same burning passions they possess. The group is rounded out by Patrick, Sean’s best bud; the unfortunately nicknamed Fat Kid, otherwise known by his equally unfortunate Christian name, Horace; and Rudy, the cool-as-shit middle school kid that seems to have timed traveled back with Marty via his DeLorean, given his choice in wardrobe, bike style, and the fact that he likes to hang out at diners that carry with them a sensibility found in the ’50s, offering their customers malts via a park and order from your car service. Noticing the warning signs throughout their sleepy town, the grade-school fright fans come to discover that their favorite baddies have arrived in town, looking to take over the world by obtaining an amulet that would give Dracula the ultimate power he craves, and make the decision to take matters in their own hands, recognizing that this is the battle they have been unwittingly training for their entire lives.

The Monster Squad represents a solid entry in one of my favorite genres, The Team-Up Film***. The crux of this story concept is fairly simple: it brings together a disparate group of people with a common cause, goal, or enemy together, and sees if they can overcome their differences to use their exclusive talents to overcome the odds. Other examples of the Team-Up Film include this year’s The Avengers, Ocean’s 11, and The Seven Samurai. This little cinematic gem fits squarely within the Kids Team-Up subgenre, featuring classics like The Goonies and The Sandlot or in the underrated, forgotten (by most) film, BMX Bandits. These genre efforts tend to at least be interesting, and when you have a script writer that is on a roll, as Shane Black (Lethal Weapon) was at the time, and a director who brings an obvious love for old school horror to the table, you get a pretty damn fine kids flick, filled with bad-ass one-liners and moments that allow each member to get their place in the sun.

While its true that the film is more than a bit silly, propelled by several insane coincidences, Black’s script has a definite sense of fun and action, never taking itself too seriously, which helps to balance the menace of the monsters with the enthusiasm of the children. In a refreshing subtle fashion, his work also takes the B plot sincerely, one that doesn’t pop up frequently in movies of this nature, the marital woes of Sean’s parents, helping to make The Monster Squad unique. One of the biggest things going for Dekker’s film is the fact that movies like this don’t get made anymore. Child actors smoke, the fat kid goes by Fat Kid, the words homo and faggot are thrown around liberally, and Patrick’s older sister’s (an early high school student, at best) virginity is consistently called into question. I’m not one to use this type of language or to discriminate against others due to weight or sexual orientation, but it is refreshing in how un-PC it is while managing to become an accurate representation of how it was to grow up in the time of Hypercolor shirts and Jams, ultimately imbuing the film with a sense of reality that help to counteract aspects that date the film. In the clip below, both Fat Kid and Rudy (wicked entrance) are introduced along with the bully of the picture–played by the go to prepubescent/teen asshole of the ‘80s, Jason Hervey–giving everyone a good taste of the tone employed in the next hour and a half.

It’s a crime that both The Monster Squad and Night of the Creeps failed at the box office, as Dekker was a unique directorial voice, something we need more of in cinema, and specifically in the horror genre. Between these two efforts and his script work on another, mostly forgotten genre offering in House, I think it was obvious that he was one of the more talented horror auteurs at that time, deftly blending horror and comedy troupes together for maximum effect. He would only go on to direct one other film, bottoming out with 1993’s odious Robocop 3. Hopefully, he can take solace in the fact that both have gone on to find generous followings, an audience who appreciates his talents, and film lovers who are on his wavelength. More importantly, he managed to get this film buff to move past his rants and raves to deeply enjoy a film that transcends the trappings of nostalgia.

-David

*And VH1 for those horrendous I-Love-Whatever –Decade-Is-In-Vogue-This-Week show staring D-list celebrities making truly God-awful jokes about New Coke and Dana Plato.

**Don’t get overly excited, to my knowledge, this never happened.

***I may have just coined this phrase, as Google doesn’t really provide me with solid hits on the phrase “team up movies”. If so, I will begin charging $10 per use of this phrase to those who wish to use it.

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