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The Monster Squad (1987)

Lionsgate Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 7/24/2007

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/25/2007

It would be absurd to call me a "film completist", as I can’t see every movie. But, in my younger days, when I had much more free time, I did watch as many movies as I could. And yet, there were some that I missed. Given my love for horror films, one would think that I would have checked out 1987’s The Monster Squad, but I didn’t catch it in it’s brief theatrical run. Nor did I rent it. Nor did I see it on HBO. For some reason, I never went out of my way to see The Monster Squad. Now, the movie has re-surfaced on a 20th Anniversary Edition DVD. And I must say that I wasn’t missing anything for all of those years.

The Monster Squad takes place in a small town where a group of young boys, Sean (Andre Gower), Patrick (Robby Kiger), Horace (Brent Chalem), Rudy (Ryan Lambert), and Eugene (Michael Faustino), have a club where they talk about monsters. Unbeknownst to them, their darkest wishes are about to come true, as Dracula (Duncan Regehr) has come to town in search of an ancient amulet. Every 100 years, the balance between good and evil is equalized and Dracula can use the amulet to shift the balance in the favor of evil. To carry out his plan, he’s enlisted Frankenstein’s Monster (Tom Noonan), a werewolf (Jon Gries), a mummy (Michael MacKay), and a “gill man” (Tom Woodruff, Jr.). Through his father, who is a police officer, Sean learns that many odd things are happening around town, and once his sister Phoebe (Ashley Bank) brings Frankenstein’s Monster home, he learns the truth. Sean and his buddies realize that they are the only ones who can stop the monsters.

Looking over the materials included with the DVD, it’s clear why I didn’t see The Monster Squad when it was first released. The movie concerns monsters, specifically monsters which resemble the classic Universal Monsters, which should have appealed to me. But, I was in my late teens when the film debuted, and it also looked like a kids movie, which would not have been my thing. Having now seen the movie, I’ve learned that this dual personality permeates the movie -- a movie which can’t decide what it wants to be.

The advertising for The Monster Squad makes the movie look like a kids movie -- many compare it to The Goonies. The main characters in the film are school-age kids who love monster movies. Once the real monsters arrive, the kids find that they can’t trust adults and that they must take matters into their own hands.

However, that’s where the label of “kid’s movie” ends. The film features a kid who smokes, several deaths, a character calling a 5-year old “bitch”, and a discussion of whether or not a teenage girl is a virgin. The movie is filled with material that most adults would consider objectionable, and it makes the overall tone of the film wildly uneven. Co-writer/director Fred Dekker had just come off of an R-rated horror film, Night of the Creeps, and he clearly, whether intentional or not, carried that sort of vibe over into this film. In theory, the movie is aimed at 13-year old boys. Would they enjoy the content of the film? Yes, they most likely would. But, is this something that they should be exposed to? That question isn’t as easy to answer. There have been many films since which have pushed the envelope of the PG-13, but few have been so ostensibly aimed at tweens.

All of that aside, The Monster Squad probably won’t appeal to many viewers anyway, because it simply isn’t a very good movie. The story, written by Dekker and Shane Black, who was on the verge of becoming a hot property for Lethal Weapon, is very erratic and episodic. On the DVD commentary, Dekker himself admits that Dracula’s plan is muddled and it’s never clear why all of the monster’s have gathered. The movie is made up of vignettes where the monster’s appear, and then the boy do something. We get little character development and the only thing of which I’m certain is that Sean’s parents are having marital problems.

The weakest link in the film is Dracula. While Dekker may applaud Regehr’s performance, I found his Dracula to be quite anemic. The actor aside, Dracula’s activities in the film aren’t very scary. While he can transform into a bat, and he presumably bites people, he drives an antique hearse and attacks people with dynamite. Yes, dynamite. In short, he’s not scary. In fact, the only scary creature here is the werewolf, whose feral intensity is unnerving at times.

The home video revolution and the internet age has made it possible for most any movie to become a cult film and now, it’s The Monster Squad’s turn. I suppose that I can see how some fans can feel nostalgic about the movie, and fans of Universal Monsters probably like to see (modified versions) of their favorites in action. But, the movie simply isn’t very good, and if it wasn’t good in 1987, twenty years definitely haven’t been good to it. Adults will find the movie boring and kids probably shouldn’t see it. For years, all that anyone remembered about this movie was the line, “Wolfman’s got nards!”. Maybe that’s all anyone should remember.

The Monster Squad rises from the grave and onto DVD courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image here looks OK. The picture is fairly clear and it shows no grain or defects from the source material. However, The Monster Squad has that mid-to-late 80s soft focus look and there’s a halo around nearly every object in the frame in the daytime scenes. Granted this has nothing to do with the transfer, but the digital image really enhances this effect, making some shots look blurry. The colors are fine, although they are faded in some shots. Video noise can be seen at times, most notably in window blinds. The DVD carries a newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is your typical new 5.1 track for an older movie, as the audio comes mostly from the center channel. I did note some stereo effects, but I didn’t hear any surround or subwoofer action.

The 2-disc DVD set of The Monster Squad contains many extras. Disc 1 has two AUDIO COMMENTARIES. The first features Dekker along with actors Andre Gower, Ryan Lambert, and Ashley Bank. This is an OK commentary as the quartet has many moments of silence. When they do speak, they talk about the production, but it’s clear that the three actors don’t remember as much about the shoot as Dekker does. The second track, with Dekker and director of photography Bradford May, is better. Here, the pair talk at length about the shoot. Dekker talks about the development of the script while May shares anecdotes about the production.

The remainder of the extras can be found on Disc 2, which is dominated by “Monster Squad Forever”. This 88-minute documentary traces many facets of the movie. We get an overview of Dekker’s career and stories of how the film was conceived in “The Monster Master”. Special effects make-up artists Tom Woodruff, Jr. Steve Wang, and Matt Rose talk about creating the monsters in “The Monster Makers”. “The Monsters and the Squad” provides an overview of the cast and their characters (Liam Neeson was originally considered for Dracula!). Several cast members provide comments here. In “Lights, Camera, Monsters!”, the cast and crew talk about the look of the film, the score, and the visual FX. They also talk reminisce about making the movie and what it meant to them. Finally, “Monster Mania!” explores the fact that The Monster Squad has become a cult film and shows convention footage. The DVD contains six DELETED SCENES, taken from Dekker’s private collection, which run about 8 minutes. Most of these focus on Sean’s parents. The extras are rounded out by an “Animated Storyboard Sequence”, STILL GALLERY, ORIGINAL THEATRICAL TRAILER, and a TV SPOT.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long