In film, there is art and there is fun. Sometimes they coexist and sometimes they do not. Either way, it is usually the fun that reminds us of falling in love with the medium.
During elementary school a friend of mine owned a degraded VHS copy of The Monster Squad. If you have never seen this movie it is well worth the time. I watched it once with him at his house, indifferent to the proposition before me. It was a typical post-school afternoon play date request when we had nothing else to do, but became one of those important film moments, filling my head with excitement and wonder.
Released in 1987, the film is about a group of young kids obsessed with monster movies who form a club and end up doing battle with the monsters they so love, to keep Count Dracula from taking over the world. Sort of like The Goonies in flavor, the film is not high art by any means, but it’s not trying to be. All the biggies of horror movie history return for the fight (though Frankenstein ends up being a softy and helps the kids) and over eighty minutes the film accomplishes everything the recent flick Van Helsing attempted, only better, with its wonderful eighties aesthetic and good old fashioned monster effects.
Universal did not provide the rights to use their monsters in the film so Stan Winston worked hard to alter them just enough to be free and clear. Typically terrific, the designs actually elevate the film to a slightly grander scale than it necessarily needed. Ramping up scenes with the Wolfman and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Winston’s work allows for a richness that the narrative is really not striving to have. There are details in the designs meant for the most illustrious of films and yet they were made with love and care for a basic kind of schlock fest.
In the last few years the film has moved from the annals of cinema to the hands of eager viewers with special edition DVD and Blu-ray releases. It’s a glorious ride that has had a rich following, but very little availability in the mainstream market for viewing previously. After seeing it the first time I spent many years trying to even remember what the title was and then trying to track down any sort of copy. And yet, I also think the degraded VHS is kind of where it belongs. I cannot even remember if my friend had a retail copy or if he taped the film off of TV, but the degrading added to the experience.
Call it a guilty pleasure or just embrace it for what it is; either way there is no denying The Monster Squad is fun and has one of the best deliveries of any film when Dracula picks up the little girl, Phoebe, by the throat and menacingly says “Give me the amulet, you BITCH!” It’s priceless. Oh yeah, and then there’s, “Wolfman’s got nards.”
Find the IMDb page here.
Garrett D. Tiedemann 1/28/12