Monday, April 27, 2009

A Frank Review of The Monster Squad (1987)

The Short Version? Goonies versus Universal Monsters
What Is It? Horror Comedy.
Who Is In It? Nobody.
Should I See It? Absolutely.

One day, my father had me ride along on his route stocking movie theater concessions. While he was doing his job, I'd sneak into screenings of two movies, The Untouchables and The Monster Squad*. In the case of the former, I wouldn't finally get to see the end of the picture for several years. The latter I managed to wrap up, and though I enjoyed it, there was no reason for it to linger in my consciousness. I'd revisit it on video from time to time, and while always a pleasure, I never really considered it a favorite. The thing is though, I revisit a lot of movies I grew up on, and The Monster Squad continues to hold up far better than most. It really is an excellent, almost timeless, and sort of family friendly classic.

I'm required to issue caveats, because part of what makes the picture such a joy is that it has nards. The kids act like they actually should at their ages: talking shit, tossing through nudie mags and such. The Holocaust is referenced. Parents don't exactly live in marital bliss. The services of a teenage girl are extorted through a compromising photograph. The monsters can get gruesome at times, and these kids are genuinely imperiled by them. People die, often at the hands of children. It's an awesome boys movie, with enough heart for girls, and truth for adults. Even with a budget of just 12.5 million, this died at the box office, as it was considered too dark for younger audiences. It failed to find its niche until video, and even then it didn't exactly do gangbusters. Clearly, the flick isn't for everybody, but certainly deserves a lot more attention than it received for twenty years.

After Dracula arrives in Middle America, he begins collecting the Wolfman, Gillman, Mummy and Frankenstein as part of a plot that will cause darkness to spread over the yadda yadda. A club of monster-fixated kids led by the steadfast Sean Crenshaw (in a solid turn by André Gower) are the first to learn of the creatures on the loose, and take steps to stop their rampage. The young cast hits all the right notes, the monsters are terrific, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans will find this all terribly familar in tone and presentation. If Joss Whedon wasn't a big fan of this flick, I'll eat my hat.

There are a number of connections between The Monster Squad and Lethal Weapon. Co-screenwriter Shane Black was clearly honing his buddy cop banter formula here, particularly between Sean's detective father and his partner. Sean's mother is played by Mary Ellen Trainor, LW's staff psychiatrist, and her house is located near the same set as the Murtaughs. One wouldn't naturally expect a supposed kid's picture to feel similar to a violent action franchise, but the flavor works even better on an actual juvenile vehicle than a somewhat sophomoric one. Also, comic book fans are given a good deal of winks, including the 1986 DC Wall Calender, an old Spider-Man poster, and a Mike Zeck Punisher visible. A copy of George Perez's Wonder Woman #3 is ripped up by the older brother from The Wonder Years. On the paid advertising front, Pepsi Cola is also all over this picture.

There are some problems, caused in part by tensions between inexperienced co-writer/director Fred Dekker and micromanaging executive producer Peter Hyams. Some of the effects are dodgy, and not everything will be explained to the satisfaction of the obsessive, but most viewers will just go along with it. Generally speaking, this is manna from Geek Heaven, and a fine time for their too often afflicted loved ones.

The two-disc 20th Anniversary Edition comes with a slew of extras. The feature length documentary Monster Squad Forever is a must see, featuring interviews with most of the surviving cast and key crew. Too much of the same information is covered by a group audio commentary, but a second track with just the director and DP warrants a listen from the devoted. Most of the deleted scenes were excised for a reason, though, and A Conversation With Frankenstein is tedious. The full package can usually be picked up for less than ten buck though, so I'd recommend it highly.

*I'm trying to figure out exactly how, as the movies were released about nine weeks apart. I guess DePalma played long.


wiec? said...

i think that the LW shrink is/ was married to Richard Donner. she was also the mom of oe of the Goonies kids. she had a broken arm in that. is Shane Black the same Shane Black from Predator? thenone who told all the pussy jokes?

just saw Little Children. you were right. pretty good.

Diabolu Frank said...

Mary Ellen Trainor was married to Bob Zemeckis, who directed her in four of his pictures. Zemeckis and Donner were pals, and all three worked on Tales From The Crypt.

Indeed, that was Shane "Hawkins" Black in Predator.


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