Nostalgia is overrunning us at the moment. So many sequels, remakes, and spin-offs are coming into existence to cash in on the nostalgia of people who were children in the 80s and 90s. It can be a dangerous thing to put rose tinted glasses over our eyes and make us think crazy things like that The Goonies isn’t shitty, or that the world needs a sequel to Beetlejuice. The danger of watching a movie from your youth is that you open yourself up for disappointment, and once the dominos begin to fall they never stop. And if one movie from your childhood is poor, maybe they all are.
One of my favourite movies growing up was The Monster Squad. I had a VHS copy that I watched until it broke from too many viewings. It was my introduction to the old Universal Pictures monster movies, and led me to Boris Karloff as the Mummy and Frankenstein’s Monster, as well as Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula. I think each person has a movie like that, a jumping off point that shapes their movie watching experience well into adulthood. In terms of my movie education, director Fred Dekker’s classic is up there with Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, and The Terminator as the movies that I watched, and watched, and watched, and will always return to.
Due to the film’s scarcity, with its release on DVD only being as recently as 2007, I hadn’t had a chance to watch The Monster Squad since that black day in the 90s when my VHS tape broke. So imagine my joy when it appeared on Netflix. Or maybe my dread. After all, no one wants to realise that a cherished memory is false, and that their recollection has betrayed them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those “George Lucas raped my childhood,” neckbeard idiots, but at the same time there is a weirdness to finding out something you thought was awesome actually sucks, a la Home Alone.
The Monster Squad is a cheesy piece of 80s nonsense, full of outdated slang, big performances, and irreverent comedy. It’s also fun, awesome, and quick. Shane Black’s screenplay is pretty much devoid of flab, and the whole thing is wrapped up and done in eighty-two minutes and change. I re-watched this movie with a stupid smile on my face the whole time. It’s hard not to be in love with a movie that contains the phrase, “Wolfman’s got nards,” uttered by a character called Fat Kid who has just kicked the Wolfman right in those aforementioned balls.
The idea of taking the iconic Universal monsters, including Count Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and dumping them in the radical 1980s is inspired. Duncan Regehr’s Dracula looks and sounds as though he has stepped straight out of Tod Browning’s Dracula ready to terrify a new generation. As an homage to these classic monsters, Dekker’s film works exceedingly well, giving these characters the respect they deserve without trying to update them pointlessly, as in 2004’s Van Helsing that tried so desperately to be cool that it ended up being anything but. The Monster Squad is happy to keep the villains big and theatrical, even if it often comes across as cheesy in an effort to keep the individual characters true to their origins.
I think a reason I enjoyed this movie now and when I was young is because it doesn’t go for any big emotional beats. There aren’t any deep and meaningful scenes or conversations. The movie zips along from scene-to-scene, and though there are hints of discord throughout, there isn’t some big resolution to it. Young Sean Fallon didn’t need a movie called The Monster Squad about Dracula trying to destroy an amulet and end the world to have long speeches or family time, and thirty-one-year-old Sean Fallon appreciated the idea that the movie presented a realistic image of a married couple at odds that weren’t presented as being able to reunite without addressing their problems. The movie isn’t perfect by a long shot. The special effects aren’t great, but as was often the case with movies made in the 1980s, the filmmakers involved are smart enough to keep theatrics to a minimum and play to their strengths as storytellers.
The Monster Squad is also a movie fraught with conveniences. Conveniently, the German book falls into the hands of a kid who loves monsters, lives near a German guy, and has a cop for a father so he can overhear conversations about vanishing mummies and a crackpot who claims to be a werewolf. Of course, without these conveniences we would have no movie, and then the only happy people in the land would be the folks at Cinema Sins. Along that train of thought, a special shout out must be given to an OG of the game, the late Stan Winston. His make up effects on the Wolfman, Frankenstein, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, or Gill-Man as he is officially credited, and the Mummy are all of his standard high quality, aiming towards seamless perfection.
Overall, I still love this movie. It’s still fun, it’s still silly, it’s still a little sad, it’s still fast-paced, it’s still spooky, Dracula is still awesome, the kids still act like kids, Rudy is still the coolest kid at school, and Wolfman still has nards.