Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Monster Squad...That's Who You Oughta Call!

Duncan Regehr as Dracula.
When a resurrected Dracula decides to unleash an unspeakable evil on the world, he enlists the aid of the Frankenstein Monster, a werewolf, a mummy, and an amphibious gill-man that looks like the Creature of the Black Lagoon. Who's going to stop such a formidable quintet?

The unlikely answer is the self-proclaimed Monster Squad, which consists of nerdy teenagers Sean, Patrick, and Fat Kid (aka Horace), a James Dean wannabe named Rudy, and Sean's little sister Phoebe. (The boys insist that Phoebe is not a member, but she proves her worth later.)

The Monster and Phoebe.
To complete his plan, Dracula (Duncan Regehr) needs an amulet brought to the United States (Baton Rouge, no less) by Professor Van Helsing's associates. Sean unknowingly gets in the Count's way when his mother gives him Van Helsing's diary--which she found at a garage sale. Since it's written in German, Sean and his buddies seek the aid of the neighborhood's Scary German Guy. His translation reveals the location of the amulet and it becomes a race to see who will find it first.

Made in 1987, The Monster Squad is a juvenile horror film obviously made by folks who grew up on the Universal classics. While it lacks the sharp wit of the same year's The Lost Boys--which featured a couple of nerdy, teenage vampire hunters--it's a good-natured yarn that shows glimpses of what it could have been. One of its best scenes is when the elderly German neighbor mentions that he has seen monsters before--just as he inadvertently reveals numbers tattooed on his arm from his imprisonment at Auschwitz.

Patrick, Fat Kid, and Sean outside a scary house.
Co-writer Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3) also displays some of his familiar dark humor in a scene in which the Frankenstein Monster approaches Phoebe near a lake. It's a throwback, of course, to James Whales' Frankenstein (1931), in which the Monster accidentally drowns a little girl who befriends him. This time around, the scene fades to black, and when we next see Phoebe, she is happily holding hands with her new "friend"--much to the shock of the Monster Squad members.

Yet, despite such promising snippets, The Monster Squad can't escape from its adolescent approach. That's not a bad thing--I might have enjoyed The Monster Squad if I saw it as a ten-year-old. However, I suspect the filmmakers wanted to make a teen adventure, along the lines of The Goonies, that also appealed to kids and adults. As its box office failure indicated, The Monster Squad  couldn't achieve that lofty goal.

Jason Hervey as a bully.
Unlike many teen pictures of the 1980s, the cast of The Monster Squad doesn't feature a plethora of future stars. However, I did notice one familiar face: Jason Hervey. He went on to play Kevin Arnold's older brother Wayne on the TV series The Wonder Years.

And if you're curious as to what The Monster Squad's cast looks like today, then seek out Wolfman's Got Nards, a 2018 documentary directed by Andre Gower (who played Sean). It's a love letter to The Monster Squad featuring interviews with many of the cast and crew.


  1. Never heard of this before. I would think that a serious take on this film could easily be made, a much darker and more serious film. In this age of superheroes and X-Men, I think a team up of the Universal monsters could be well received at the cinema.

    1. I think that's basically what Universal has been trying to do by creating their own shared universe a la Marvel, but after the failure of Tom Cruise's Mummy movie, which was intended to be the first installment in their "Dark Universe" franchise, the future of that endeavor already seems rather iffy.

  2. In 1987, I would have been 37 years old.
    I saw this one in a theater (paid to get in and everything) - and I liked it!
    To this day, I have no real explanation.
    It may have had something to do with noticing that the screenwriter was Shane Black and the director was Fred Dekker.
    Black and Dekker.
    To this day I am astonished that none of the "critics" caught on to this.
    Oh well/ah hell …

    The one actor I recognized in the whole movie was Leonardo Cimino, from innumerable movie and TV appearances going back more than twenty years.
    Cimino was always called "the Scary German Guy" - and that's how his character was IDed in the cast credits.
    I liked that. Don't ask why - I just did.

    Another thing I noticed had to do with the Squad trying to recruit an older teenage girl for their plan, and experiencing a specific difficulty in finding the right girl, which led to one of the bigger laughs in the picture (no spoiler - see for yourself).

    In retrospect, all I can say is that I must have been in the right mood that Saturday afternoon …

  3. Thanks for the coverage of this enjoyable film. I'm a fan of director Fred Dekker's work here, and on another 80s' horror film called Night of the Creeps. I've written about both movies on my own blog, and agree with Mike that there's something about The Monster Squad that just hits me in the right spot. Plus, I got to meet Duncan Regehr (Dracula) and Tom Noonan (Frankenstein) at the Chiller Convention a few years back!

    1. I would have loved to have attended one of the chiller conventions. THE MONSTER SQUAD has its share of loyal fans!

  4. I saw this movie for the first time about four years ago. I laughed thirty seconds in when I saw armadillos in Dracula's lair (an obvious nod to the Lugosi movie), but I didn't enjoy anything else in the movie nearly as much. A popular online "critic" described Monster Squad as a Halloween classic, but after watching it, I honestly thought he might have been kidding. I feel like most people would have needed to have seen it as kids in order to look on it fondly today. The premise has potential, of course, but I was mostly just bored. Unlike a lot of other older movies, this one doesn't appear to have aged well.

    One part that really stood out to me was the scene where the fat kid (who the other characters literally just call "Fat Kid" throughout the movie) tells his bullies in a badass tone of voice, "My name is Horace!" while cocking the shotgun he just used to blow away one of the monsters. Hey, kids! Prowess with firearms will make the other kids respect you! That sort of thing definitely wouldn't fly today.

    Also, the plot hinging on needing to find a virgin to read the incantation that would send the monsters into limbo didn't make a lot of sense to me. I kept waiting for one one of the boys to realize that any of them could have probably just read the incantation themselves. Unless I missed something, I'm not sure why it had to be a girl.