Directed by: Fred Dekker
Premise: Dracula leads a werewolf, a mummy, a fish-man, and Frankenstein’s monster into a suburban town in pursuit of a magical amulet. It’s up to a group of monster movie obsessed kids to stop them.
What Works: There is presently a lot of 1980s nostalgia to be found in movies like It and Ready Player One and television shows such as Stranger Things. A film that was almost certainly an inspiration for those throwback stories was 1987’s The Monster Squad. The retro appeal of the movie is somewhat ironic given that The Monster Squad was itself nostalgic for the classic Universal monster movies and it includes Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster as well as a werewolf, a mummy, and a fish-man that are clearly intended to resemble the creatures from the films of the 1930s and 40s. The Monster Squad is of a piece with a lot of other films of its day such as The Goonies, Fright Night, and The Lost Boys but The Monster Squad was rated PG-13 whereas Fright Night and The Lost Boys were rated R and this movie was intended for a mainstream family audience of its time. And that is part of what makes The Monster Squad unique. The PG and even PG-13 rated films of the 1980s were a bit more intense than contemporary family films and The Monster Squad has a strange confluence of tones. It is frightening and even violent in places but The Monster Squad also feels like the kind of film that would be shown on the Disney Channel. But the movie is also glibly crude. The Monster Squad was co-written by Fred Dekker and Shane Black; Black would go on to write Lethal Weapon and direct Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3. The Monster Squad has Black’s signature style but puts his dialogue in the mouths of children. The combination of adolescent crudity and earnest family adventure makes this a unique film.
What Doesn’t: The Monster Squad is a product of the 1980s.This is the genuine article, not the sanitized version of the period that is presented in contemporary retro pieces like Stranger Things. As a result, the film has the charms of its era but also some the 1980’s not so charming qualities, namely the sexism and homophobia that was frequently found in movies of that time. The Monster Squad also suffers a bit from its own nostalgia for the classic monsters. This wasn’t a Universal production and so characters like the Gillman and the Werewolf and the Mummy are clearly intended to suggest those monsters but without actually duplicating the classic makeups and creature designs. For the most part, the movie gets away with it but Dracula is disappointing with actor Duncan Regehr looking more like Grandpa Munster than Bela Lugosi’s Count.
DVD extras: The twentieth anniversary Blu-ray edition of The Monster Squad includes a documentary, interviews, deleted scenes, image galleries, trailers, and commentary tracks.
Bottom Line: The Monster Squad is an unusual piece of 1980s fantasy entertainment. The movie is family friendly while being appropriately fighting and exciting. It is also a piece of kitsch but in a way that is mostly charming.
Episode: #772 (October 27, 2019)