Monday, October 31, 2011

"The Monster Squad' nostalgic, under-celebrated gem



The Monster Squad (1987) 
82 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: B +

If Richard Donner's "The Goonies" (1985) featured the five classic Universal Movie Monsters, it'd turn out looking something like "The Monster Squad," a quickly paced, entertaining Spielbergian horror-comic monster mash. That's right—Count Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, and Gill-man in one major motion picture; it's like a horror movie boy's dream come true. 

Opening up "The Monster Squad" in grand, spooky, atmospheric horror fashion, an amusing crawl (dated 100 years prior to the story proper) states that Van Helsing and his freedom fighters tried to rid the world of vampires and monsters…but blew it. Flash forward to the present day, in the suburbs of small-town America, a gang of misfit (but pretty normal) boys who sit in their clubhouse and talk about monsters get themselves way in deep. Dracula and the parade of monsters have arrived in town in desperate search of Van Helsing's diary and a powerful amulet. Once the kids know what's ahead of them, they call themselves The Monster Squad. With the help of "Scary German Guy" (who exists and lives in a house not unlike Michael Myers) and a virgin, the monsters can be put to rest and the so-called losers can save the day. 

What's nostalgic and comfy about "The Monster Squad" is how the filmmakers wear their love of horror movies on their sleeve and have a whole lotta fun with it without lessening the stakes in which people are placed in peril. Director Fred Dekker ("Night of the Creeps") executes this cute idea with tongue-in-cheek humor, a playfulness, and a sure sense of fun. Dekker and "Lethal Weapon" scribe Shane Black's script delightfully employs the "Dad, there's a monster in my closet" trope with ironic humor and makes a homage to the little-girl-by-the-pond scene from the Boris Karloff classic "Frankenstein." 

The actors playing Sean and Horace/Fat Boy (Andre Gower and Brent Chalem) are funny, endearing, and relatable; it's especially easy to root for Horace when he shows off killing a monster in front of the school bully (Jason Hervey who played bullying brother Wayne Arnold in TV's beloved "The Wonder Years"). It's surprising, almost alarming, how many times the words "faggot" and "homo" are mouthed by the boys, but goes to show how ahead of the times political incorrectness was before the '90s. The bond between little Phoebe (Ashley Bank) and Frankenstein's monster (nicely played by Tom Noonan who last played serial killer Francis Dollarhyde in 1986's "Manhunter") isn't given the same touching treatment as Gertie and E.T.'s in Spielberg's "E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial" (1982) but still has a friendly sweetness. Stan Winston's monster creations are impressively practical and realistic. 

"The Monster Squad" remains an undercelebrated gem, stamped with a youthfulness of its era, and a time capsule for the '80s that's worth revisiting like a dear old friend's headstone. 

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