Thursday, October 31, 2013

Movie Review: The Monster Squad (1987)

During the 80's, a funny thing happened to action movies. First, we started to think of them as "action movies", rather than "violent films". Is Dirty Harry an action movie? I wouldn't call it one. What about Peckinpah's The Getaway? No, I wouldn't call that an action movie, either. Once we hit the 80's, films became big business, "Blockbuster" business, and studios began casting a wider and wider net for their audiences. I lay a lot of this at the feet of the Star Wars films, but even as they were hitting the scene, Indiana Jones and Conan and Beastmaster were arriving, films that were clearly s breed apart from films made a decade previously.

Along with the "action movie" phenomenon, a sub-phenomenon began to occur - the rise of action-adventure movies where children were the heroes. Goonies is probably the most famous example, but you also had films like E.T., Cloak and Dagger, The Lost Boys, Flight of the Navigator, and today's gem, The Monster Squad. All of these films, and a number of others, feature children - often not even teenagers - as the protagonists, often either directly opposed, or at least hindered, by the actions of adults. The great thing about these movies is that it portrayed children as being smart, able to solve problems with creative solutions, and capable of great bravery and courage when necessary. I wrote about this at some length when I reviewed Super 8 back in 2011.

The plot of the movie is pure cheesy fun. Dracula comes to town and brings with him the Wolf Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein's Monster, and he even wakes up a Mummy. He also creates a few Brides to cause further mayhem. Dracula is looking for a powerful gem, a physical concentration of pure good, that can be corrupted and used to cause terrible things in the hands of monsters. The Monster Squad, a club of young kids who obsess about monsters, get their hands on an old book that turns out to be the diary of Van Helsing, and inside the diary they read about the gem (with the help of an old German neighbor who "knows all about monsters", being a concentration camp survivor). They discover that the gem is hidden in town, and begin a race against time to find it and save it from the clutches of Dracula and his monstrous allies.

Overall, this is a great Halloween movie. I wound up watching it twice over the last couple of weeks, and it's got action, comedy, horror, and even some real emotion. The kids are all great, the special effects are surprisingly good (Stan Winston Studios), and Duncan Regher's portrayal of Dracula is particularly creepy and effective. There might be a little bit of hamming it up here and there, but he's certainly better than a number of Draculas in cinema over the years.

Here's a great version of the film's trailer on YouTube. The movie is on On Demand with my cable provider right now, but you can pick it up at a reasonable price. If you haven't seen it, or if it's been a good 25 years since you did, the movie is worth a repeat viewing.

And just remember, Wolfman's got nards!


Jim said...

Definitely one of my very favorite Halloween movies. I introduced it to my own children a couple years ago and I found it held up very well.

"My name [racks shotgun] is Horace!"

Indyguy said...

I love this movie though I haven't seen it in years. It was a childhood staple and often quoted around the lunch table at school when my friends and I discussed important topics like monsters, explosions, BMX bikes and others cool 80's stuff.
As an 80's sidenote- Monster Squad was co-written by Fred Dekker and his buddy, Shane Black, the writer of Lethal Weapon and a man who helped propel the 80's action movie into high gear (for better or worse, and many numbing action sequels in every franchise).
As a Halloween addenda, I'll mention writer/director Fred Dekker's earlier movie, Night of the Creeps. This is a great tongue in cheek pastiche of sci-fi horror fun. It features a fun lead performance by Tom Atkins (Escape from New York), a cameo from Dick Miller (Gremlins, The Terminator) and despite it's many winks to the audience it has some legitimate thrills and scares as well as laughs and great ironic lines.

Thrill me!

Tim Mayer said...

Dekker was at Monster Mania years ago. I had the chance to talk to him. Very nice man.

Charles Gramlich said...

I read Rivalry for Halloween. Cool and creepy story. I put my review up on goodreads and Amazon.

Dan_Luft said...

I was in college when this came out so I've never heard of it. I was trying to take my movies very seriously back then.

What I really like is your take on the action movie. I always thought The Dirty Dozen and their had been called action movies when they were new. I didn't know it was mostly an 80s term.

Jack Badelaire said...

I'm sure there are a number of movies that fall into the "action movie" bucket back in the day, but I think a lot of them are going to fall into another, more obvious bucket. You could just call TDD a "War Movie" that's more action than drama (which probably holds true for a lot of the more action-oriented movies back then), but I think the "action movie" is a more all-encompassing, somewhat genre-less term that doesn't really fit the older films. Similarly, a Bond movie is a Bond movie first, and an action movie only because Bond movies, by default, have action in them.

As another example, look at the Death Wish movies. The first film is a very slow-paced violent drama. By the end of the franchise, guys are being machine-gunned and blown up with rocket launchers.

But if you look at a lot of, say, Stallone or Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis or Mel Gibson movies in the 80's, it kinda swings the other way. COMMANDO isn't a war movie - it's a guy blowing the hell out of things for two hours. COBRA isn't a "cop movie", it's an action movie about a guy who happens to be a cop. Same with the LETHAL WEAPON movies, or films like RAW DEAL or DIE HARD or LONE WOLF MCQUADE. Whatever loose association they may have with some other genre is really just the excuse used to set the stage for gunfights and blowing things up and punching people in the face.

I'm not saying movies whose primary goal was "action" didn't exist before, but more that it is a strategic marketing/movie making decision on one end, and a cultural association on the other.

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