Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Film Appreciation - Monster in My Closet, Monsters Everywhere

This week in Film Apprecation, Jay Burleson kicks Wolfman in the nards as he discusses the 1987 horror/comedy The Monster Squad.

"Wolfman's got nards!" 
The Monster Squad (1987)
Directed by Fred Dekker 
Stars Andrew Gower, Ashley Bank, Ryan Lambert, 
Robby Kiger, Tom Noonan, and Duncan Regehr

Released when I was only three months old, The Monster Squad is one of the most influential movies of my entire childhood. It sums me up perfectly, too, as it's horror movie for kids. I loved the real deal horror movies and things along the lines of Milo and Otis as a youngster, so Monster Squad was the perfect fit. I never owned a VHS copy, but rented it countless times, and have always remembered it fondly as one of my favorites. So when it was finally released on DVD a few years ago, I had to have a copy. Upon rewatching the film then I realized just how awesome of a movie it is. It's pure entertainment and fun to watch-- even as a grownup.

The Monster Squad is based around a group of kids who have their own "club" and are obsessed with--- you guessed it --- monsters. When real life monsters (what are the odds?!) show up in their town to bring forth the end of the world, it's up to the kids to save the day. When I say monsters, I mean monsters, and all the classics are present from Dracula, Frankenstein, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Wolfman, and the Mummy. Dracula, in a hugely underappreciated performance as far as Dracs go, is played by Duncan Regehr. It's Drac who leads this flock of monsters, and has his heart set on ruling the world. The monsters all look great, and Stan Winston gets a lot of credit here as he worked on the effects.

Regehr as Dracula is a total asshole. The guy is such a son of a bitch in the film that just thinking of him makes my blood boil. Regehr is really good in the role and not only delivers a really fine egotistical performance, but also fits the look of Dracula perfectly. He's matched on the other end of the spectrum by the wonderful Tom Noonan as Frankenstein's monster. Frank, as it turns out, is a great big softie and pledges his allegiance to the kids. Noonan doesn't really say much, and when he does, it's mostly stammering jibberish, but he conveys a lot of compassion in the part. A lot of it is probably childhood nostalgia but I really love his acting in Monster Squad. That's not to say his acting isn't good on its own merits but this is coming from a kid who used to tear up every time at the end when Phoebe would yell, "Don't go Frankenstein!" So much so that even a few years ago, while viewing the film with friends, I figured it'd be best to leave the room just in case tears started flowing and everyone wondered why I was the 22 year old crying at a scene in The Monster Squad.

The acting from the kids is good, especially when kids in a movie can go wrong so easily. They are aided by some nice elements, one in the form of Leonardo Cimino as the "Scary German Guy", a local who the kids have heard horrible tales about. Turns out he's just a sweet old man who has lived through some horrible events in his life. When the monsters make things difficult, it's with the help of the Scary German Guy that the kids are able to put things right. Cimino's character was one of my favorite characters in any movie as a child. I loved the mystery behind who he was when all we could see was his house from the street as the kids looked on in fear. Then when it turned out that he was just a nice old timer who wanted to do some good, I liked him even more. There are so many memorable scenes and lines from this film that it's hard to even begin. One scene that sums up Monster Squad to me is when our lead kid, Sean, watches a slasher flick at a drive-in theater from the comfort of his own roof. He's joined by his dad at one point, and that scene always stuck with me for some reason.

The sad part about all of this is that The Monster Squad pretty much ended director Fred Dekker's career. After directing Night of the Creeps and then moving on to TMS he only directed a Tales from the Crypt episode and RoboCop 3 (no real sympathy for him there) and has publicly stated that Monster Squad was a career killer. It's a shame because The Monster Squad is an awesome '80s movie that unfortunately didn't catch on until the mid-to-late '90s and continued to grow as its original audience grew into their 20s and 30s.  I think Dekker did a great job with the story and it's definitely a wonderfully shot film in my book.

It's a shame that the film wasn't more favorably received back in the day, but just like any good monster, it refused to stay dead for long.

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