Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Monster Squad

The Goonies have entered the House of Frankenstein. The Monster Squad (1987) takes a bunch of smart aleck, pre-teen kids and has them take on the monsters from the glory years of Universal Studios. It's amiable enough but an effort I feel I would have appreciated more if I had first seen it as a kid.

Following a brief prologue involving Van Helsing's failed attempt to stop Dracula, the movie picks up in the present day as Dracula (Duncan Regehr) assembles a collection of other monsters to help him track an amulet that will allow him to take over the world. There's the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Gill-Man, and Frankenstein's Monster (Tom Noonan). Standing between them is the Monster Squad, a club of kids who love monster movies and who have come into possession of Van Helsing's journal.

The Monster Squad was directed by Fred Dekker, who co-wrote it with Shane Black. It moves fast, has some cool retro-inspired monster makeup, and gets some cute laughs without being too scary for kids. Regehr makes for a fine and menacing throwback Dracula, complete with a cape and collar, while Noonan is outstanding as Frankenstein's Monster; his scenes with a little girl are just so adorable, and when he sadly examines the Frankenstein Monster mask, you just want to hug the big guy.

The kids aren't bad, but they don't particularly stand out. Comparisons to The Goonies are inevitable, but in Richard Donner's movie, the cast included the likes of Sean Astin, Corey Feldman, Josh Brolin, and Martha Plimpton. Those characters had more well defined personalities and funnier dialogue.

The same can't be said for The Monster Squad kids, who are limited to being monster fans or obvious types (i.e. the fat kid, the cool one, etc.), and their lines just aren't as clever or funny, usually conveying exposition or cheap gags ("Wolf Man's got nards!"). Also, screaming. Lots and lots of screaming.

For a short movie (barely 80 minutes), The Monster Squad feels too plot heavy. Too much time is spent on that stupid amulet and explaining why it's important to keep Dracula from getting it, although I still don't know how he planned to use it when he got it. And apart from the novelty of having all these monsters together, I'm not sure why Dracula needed so many of these other creatures for all they manage to do.

The Mummy comes off as especially useless except for a gag to defeat him that has been done in every comedy with a mummy ever. Early on, after he's been resurrected and met up with Dracula, the Mummy winds up in a little boy's closet. The scene itself is reasonably funny - the kid cries that there's a monster in the closet, and his dad completely misses seeing it - but why was he in this kid's closet? It seems kind of random.

Moments of horror are counterbalanced by moments of farce. In the climax, the monsters get serious, killing several police officers who show up to save the day, and Dracula picks up the little girl by the neck and calls her a bitch. Dynamite blows up the Wolf Man, but he puts himself back together, gruesome bit by gruesome bit. In other scenes, the kids repel Dracula with a slice of pizza that has garlic on it and kick the Wolf Man in the balls. Gill-Man steals a Twinkie.

When the squad needs help translating Van Helsing's diary, they turn to a neighbor known only as "Scary German Guy," who tells them he knows a thing or two about monsters as the camera reveals a concentration camp tattoo on his wrist. The Army turns up on the word of a five-year-old, who sent them a note written in crayon. Not as many jokes about virgins as Hocus Pocus but they tried.

I'm not entirely sure how I missed The Monster Squad the first time around. I grew up on The Goonies and loved it, and I assume this could have been another staple of my childhood as well. I only discovered it as an adult and couldn't relate to it. It's kind of fun, but I don't have the fondness or nostalgia for it that fans have.

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