Acting like a brain damaging collision between The Goonies and Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein, The Monster Squad is one of those films seemingly destined for cult adulation despite the film having all the substance of steam in a bathroom. The second feature of Fred Dekker (and co-written by fellow UCLA chum Shane Black), it’s crammed with more of the same genre mashing that made his debut movie Night Of The Creeps so damn satisfying, but instead of slinging college movies, alien experiments and head-splitting zombies together into a giant pot, it’s a redux of the classic monsters from the Universal era squaring off with Spielbergian brats in a picturesque town that plays like a devoted acolyte to old-school creature features that’s suprisingly hard to hate.
Nearly one hundred years after Abraham Van Helsing screwed up an attempt to expel evil using a magical amulet, Count Dracula returns and starts accumulating a dream team of monstery henchmen to locate this item of spectral bling in order to cover the world in darkness. Assembling an undead Mummy, a burly Wolf Man and a scaly Gill Man like he’s a cape wearing Nick Fury, Dracula finally completes his gruesome gang when he obtains and reanimates the body of Frankenstein’s Monster and starts to set his plan in motion; but across town, pre-teen monster enthusiast Sean starts to realise something freaky is amiss. An avid fan of horror movies, Sean and his pals Patrick and Horace are members of a monster worshiping club and Sean is elated to find Van Helsing’s diary (despite it being written in German) and eventually stumbles upon Dracula’s plan due to the strange occurrences his policeman father is having to investigate around town, so the club – along with cool kid Rudy (who only wants to join the club because Sean’s treehouse has a good view of a girl’s bedroom), Sean’s little sister, Phoebe and an elderly German neighbour – set out to save the world from this imminent Drac-attack.
But how on earth can a group of twelve year olds manage to stand against a timeless evil such as the Count, who can change his form, who is super strong and can comfortably stride around town in an ornate cape, collar and a ruffle shirt combo without being afraid of any fashion faux pars as his army of toothy, shambling beasties move against them. However, their chances increase greatly when Frankenstein’s Monster (dubbed Frankie by Phoebe) switches sides due to the fact that under the bolts and scars he’s actually quite the softy; and so The Monster Squad prepare to square up to Dracula’s squad of monsters with the fate of humanity on the line while armed with years of knowledge as to what makes these creatures tick – like whether or not Wolf Man’s got nards.
The Monster Squad is one of those films that if you love it, chances are you fucking love it, but if we’re being brutally honest it’s also a movie experience with all the weight of a helium balloon. It’s not even the coolest teens vs. monsters movie of 1987 with the vastly superior The Lost Boys effortlessly smoking it’s ass virtually at every turn – and yet The Monster Squad is one of movies where the fact that it’s utterly soaked in unabashed 80’s, monster movie nostalgia means that it becomes virtually critic proof and any issues such as character development and intricate storytelling fall by the wayside as the Scooby Doo plotting mixes with some suprisingly hardcore monster action to make a short but sweet horror/comedy romp. Surprisingly, considering it’s unfeasibly lean script was co-penned by one of Hollywood’s prime word-smiths, the movie feels like it was written by people just as young as it’s shouty protagonists, but on the plus side the film hammers along like a vampire bat with a rocket wedged up it’s sphincter and once it’s astonishingly brief 83 minutes finally ends you’d swear on a lie detector that you’d only been watching it for 45.
Where the Squad really shines, however, is in it’s presentation and the MVP of the movie is undoubtedly the efforts of effects legend Stan Winston whose updated versions of the classic monsters are reason enough to watch the movie. Be it the noticably buff Wolf Man, who bares more than a passing resemblance to Oliver Reed’s barrel chested lycanthope from Hammers Curse Of The Werewolf than his Universal counterpart, or the phenomenal redux of the Gill-Man from Creature From The Black Lagoon that would stand up well in an official remake, the re-vamped creatures (pun definitely intended) are the main draws – although it’s tough to imagine even Bela Lugosi calling a 5 year old girl a bitch in the heat of the moment… It’s just a shame Manhunter’s Tom Noonan doesn’t get more screen time as the reformed Frankie who, in a clever inverse of the infamous lake scene from the original Frankenstein, has finally learnt to befriend little girls instead of drowning them…
Unsurprisingly the 80’s vibe is super strong as “Frankie” himself, with the clumping corpse learning street slang long before Terminator 2 and a subplot involving Sean’s parents being on the cusp of divorce involves the inevitable appearance of Mary Ellen Trainor, but some of the kids dialogue is horribly dated with a jarring amount of homophobic slurs being tossed around and the overweight Horace being dubbed “Fat Kid” by friends and bullies alike.
Also, on the flip-side, the film contains a fair amount of kick-ass gore (The Wolf Man has unfortunate run-in with a stick of dynamite that blows him to pieces, only for his arms and leg to snap back on like an action figure thanks to the lack of fatal silver involved) and brusing violence that actually seems to gave an effect on it’s young cast with Rudy’s showdown with Dracula’s brides looking like it’s legitimately been a fittingly traumatic experience, but you can’t help but been impressed at the foolhardy antics of the sheriff’s department as they selflessly throw themselves in waves at actual fucking monsters armed with nothing but night sticks and then look surprised when they get the utter shit mauled out of them.
So while The Monster Squad – with all it’s inconsistencies and a plot that’s as uncluttered as deserted country road – may not techinally be a four star movie, proves to be a four star experience for those who adore an incredibly cheesy creature feature that give heaetfelt nods to the terrifying team-ups of a bygone time.
And if nothing else, Abbott and Costello never managed to shoot Dracula clean out of the air whilst in his bat-form as they drove past in a police car… so there’s always that.