This month, I’m going to watch (and, in some cases, re-watch) some movies that are perfect for the Halloween season. These are not reviews, because I’ll only be writing about films I love and recommend. There’s no plan, method, or scientific algorithm to what movies I’m going to watch or how I’m going to structure these entries. I’m just going to have fun with it, and I hope you will, too!
The one promise I’ll make is that I’ll only include spoilers after the jump.
For this inaugural entry, I’m going to write about a movie I just saw for the first time––– well, all the way through, anyway…
The Monster Squad (1987)!
I do not own any of the following images or videos!
Here’s the trailer…
I’ve known about The Monster Squad for a while, though I don’t know exactly how long. When you love the Universal Monsters as much as I do (and I’m sure many of you do), you read a lot about them and other films that reference or utilize them. I was bound to come across The Monster Squad at some point. And I did. I read about the plot, found out some trivia, and watched some clips. All signs pointed to this being a film I’d love.
So recently, I finally ordered the twentieth anniversary DVD online. I watched it with my family, who had never even heard of it until I told them about it. Luckily for all of us, my gut instinct turned out to be a bullseye: we loved every minute of it––– and if you love monster movies, you will, too!
Here’s the basic, spoiler-free rundown…
The Monster Squad (1987)
Plot: Some young friends obsessed with monsters suddenly find themselves face-to-face with the Universal Monsters and must stop Dracula’s plan before it’s too late.
Monsters: Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolfman, the Gillman, and the Mummy
Scare Factor: It may be scary to kids about five years old or younger, but it all depends on the kid. If this kid has already seen some monster movies, especially ones with the Universal Monsters, he or she will probably be fine. For everyone else, watch it and have fun!
Gore Factor: The gore’s pretty minimal.
Family-Friendly Factor: There’s some scattered swearing and some suggestive comments. Some people may find a couple of words offensive.
ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK! Spoilers lurk beyond this point!
You can tell right off the bat that the creative forces behind this movie love the Universal Monsters. One of the very first shots shows armadillos scurrying around Dracula’s castle. This seems strange or random to the uninitiated, but those of us who’ve seen Dracula (1931) will recognize the homage. Probably more recognizable, though, is the scene in which Phoebe and Frankenstein’s monster meet––– with Frank (as he’s often called in this movie) approaching her while she sits by a lake. It’s a great tribute to the scene in Frankenstein (1931), and has a very different ending.
Let’s talk more about the monsters. I always enjoy watching a comedic version of a classic monster, but I also love when the monsters are serious threats, and it’s the antics of other characters that bring comedy. (Before you ask, yes, I’ve seen and love the Abbott and Costello Meet… movies.) These monsters really seem like they came straight out of their respective films. Also, the body count is frankly surprising for a family film. All of this makes the danger feel very real when, for example, Wolfman comes back to life under a bloody sheet after being shot multiple times, Gillman pops up out of a sewer, or Dracula has dynamite! More on him later…
Another cool moment for me was seeing the Gillman attack someone by crushing his head, just as he does in his own film trilogy. … That sounds weird even in context. But I stand by it!
I really think the Creature from the Black Lagoon is one of the most underappreciated members of the Universal Monster franchise. He was the last major player to join the lineup, and only had three of his own movies. He did meet Abbott and Costello during The Colgate Comedy Hour in 1953, before The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) was even released; though it’s not a full feature-length film, it’s still pretty fun.
Now I’m sure some of you are wondering: what about the Invisible Man? Is he in this movie? Well, I didn’t see him.
Gillman’s screen time in The Monster Squad is short, but memorable. And really, I just love to see him included. He didn’t need to be the mastermind, nor should he be in a film like this. That’s Dracula’s job.
Speaking of: of course, I’d be in remiss if I didn’t say that Duncan Regehr makes one heck of a Dracula. Some nitpickers may notice that this version of most famous vampire of all time doesn’t have his equally famous accent, to which I nitpick back and say, “Don’t you think Dracula’s been around long enough that he’s learned to speak with whatever accent he wants?” I wonder if Drac just picks up random hobbies and skills to pass the time between feedings and sinister schemes? I’ll bet he binge watches a lot of TV shows and movies.
Tom Noonan is also a treat as Frankenstein’s monster. I’ll never be able to hear the word “bogus” the same way again. And I’m more than okay with that. He really has a full character arc: going from Dracula’s hit man and gopher to friend and important ally to The Monster Squad.
One of the greatest things about this film is that it’s a really fun ride all the way through. The fun, adventurous tone adds weight to some of the more serious moments, and it does have some serious and even dark turns. One example in particular comes to mind: at one point, Dracula casually says he’s going to “grab a bite.” Ha ha, we all know what that means!
… But then he opens a pantry door and advances on the three terrified girls trapped inside. They’re wearing school uniforms, so even assuming that they’re in high school, they still aren’t much older than The Monster Squad themselves. The next time we see these girls, they’re fully transformed into Dracula’s brides. Maybe I’m overthinking this, but that’s pretty dark for a family film.
This balance between adventurous fun and serious moments makes The Monster Squad an experience that will leave you laughing while on the edge of your seat. So pop some popcorn, turn off the lights, cozy up on the couch, put on The Monster Squad, and enjoy!
I believe that one of the reasons it resonates with people, especially “monster kids,” is because, for one reason or another, it seems like a lot of monster movie fans––– and horror movie fans in general––– have experienced some degree of being a social outcast. We see the kid heroes of the film being bullied by their peers and talking to adults who just don’t understand. And really, what outcast doesn’t want to band together with some friends and save the world by standing up to the bullies?
Thank you for reading, fellow “Monster Kids,”