The fact that Monster Squad failed at the box office in 1987 is undeniable proof that there is no higher power. If there were some bearded all-knowing all-seeing entity living above us somewhere he or she would have intervened to ensure that The Monster Squad made money, established a franchise, and was heralded as a shining example of narrative craftsmanship.
But there is no God, Monster Squad failed, and the film is relegated to a feverish cult of fans who love the film dearly. Maybe that’s not such a terrible fate, but still. The film deserves to be up there with Gone With The Wind and Citizen Kane. No? You don’t agree with me? Well, I feel pretty strongly about the brilliance that lies within Monster Squad.
While defending the many virtues of this film, I would like to initially point out how Fred Dekker and Shane Black deal with pre-pubescent characters. They are not precocious know-it-alls or walking talking stereotypes, they are in fact well-rounded, complex individuals who are put into extreme circumstances and emerge victoriously. The film is a wonderful representation of how to treat characters that are not forty-five year old, square jawed white males.
The film also deals with multiple issues that have nothing to do with monster hunting or adventuring. The film touches on the difficulties of parents divorcing and being a closeted homosexual pre-teen, which is pretty heady stuff for a film aimed at 12 year olds. But that’s not the most impressive feat that Monster Squad accomplishes flawlessly. The kids speak like kids. I can attest to this first hand. When I was twelve this is exactly A) what I talked about and B) how I talked about it.
The film’s premise is absolutely brilliant. A group of horror movie loving children are sucked into Count Dracula’s malevolent plan to take over the world. What results is a delightful mix of Ghostbusters, Goonies, and the Universal Monster movies. It’s freaking amazing.
Our team of intrepid pre-pubescent monster hunters must stop at nothing, including teaming up with Frankenstein’s Monster and a WWII internment camp victim, to foil the evil Count Dracula and his minions the Not-Creature From the Black Lagoon, a mummy, and a werewolf. The ensuing carnage and chaos is delightful on every front.
What you must be saying to yourself is, “You just saw this move when you were a little kid and you identified with the empowered kids and that’s why you like this crappy cult movie from the 80’s.” No, you’re wrong. I didn’t see this movie until about four years ago, well beyond the “Man, childhood was awesome” phase of any rational adults life. This movie impacted me on a massive scale as a fully formed adult. I know it’s strange to admit but it’s true. I went into this kids movie as one person when I was 21 and walked out another.
This movie proved without a shadow of a doubt that entertainment that is corporately aimed at one age bracket can impact them all. Sure, the film is about a bunch of little white kids, but it’s about more than that to me. It’s about much more than that to me. It’s about clarity of creative vision. It’s about the need to empower young people through heroic narratives that don’t comically belittle people who have massive intellects or special skillsets. It’s about the amazing things that people can do when they work as a team. But most of all? It’s about sweet ass latex monster suits. I know, not necessarily the most highbrowed of points, but it’s true. The suits in this movie are amazing. They’re absolutely perfect for what they should be. Practical effects are, in my opinion, always the way to go.
Going back to a point I made previously, there’s a minor subplot in the film where a character named Patrick, played by Roddy Kiger, who is obviously intended to be gay. The character is always wearing neo-pink or neo-blue shirts, not that a blue shirt makes someone gay I have tons of pink articles of clothing, and in one of his early scenes uses the F word. No not the one that rhymes with puck but the other F word. Yes, that one. Being from Arizona, I’ve been called that word more times than I care to recall. I instantly take issue with its use. In my initial viewing of the Monster Squad I mulled this over repeatedly. Patrick is very affectionate towards Sean, the films protagonist. He’s very couscous and resident to put himself or the other kids in danger. He’s also slightly timid and scared easily. And here’s the kicker, during the montage of we’re-getting-ready-to-kick-some-monster-ass, accompanied by the requisitely cheesy 80’s pop tune, Patrick makes business cards. That’s right. All the other members of the team are constructing weapons and contingency plans and Patrick is making Monster Squad business cards. The final shot of the film is Patrick throwing his arm over Sean’s shoulder as he hands one of his business cards to a soldier. Patrick is super gay. The movie takes him from being an angry, closeted pre-teen homosexual to being someone who is comfortable with himself. Sure, they never say this anywhere because this is pretty intense stuff for a kid’s monster movie to deal with, but this is one of the main reasons why I love Monster Squad so dearly. It goes there. It doesn’t care that you don’t like to see kids swearing. I goes where it needs to go.
The performances in the Monster Squad are pitch perfect, across the board. Everyone from Tom Noonan as Frankenstein’s Monster to Andre Grower as Sean to Duncan Regehr as Count Dracula is amazing. The actors are perfectly suited for their roles and vice versa.
It is a genuine shame that the powers that be overran Dekker’s production of Robocop 3 and so thoroughly killed his career. Hopefully, in this age of second chances and cult favorites being resurrected for big budget reboots Mr. Dekker will gain the notoriety that he so richly deserves.
In conclusion, the Monster Squad is a delightfully intricate and elegantly simple story of good vs evil. The film is simultaneously everything I want in a movie viewing experience and exactly what big budget studios strive not to produce. If you haven’t seen Monster Squad go out and find it on DVD. You won’t regret it.