Friday, October 30, 2015

The Monster Squad (1987)

Here we go! A movie that is not only a request but is something I've actually been looking forward to talking about. That's right, we're not going to pretend we don't know anything about this one, we're going to lay it all out on the table. The Monster Squad is a classic example of fun monster-filled goodness and is a staple of many people's Halloween celebrations. That's fairly impressive, as it has literally no direct ties to the holiday yet it manages to be high on the list of things to watch while munching on candy.

Just make sure you save some candy, as these guys can get fairly hungry.

The reality of this film is that it has become like a cherished heirloom. My generation passed it on to the next, they in turn did the same, and so it has gone ever since. Coming from Fred Dekker, the man who gave us Night of the Creeps, this movie manages to not only hold up to the test of time but it feels like it gets better. But enough of me jerking this movie off like my life depends on it, let's get to the meat. What makes this movie good? Well, I think we have to start off with the monsters. They're all classic monster archetypes straight out of Universal Studios, which makes perfect sense. You see, this was originally meant to be a sort-of reboot for those iconic monsters. That's right, Monster Squad was made to freshen up classic Universal monsters for a new audience. While that ended up falling through, the concept still shows easily. The design work done here is some of the best to come out of the 80s, including work by the legendary Stan Winston. They all brought the monsters to life and made them truly imposing in a way audiences didn't think was possible. Hell, in my opinion, this movie delivers what may be one of the scariest Dracula performances ever.

No matter what age, he still creeps me right the fuck out.
Before this movie, I always thought as Dracula as a regal monster who was more scary because of his wisdom and general presence. He was a monster of subtlety more than outright action. That was before I saw him try to blow up a bunch of kids in front of their parents or attempt to rip a little girl's throat out. Duncan Regehr's Dracula is horrifying. He's the Dracula who will destroy everything you love effortlessly before sauntering over to you to casually snap your neck. My all-time favourite Dracula is Christopher Lee, but Regehr takes a very close second with him portrayal. You believe he's going to kill these kids. There's literally no moment when he's on screen that he doesn't exude a sense of murder from every pore. And he's the least make-up covered villain in this film! Think about that. The guy who looks the most like a guy is the scariest monster in the movie because his actor nails it so perfectly.

"That's nice, son, but get on with the damn movie already!"
Right, right! Sorry! We'll finish my gushing session later. Anyway, the movie begins with a scene straight out of a Hammer horror film as we see Abraham Van Helsing leading a band of monster hunters into Dracula's castle to take him down for good. He's go a evil banishing amulet, a virgin, torches, the whole shebang. Of course, after Dracula stretches, it all goes to hell rather quickly and the heroic monster hunters all end up in their own portal to limbo that was meant for the Big D. That sucks. I guess the original Monster Squad were a lot less successful in their mandate, yes?

Whoa! Sorry, sorry, I was just kidding! I'm sure you guys were awesome...before you all got sucked into limbo.
Then it's off to 1987 where see two kids, Sean and Patrick, getting dressed down by the principal for drawing monsters in class rather than paying attention. After school, we see another of their friends, Horace, being bullied for being overweight as the bullies take his candy bar and smash in on the ground. Rudy, the local bad-ass teenager, shows up and forces one of the bullies to eat the bar. All of this leads to them all sitting in Sean's treehouse as they initiate Rudy into the Monster Club. Wait, I know that movie.

I really should talk about that sometime. Vincent Price and John Carradine together? Beautiful.
Rudy joins, as Patrick's sister is plainly visible from the window there, allowing him to peep. There's also a younger kid named Eugene who owns a really awesome pair of Robotech pajamas. If they made those in my size, I would buy them in a heartbeat. Sean's little sister pleads to join, but he simply rebuffs her as Phoebe the feeb. It's always hell when you grow up with an easily rhymed name. Sean and Phoebe's dad is a cop and their mom is kind of the basic mom. She comes off mostly as overbearing, to be completely honest. Her main plot importance is to yell at her husband and to give Sean a book from an old house at the end of town. A book that happens to be the diary of Abraham Van Helsing. It also happens to be written in German, which makes it a bit hard to read. From there we see Dracula has survived and hitched a ride on a cargo place where he takes a large crate and ends up just outside of the town our heroes call home.

Judging by the markings, I am going to assume it might have Peter Boyle inside of it.
At the same time, a mummy goes missing at the local museum and a nut ranting about wanting to be caged up in a jail cell ends up getting shot in the police station. Yeah, it's a pretty rough night. Sean wanted to go see the sequel to his favourite horror movies series with his dad, but he's just too busy. After that rough night of missing mummies and crazy guys getting shot though? He's ready to have some quiet time watching a goofy slasher movie with his boy. The two sit on their roof and eat burgers while watching with binoculars, which I thought was cool as hell when I was a kid. Despite my fear of heights, this was always something I wanted to do with my dad. Now I can't even climb halfway up a ladder without vertigo hitting me like the truck driver in Duel.

I always imagine that movie being set to Ludacris' "Move Bitch".
The crazy guy wakes up, as it turns out he's a werewolf, and he kills the guy driving his body to the morgue. All the monsters then gather in the swamp where the Gillman lifts the crate out of the water, they rip it open, and Dracula uses his fancy cane as a lightning rod to revive the lumbering Tom Noonan within. It is kind of funny to me that this is a movie with Tom Noonan in it where he's not the scary one that will give you chills. Things begin to escalate as Dracula starts calling Sean's house for information on the diary, which results in one of those great moments that people lovingly mock to this very day.

HOLY SHIT! NILBOG IS GOBLIN SPELLED BACKWARDS!!
Not only does Sean realize Drac's asking around about him, but Eugene gets visited by the Mummy and the Gillman steals his Twinkie! Oh, and you know, Phoebe wanders in the yard with Frankenstein. Yes, I called him Frankenstein. Guess what? The monster and the man who created him have always been illustrated as having a very familial view towards one another, like father and son. Hell, in many versions of the story the monster literally calls the doctor father. Following that train of thought, his name would logically also be Frankenstein. Bam! Now quit bitching about that, Tom Noonan is here to make us all fall in love with him like the big dopey uncle who was built from dead people that we never knew we wanted. Yes, very quickly the group warms up to Frank as they realize he doesn't want to hurt anyone. This is probably very upsetting for our main villain, as he did send him out to go get the diary and now he's working against his cause.

Trust me, you don't want to be on this guy's bad side.
Now accepting that monsters are not only real but are out to actually get them, they prepare for war as they get various monster fighting gear together. Stakes, a bow and wooden stake arrows, silver bullets, and they even befriend the local scary German guy. Yeah, we get a peek at him earlier in the film and they end up talking to him, learning he's not actually scary. We also get a great line that I imagine goes over a lot of kids heads when they first watched this, as they remark that he knows a lot about monsters and we see a number tattooed on his arm from Nazi concentration camps as he says "I guess I do". That scene is so chilling, as it gives us a peek at the true horrors of man, and it's hidden away in a film that many people think of as nothing more than a Goonies rip-off.

Besides, the Goonies didn't show girls in their underwear. Or have on of our heroes creep on said girls.
They mount a mission to go get the amulet from the mansion that Dracula is currently inhabiting, which he hasn't been able to manage due to various anti-vampire traps being left there for him. It's here, at the mansion, that the ceiling caves in and leaves poor Frankenstein buried as he tries to save the kids. Before they've even had time to grieve even a bit over their lost friend and our lost Tom Noonan, the movie throws the werewolf at them and we get the single most memorable line to come out of this film. It's really one of the most well-known lines from any movie. We all know it, so say it with me, folks!

"WOLFMAN'S GOT NARDS!"
Yes, Sean yells for Horace to kick their furry nemesis in the nards, while Horace insists that the werewolf in front of them couldn't possibly have nards to kick. Now, even as a kid, I questioned the logic here. Really, why couldn't he have nards? Why would you ever think that the process of him becoming a werewolf somehow incorporates the loss of his testicles? To my knowledge, not only do wolfmen have nards, they also have massive sex drives. Wolfwomen too. Be careful though, werewolf sex can actually result in catching what they have. Wait, scratch that, being a werewolf is awesome! Go out and fuck all the werewolves!

Then you too can be as sexy as Lou Garou.
They dodge Dracula's vampire schoolgirls, the werewolf, and finally end up getting amulet. Dracula does show up though, attempting to take it from them, but a nice garlic covered slice of pizza bails them out and they all pile into the German guy's jeep while the Mummy gets unraveled as it attempts to stop them. They got Patrick's sister to accompany them, as she speaks German and is supposedly a virgin, but it goes badly when it turns out that the girl who totally isn't a virgin....totally isn't a virgin. Eugene points out that Phoebe is a virgin though and the German guy gets her to repeat after him as he reads the spell aloud. While this is happening, Rudy marches off to confront the vampire schoolgirls as the cops show up and prove rather useless against the monsters.

"The cops is this town are creatures from the laaaaaame lagoon."
While all these shenanigans have been going on, a very pissed off Dracula shows up at Sean's house where he casually tosses some lit dynamite into the clubhouse, blowing it all to hell. This interrupts the pretty ho-hum subplot of the mother leaving the father, as now both parents are horrified. After Dracula turns into a bat and flies away, Sean's dad radios him in the hope that his kids aren't burning alive in a treehouse. Sean tells him to meet them as there is monster killing to do and so he does jsut that. Between seeing fucking Dracula and the werewolf guy calling him to warn him about Drac's plan to kill the kids, it turns out he's rather accepting of what's happening. He attempts to kill Dracula but only hurts him, as the wolfy bodyguard comes to bail out his boss, who escapes. But a nicely place stick of lit dynamite puts a cramp in the wolfman's night and the fight continues. He pulls hismelf back together shortly, but Rudy puts him down with a silver bullet, resulting in the man, who was previously under the sway of Dracula, thanking the kid for killing him.

"Now...I don't have...to be...in Van Helsing..."
Horace gets his own badass moment as he faces down the Gillman, blowing a hole in the creature with a shotgun, basically show that just because something looks scary doesn't mean it can survive a shotgun blast at close range. He does this while his bullies both cower behind him a building, reminding them that he's got a name and he may possibly fuck them up in the future if they cross him. Dracula shows back up, walking towards Phoebe and the German guy very nonchalantly, all the while effortlessly killing every single cop who comes at him. He knocks away the German guy and grabs up Phoebe, demanding she give him the amulet, but Frank shows up to show him just how badly he fucked up. Phoebe and the German guy finish the spell, the portal opens, Dracula tries to drag Sean into it with him but then Van Helsing grabs him and pulls his enemy in with him while giving Sean a thumbs up.

As cheesy 80s moments go, it's probably one of the best ever.
Thus Van Helsing continues fighting Dracula in limbo, probably for all eternity, Phoebe sadly bidding Frankenstein farewell as he too gets sucked in to the portal, and the army shows up soon after because Eugene wrote a letter telling them there were monsters trying to mess up everything. I'm glad to see the army is so open to the idea of monsters, but I'm not sure if Eugene would seem like the most reliable source. His own dad didn't believe him when he said there was a mummy in his closet. Hell, the rest of the squad didn't really believe him either of the times he came up against a monster.

Good job not checking to make sure there's isn't a serial killer in your kid's closet while you act like an ass.
The movies ends with Sean introducing the squad to the army as they say they handled the monsters and the credits roll on one of the single most iconic films to roll out of the 1980s. This movie, while not without its faults, handles the concept so beautifully that you never really focus too hard on anything but what is good. And there's a large amount of truly good here, with memorable performances from a lot of the cast and the multiple artists' ability to bring monsters to life like no other. For me, this movie is a straight up time-capsule to my childhood. I watched it a lot and it made me feel like I wasn't so weird for being into monsters and stuff. I still enjoyed other stuff kids liked, like He-Man and MASK, but even then I always dug the mosnters most of all.

I also wanted my very own Tom Noonan.
This movie is a perfect gateway into horror films for kids, balancing the fun of being a kid with the genuine threat of monsters out to murder those same kids. The Goonies is a movie I really have a ton of love for, but I can't sit here and tell you that it left an impact on me the same way that The Monster Squad did, because that would be a bold-faced lie. The story itself is so entertaining and the creatures...oh man, the creatures. For being so easy to put down, the Gillman is still easily the scariest thing next to Dracula in here. And the Wolfman? His intense snarling face still bothers me if I look at it too long. All I can say is that the artists went above and beyond here. I could go on and on about this movie, but I know I'd only end up repeating myself more than I already have. It's just a really great movie. If you're a parent who loves horror and you're on the fence about whether you want to introduce it to your kids, show them this. Watch it together and bond over it. My parents did and I did the same for my nephews and niece. And since I kept brining it up, go ahead and watch The Goonies afterward. It's only fair. So, until Frankenstein gets out of limbo and goes to babysit Phoebe's kids, I'll be here hoping to both trick and treat tomorrow. Later days, bleeders!

Now I want to go eat a burger and watch a bad slasher movie with my dad.

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