Monday, September 03, 2007

PITILESS OBSERVATIONS By Bethany Ruthven: Review Of THE MONSTER SQUAD Two-Disc 20th Anniversary Edition DVD

Good evening, darlings, and thank you for reading. An auspicious DVD debut has come our way: after twenty years of fond remembrances, traded tapes and DVD-R copies by a fanatically devoted cult following, one of the Eighties' most overlooked genre films has been resurrected at last. The Monster Squad, which was notable at its release for being the only horror-themed film to feature classic legendary monsters instead of masked serial killers, receives a brand-spanking new release in a special 2-DVD set loaded with goodies.

The Monster Squad tells the story of Sean (Andre Gower) who leads a pack of rabid preteen monster-fan misfits in serious discussions of "who is the coolest monster" (well, I would say it's vampires, but I'm prejudiced) and contemplating the real identity of the neighborhood's Scary German Guy (Leonardo Cimino). In the course
of the film, Count Dracula (Duncan Regehr) awakes from an eternal sleep (yeah, right) and calls together a gruesome gang of the world's greatest monsters: the Wolfman (Carl Thibault), the Black Lagoon's Gillman (Tom Woodruff), the Mummy (Michael Reid MacKay) and the Frankenstein Monster (Tom Noonan) to search for the only thing that can stop Dracula: an amulet crafted of pure good. When Sean acquires the diary of Abraham Van Helsing (which his mother secures for his monster collection at a garage sale; isn't that always the way) and learns of the evil scheme, the gang snaps into action as the Monster Squad, enlisting the help of the Scary German Guy (who turns out to be not so scary after all, and has pie--a true mark of the forces of good) and receiving the unexpected assistance of the conflicted Frankenstein Monster, who gains the friendship of Sean's little sister and becomes an ad-hoc member of the Squad. The movie quickly escalates into a race to find the amulet and stop Dracula's plan for world takeover.

Upon its release in 1987, The Monster Squad gained little fanfare and was considered a failure because of its preference for old-school monsters over maniacs with knives (doesn't that sound familiar). The movie had a brief appearance on VHS before disappearing, but rabid monster fans everywhere traded illegal tapes and later DVD-R copies of the film on eBay for years, whipping the demand for a legitimate DVD release into high dudgeon. This release, from a remastered print, is pristine, flawless, and brings forth the true glories of this movie: a raucous Goonies-esque teen comedy mixed with an uninhibited love letter to the classic monsters of old. It's rather a crime that Universal Studios refused to let director Fred Dekker use the original makeups of the monsters for this film, but the Squad makeups, created by Stan Winston (who I've heard is a master effects artist), give this movie a look and charm all its own.

(An aside: my werewolf grrl-friend and colleague Harriet Von Lupin has verified the Wolfman makeup as being startlingly close to the real thing. But we confess to being quite puzzled by what is considered the movie's most famous line, "Wolfman's got nards!" When we heard this line as we watched the film, Harriet looked at us with some confusion and responded, "Well, yeah. All boy werewolves do.")

DVD features include audio commentary with director Dekker, Gower and other Squad members Ryan Lambert and Ashley Bank, and another commentary with Dekker and his director of photography Bradford May, for those who are interested in such things. There is also a five-part retrospective, Monster Squad Forever, featuring new interviews with Dekker and several other stars of the movie, including Duncan Regehr and Tom Noonan (who played Drac and Frank), and A Conversation With Frankenstein, an interview with Noonan about his character. There are also deleted scenes, still gallery, trailer, TV spot and most of the usual paraphernalia--widescreen mastering, Dolby sound and such.

A splendid film, created with love and passion for its subject matter. Serve without reservation to older children, but perhaps allow younger children to watch only as a special Halloween treat (there are some language issues). Do allow yourself and other adult friends to enjoy this fine movie as well.

POST-MORTEM: We've learned that Duncan Regehr, in addition to being a fine actor, is also an accomplished artist. View his work online at

In the event that anyone who owns the rights and such may be reading, there is a long-lost Saturday morning show, also called
Monster Squad, that our Mad Doctor John often venerates. If anyone could see their way clear to creating a DVD release of this series, it would be much appreciated here at the Monster Shop, as we're all rather tired of him nattering on about it. --B.R.