What do you get when you mix a cast of classic Universal monsters and a group of kids who has a club dedicated to knowing everything about them? It’s 1987’s The Monster Squad, which was in a long line of 80s group films like The Goonies, Stand By Me, and The Lost Boys. There’s an extensive cult following that happened after the movie’s release. Director Fred Dekker strove to build a bridge between the figures such as Frankenstein and The Creature from the Black Lagoon and the feel of a teen coming-of-age story equipped with the humor of the time.
In the prologue, Van Helsing (Jack Gwillim) is unsuccessful in killing Dracula (Duncan Regehr). There’s an amulet that is composed of good, but can be destructive in the wrong hands. Van Helsing’s apprentices come to America with the amulet in their possession. Dracula soon comes back and looks for it – in hopes to plunge the world into darkness forever. He’s not alone – accompanied by monsters such as Frankenstein and The Mummy, they all advance on a small town.
Who is standing in their way? Well, it’s The Monster Squad, complete with a treehouse meeting spot. Sean Crenshaw (Andre Gower) is their leader along with his best friend Patrick Rhodes (Robby Kiger), Horace who the bullies call fat kid (Brent Chalem), the cool, leather jacket-wearing Rudy (Ryan Lambert), and the younger Eugene (Michael Faustino). There’s an ongoing gag that happens in the movie where Sean’s younger sister, Phoebe (Ashley Bank) wants to join the club so bad, but he doesn’t let her. It’s not until she befriends Frankenstein’s monster and ultimately saves the day that they begrudgingly accept her.
Co-written by Dekker and Shane Black, while The Monster Squad is looked upon as a comedy horror film, some adult themes do occur. Sean’s parents, Del (Detective Del Crenshaw) and Emily (Mary Ellen Trainor ) are having marital problems because Del’s job as a detective often pulls him away from having time with his family. When the kids speak to the Scary German Guy (Leonardo Cimino) about Van Helsing’s diary, he alludes to knowing true monsters. The camera pans to tattooed numbers on his arms, showing that he’s a holocaust survivor. These things aren’t overt – they operate within the background of the dominant story. They are effective within the tone of the film as it toes the line between human and fanatical situations of
This crazy couple of days when the police are getting calls about a Wolfman and Dracula in the area bands these characters together and distracts them from their real-life struggles. They looked the squad upon as the oddballs and saves the day because they know all the folklore in how to kill these things.
The movie does an outstanding job of mixing up all the monsters’ weaknesses and origins and making them feel seamless. Same rules apply – vampires have a weakness to garlic, a virgin is the only one that can read a passage to open a portal, and you can only kill the Wolfman with a silver bullet. It also balances a good amount of horror and gore that brings about a good amount of suspense within the film. Each of the monsters’ costume design is high quality and likened to their original look. They use practical effects with wounds and injuries that really stand out.
Each of the principal characters are all likable in their own way. Memorable lines such as ‘Wolfman’s got nards!’ are genuinely funny and not forced. We can attribute much of the banter that happens between characters to the dialogue written in the 1980s films at the time. Quick lines that help each character’s distinct personalities solidify themselves. The Monster Squad has a heart to it – speaking to friendship and family. While initially not as well-received, the movie has gained a legacy behind it as time has gone on. Dekker had a tough task in front of him in combining all these elements together. Although there may have been more well-regarded movies with this setup released around that time, The Monster Squad has carved its own unique and enjoyable place for itself within the horror-comedy realm.