Fred Dekker’s “The Monster Squad” is the assembly of many eighties tropes, even conjuring up the aesthetic of a novel series one might have found tucked beside “The Hardy Boys,” and “Babysitters Club.” It’s Amblin, Spielberg, Universal and everything else we loved about the eighties, and while it can in many ways be considered a take off on “The Goonies,” it watches so much better over time. Even better is the script by Shane Black allows for interesting and complex preteen heroes, all of whom have their spotlight, as well as their own personal struggles. Like Spielberg, Black introduces a potentially broken home with main hero Sean, while this extraordinary situation allows his family to re-unite for the fate of him and his little sister.
“The Monster Squad” is centered on horror buff Sean who hangs out in his tree house with his friends Patrick, and Horace (the late Brent Chalem) obsessing over monsters. One day a plane shipping both Frankenstein’s body and Dracula’s Coffin gets in to a skirmish, and Dracula is re-awakened after many years of slumber. Frankenstein’s body is dropped in to a local lagoon in Louisiana, and Dracula regroups at an old mansion where he begins assembling his forces to take over the world. Sean has been given the diary of Abraham Van Helsing, a detailed account of mysterious spells and thoughts that Sean decides to read using the help of “Scary German Guy” (Leonardo Cimino) dictates to them that the forces of good and evil are finally balanced–thus the ancient amulet which contains the forces of good–is now useless and can be destroyed.
Dracula’s home base is located over the amulet’s altar, but it’s guarded by holy symbols which prevents the monsters from grabbing it. Sean, after encountering the monsters first hand, decides to re-group all of his friends (including his little sister, the friendly Frankenstein monster, and the cool kid in school, Rudy) and fight off the team of demons once and for all. If he succeeds, he can punch a hole in to the universe and send the demons in to limbo, if he fails Dracula wins, and evil rules. Dekker who wrote the script with Shane Black, cleverly included numerous references to the classic monster movies from Universal, and to prevent trademark infringement, all are altered so there’d be no grounds for infringement. Included are the Wolfman, The Mummy, The Creature, and the one and only Dracula. The results of his alterations are successful, serving as loving tributes to Universal that are apparent, even if they’re not the exact monsters.
Ironically the new monsters carve out their own niche, as the Wolfman is something of a tragic derelict, the Mummy a frightening emaciated ghoul, the Creature a brawler for Dracula, and of course, there’s Duncan Regehr who was imminently more imposing than Lugosi. “The Monster Squad” was sadly almost lost for years, but has garnered a big comeback since the aughts and thanks to big movie houses like the Alamo Drafthouse. “The Monster Squad” is a perfect introduction for anyone seeking to introduce their children in to the horror genre, and is undoubtedly one of my favorite horror films of all time. It’s such a unique eighties gem that I can easily watch over and over without ever tiring of it, even without the nostalgia shades on. There’s just so much enthusiasm and novelty behind it that it should be celebrated and re-visited by horror fans old and new, and I never tire of celebrating its nuances and exciting storytelling.