Thursday, October 13, 2011

31 Days of Halloween: The Monster Squad

One year ago: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

For a monster-loving kid in the 1980s, director Fred Dekker's The Monster Squad came along at just the right time. There just weren't many movies made that decade in the classic horror mold; most horror movies of the '80s featured alien creatures such as the aptly-named Aliens, or else they were more generic slasher fare such as the seemingly endless sequels to Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Nightmare on Elm Street. There's nothing inherently wrong with those films, but they simply didn't appeal to a lover of the classic monsters such as me on anywhere near the same level. So, in 1987, The Monster Squad seemed like a godsend.

The movie revolves around a group of children who belong to a club based on love of classic monsters, called the Monster Squad. The group includes Sean(Andre Gower), Patrick(Robby Kiger), Horace(Brent Chalem), Rudy(Ryan Lambert), Eugene(Michael Faustino), and, after she helps recruit a very important new member, Sean's adorable little sister Phoebe(Ashley Bank). The kids discover that many of these monsters are actually real, and pursuing some nefarious purpose right in their hometown. With the help of an elderly friend(Leonardo Cimino), the Monster Squad sets out to stop the monsters, and destroy them if possible. They'll have to face Dracula(Duncan Regehr), the Frankenstein Monster(Tom Noonan), the Wolf Man(Carl Thibault, played in human form by Jonathan Gries), the Gill Man(Tom Woodruff Jr.), and the Mummy(Michael McKay) before it's all over.

This movie is a delight from start to finish, and even more so for anyone who grew up in the '80s. It is truly a product of its time, despite its reverence toward the classic Universal monster movies. The cast does a good job in their roles overall, with a couple of the children standing out. A couple of the monsters get short shrift, which was probably inevitable with such a large cast. The Mummy, in particular, doesn't really get a chance to shine. From a design standpoint, however, I'd name this Mummy second only to the Karloff version.

The Gill Man also impresses, with a wonderful design that comes off extremely well onscreen. The Frankenstein Monster design is evocative of the Universal version, yet remains different enough to retain its own identity. The Wolf Man is one of the better film werewolves we've gotten over the years. Dracula is clearly modeled on the iconic Lugosi version, and Regehr does a pretty good job in the role. He maintains an air of cordiality much of the time, but he unleashes a brutal nastiness at times that gives us a glimpse of what the Count is truly like.

The Monster Squad is a wonderful blend of monsters and comedy, and like the classic Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, it remains respectful of the monsters. That is one of the main reasons why it works so well. Some aspects are rather dated, but those don't harm the movie; in fact, they'll only enhance the experience for any child of the '80s. There haven't been many great monster movies made in the past three decades, but The Monster Squad is one of them.

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