In 1985 a movie was released that followed a group of young misfits who set out to find a long lost pirate treasure in order to save their home from foreclosure. You’d be right if you guessed that I was talking about The Goonies, a movie that is probably as loved today as it was 30 years ago. It had Steven Spielberg on the writing team, a sizeable budget, a group of promising young actors and an age rating that appealed to all. Two years after The Goonies was released, The Monster Squad arrived but failed to impress at the box office. For this reason the movie slipped into the realm of film’s that garner a cult following of passionate fans, many of whom watched it first when they were younger. I wasn’t born in the 80s so I’m sad to say that this is one of those movies that I’d heard about but never got around to watching until recently.
Much like The Goonies, The Monster Squad follows a group of young children on an important quest. It has just as much heart, excitement and laughter as the 1985 Spielberg film but the most glaring differences are that this movie was directed by Fred Dekker (Night Of The Creeps, House), has an age rating of 15 and focuses on classic horror movie monsters as the villains.
The Monster Squad is a society of young pre-teen boys who idolize classic monsters, monster movies and hold their meetings in a tree clubhouse. Club leader Sean (Andre Gower), who wears a “Steven King Rules” shirt, has a five-year-old sister named Phoebe (Ashley Bank) desperately wants to join the club but you know she’s a girl. Sean is given the diary of legendary monster hunter Dr. Abraham Van Helsing but unfortunately it is written in German.
I love how each of the squad members main characteristic traits are made up from stereotypical traits from just about every movie with a group of people. You have the leader, the badass cool kid who is respected by all even bullies, the geeky kid and the fat kid. I’m not even being mean by referring to him as the fat kid because that’s how just about everyone in the film refers to him; he does his best to remind everyone that his name is Horace though. Seriously though, how cool is this kid?
Sean, his best friend Patrick (Robby Kiger), and the rest of the Monster Squad visit an elderly man; known as “Scary German Guy” (that’s his name). It turns out that he’s actually a really nice man and is more than willing to help Sean in translating the diary. This is actually a really great scene as when the squad compliment the man on his knowledge of famous movie monsters he reveals that he “has some experience with monsters”. As the boys leave and he shuts the door, his sleeve lifts slightly and you can make out a number tattooed on his arm which signifies he had been a prisoner at a concentration camp, good luck explaining that one to your kids.
The diary describes an amulet that is composed of concentrated good. One day out of every century, as the forces of good and evil reach a balance, the otherwise indestructible amulet becomes vulnerable to destruction. It turns out that the one day out of every century is that very day, what are the odds of that happening? The Monster Squad soon realise that they must get their hands on the amulet and use it with an incantation from Van Helsing’s diary to open a portal and cast the incoming monsters into Limbo, a feat that was attempted unsuccessfully by Van Helsing 100 years previously.
The boys concerns are validated when Dracula turns up and steals a crate from an old World War II bomber in flight, containing The Frankenstein Monster (Tom Noonan). However, Frankenstein is reluctant to aid Dracula, and wanders into the forest where he encounters Phoebe. Rather than being afraid, she shows him the kindness he has always sought, and they become friends. After Phoebe proves to the Monster Squad that the Frankenstein Monster is not evil, he chooses to help the boys instead of Dracula.
Nevertheless, Dracula seeks to obtain the amulet before the Monster Squad does, so that the Count can take control of the world and plunge it into darkness. To ensure this happens he assembles a group of his most dangerous and monstrous allies: The Mummy (Michael MacKay), The Gill-man (Tom Woodruff Jr.), The Wolf Man (Carl Thibault), and in addition, three school girls, whom the Count later transforms into his vampiric wives.
All of the makeup, effects and costuming used to bring the monsters to life are actually really well done. There’s a scene in a phone box where The Wolf Man in his human form is begging police to come and arrest him before he turns again but he does turn and it looks great.
It turns out that the amulet is buried in a stone room, under a house that Dracula and the other monsters now occupy. Luckily for The Monster Squad the room is littered with wards which prevent the monsters from taking it, nice one Van Helsing. We get a very cheesy montage of the boys getting ready for battle all to the sound of cheesy 80s pop-rock.
They arrive at the house only to find The Wolfman in their way, Frankenstein’s monster is taken down by a collapsing roof which leads Sean to instruct Fat Kid to do something in particular; this leads to a famous one-liner.
Luckily the squad manage to remove the amulet and narrowly escape Dracula’s grasp.The German man informs them that the incantation must be read by a female virgin. As midnight approaches, the Squad makes their way to a local cathedral to make their last stand. Meanwhile, Dracula destroys their clubhouse with a stick of dynamite, drawing the attention of Sean’s father, Police Detective Del, who has been charged with investigating the strange occurrences in town of late, but remains quite skeptical about their supernatural causes. Del is further puzzled when he receives a warning from the Wolfman that his family is in danger, as in his human form, the Wolfman is merely a reluctant pawn of Dracula.
Unfortunately, the doors to the cathedral are locked, so the incantation must be read on the stoop, leaving the Squad vulnerable. Dracula soon arrives, can The Monster Squad open the portal or will the count plunge the world into darkness? I’d suggest you watch to find out.
So that’s The Monster Squad, I really enjoyed it.
There are too many genuinely funny moments that are very memorable. There is a scene near the end in which Dracula confronts Phoebe who has the amulet, he looks at her innocently giving you the impression that he finds her sweet and would never hurt her. Instead, he picks he up by her face and says “give me the amulet, you bitch!” it’s freaking hilarious.
Another of my favorites involves Fat kid finally standing up for himself when two bullies refuse him entry into a store as he’s being chased by Gill-man, it’s awesome.
In terms of blood and gore there are only a few select moments that come to mind. One involves The Wolfman getting blown to pieces only to have all of his limbs re-fuse to his body. The other involves the killing of Dracula’s wives…
Also, I have to note the friendship between Phoebe and the Frankenstein monster which is genuinely heartwarming and makes the ending between them all the sadder. I do feel that there is something of an awkward balance in that the movie tries to be both a family movie and a horror, it’s very unique in that way for better or worse.
The Monster Squad may only have something of a cult following but it deserves so much more. I have nothing against The Goonies, I’ve always found it to be enjoyable but honestly, I enjoyed this much more. While there are some unanswered questions within the plot involving Dracula and his actions, I really loved the concept. There are too many fun moments in the film to name them all but it’s very funny at times as well as managing to have heart. The makeup and effects used are obviously slightly dated but they still hold up really well. Undeniably, the film is quite cheesy at times and there is a considerable amount of over-acting, mainly from Dracula. Regardless, this movie encapsulates the 80s and is exactly what a horror/comedy should be.
The Monster Squad