May 132012
 

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HCF may be one of the newest voices on the web for all things Horror and Cult, and while our aim is to bring you our best opinion of all the new and strange that hits the market, we still cannot forget about our old loves, the films that made us want to create the website to spread the word.  So, now and again our official critics at the HCF headquarters have an urge to throw aside their new required copies of the week and dust down their old collection and bring them to the fore…. our aim, to make sure that you may have not missed the films that should be stood proud in your collection.

Doc looks at one of those films that should have been huge but never was, yet remains a favourite of many who grew up in the 80s.  Kids vs the old Universal Studios Monsters – how cool is that?


HCF REWIND NO.54. THE MONSTER SQUAD [1988]

AVAILABLE ON DVD and Blu Ray

RUNNING TIME: 82 mins

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic

 


One hundred years ago, Van Helsing led a group of villagers to destroy Count Dracula and mistakenly sends Dracula to modern day America and is cast into limbo.  The present day; the ‘Monster Squad’ is a small society of pre-teens who love monster movies and hold their meetings in a tree house.  They are Sean, whose five year old sister Phoebe desperately wants to join the club, Patrick, Horace, Randy and Eugene.  Sean obtains Van Helsing’s diary and, seeing as it is in German, go to their local ‘Scary German Guy’ to get him to translate it.  It describes how every 100 years good and evil reach a balance and the amulet can send the forces of evil into limbo but also weakens and if destroyed will tip the balance in favour of evil. The kids must find it before Dracula does, and seeing that Dracula has summoned up some monster buddies to help him, the odds are in his favour……

 

The Monster Squad has a genius premise that should have ensured huge box office success.  Kids battle the old Universal monsters, namely Dracula, his three ‘Brides’, Frankenstein’s Monster, the  Mummy, the Wolf Man and the Creature From The Black Lagoon, in the present day.  Well, the amazing thing is that, despite being just as much fun as its premise suggests, the movie was treated like crap by its distributors, perhaps because it wasn’t a from a major studio, and it flopped, though unsurprisingly it does have a sizeable cult following.  I personally prefer it to The Goonies which it is often compared to; it’s a really charming, likeable movie that is humorous but mostly treats its monsters with respect, and it’s a great shame that director/co-writer Fred Dekker [who also made the fun Night Of The Creeps] did not go on to do that much afterwards.  The script, which was also written by Shane Black, was written as a kind of tribute to the old monsters, though initially it was envisaged as a much more expensive movie and even when completed it was cut down by 13 mins to please some executives.  The full version, which included a longer opening involving Dracula and his ‘Brides’ though is mainly just extended dialogue scenes, has been shown on US TV though sadly did not make it onto the otherwise superb R1 DVD.

Beginning in a manner not dissimilar to the later Universal monster mash Van Helsing with an pre-credits attack on Dracula’s castle, it has a wonderful tracking shot in Dracula’s crypt which almost replicates one in the 1931 Dracula [replete with armadillos!], then a brief bit of action with a guest appearance from some zombies, before we switch to the present day.  Our youthful protagonists act like real kids, without any sugar coating; they swear, are lewd, even bully, which probably helped in the film getting a ‘15’ certificate in the UK as it was wasn’t quite suitable for a ‘PG’, yet the ‘15’ rating was perhaps too high and meant that some of the people who would most enjoy the movie could not see it.  This is one instance where a ‘12’ certificate would probably have been the right rating if it had been around then.  Anyway, we soon get into our plot, which frankly seems to have been thought up in a couple of minutes, but never mind, it works as an excuse to get our heroes going up against the monsters, and that’s probably all we need.

Sean: Rudy find some silver bullets.
Rudy: Where the hell am I suppose to find silver bullets?
Sean: I don’t know. Fat Kid get a map, find Shadowbrook Road.
Horace: What, do I look in the index for “big scary mansion?”

The Monster Squad is filled with great lines and a few laugh-out-bits such as when the Squad try to ask a girl if she is a virgin or not and can’t get the words out.  I especially love an early scene where the Mummy is seen in a child’s closet; it’s both scary and funny and plays on childhood fears, though overall the film mostly avoids trying to frighten. Out of the monsters, Dracula has the most screen time, followed by the Wolf Man and the Frankenstein Monster, and a flaw of this movie, in my opinion, is that some elements are given short shrift.  The Frankenstein Monster [billed as Frankenstein in the credits, despite a line in the film ensuring we know he’s not really called that] forms a friendship with Phoebe in the manner of similar scenes in Frankenstein and Ghost Of Frankenstein, but the scene where they actually meet is not shown and the whole sub-plot is not given enough time.  I would also have liked to have learned more about the ‘Scary German Guy’, who is a concentration camp survivor.  Still, the short running time means that the film moves incredibly fast, and we are treated to lots of cool action in the final third as the Squad, with not much help from the police force, do battle with the monsters in the town square.

The combination of monster maker Stan Winston and effects supremo Richard Edlund ought to result in greatness though some of the effects, such as a vortex, are below Edlund’s usual standard.  Winston’s monster designs are good though, varying nicely from the original’s [I actually prefer the Wolf Man’s look here to the original’s] yet still recognisable.  Duncan Regehr’s Dracula is regarded very highly in some quarters and I agree; he’s truly evil and cruel with no redeeming qualities.  The kids in this film are all very good even though none of them are especially well known.  The symphonic score by the underused Bruce Broughton is delightful.  The Monster Squad cannot help being dated: people mention a Groundhog Day slasher movie series which actually sounds feasible considering it is an American holiday but a few years later of course it became the subject of the great Bill Murray film! I also think it would have benefitted from being a little more detailed in places, but this incredibly tight and very well-balanced movie is a highly enjoyable one, a great movie to watch with your kids and a great excuse to get them into the wonderful old Universal horror movies!  O, and I don’t even want to think about the planned Platinum [or should I say Crapinum] Dunes remake!

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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