Mitchell Brown says Fred Dekker's The Monster Squad is an underrated, delightful, and hilarious cult classic.
Have you ever wanted to see The Goonies (1985) fight the Universal Classic Monsters? Fred Dekker, director of Night of the Creeps (1986), sure did because, in 1987, he created The Monster Squad. Dekker co-wrote the film with Shane Black, who was hot off the release of Lethal Weapon (1987). While the film clearly pulls inspiration from The Goonies with its group of adventurous monster club members, it has enough personality and charm to stand on its own. It’s a fantastic and briskly-paced film that pays tribute to the classic monsters but has the snarky dialogue of a Shane Black script.
Strange things are happening in Hill Valley–Kingston Falls, the Courthouse Square of the Universal backlot. Sean (Andre Gower) and Patrick (Robby Kiger) are two junior high kids who love monsters and horror movies, and they celebrate their mutual appreciation in their monster club. Members of their club include Eugene (Michael Faustino), who’s the youngest of the group, and Horace (Brent Chalem), who everyone refers to as ‘Fat Kid’ (but by the end of the film, you will forever remember that his name is Horace), and Rudy (Ryan Lambert), a cigarette-smoking high schooler in a leather jacket who inexplicably wants to join their club. The kids believe that the occurrences are due to a group of monsters led by Count Dracula (Duncan Regehr). It becomes their responsibility to stop the monsters and save the world from the forces of evil.
The Universal Classic Monsters are an iconic part of film history, and The Monster Squad lovingly celebrates them. Dracula leads the charge with a cliche design: collared cape, pale skin, and slicked hair that borders on parody, which adds to the charm of how one-dimensionally evil he is. While the film is a comedy, Dracula is never made to be a joke and doesn’t shy away from his murderous nature. The threat of the monsters counterbalances the goofiness of the kids. At a certain point, Dracula sports red eyes—a charming nod to Christopher Lee’s character in Hammer's Horror of Dracula (1958) depiction of the character.
Frankenstein’s Monster (Tom Noonan) is a clever misdirect. He’s introduced as the muscle for Dracula, and there’s a fun subversion of the infamous ‘Little girl’ scene from Frankenstein (1931). In this instance, it’s Sean’s younger sister Phoebe (Ashley Bank). However, instead of extinguishing her life, they become friends—it becomes one of the film's endearing dynamics. He’s the most sympathetic character, self-aware of the fact that he’s a monster and scary to the world—and a good source of comedy throughout his interactions with the kids. With that in mind, he still feels true to the original monster, he's a newly-born creature with no understanding of the world around him.
The other monsters: Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Mummy, and the Werewolf, aren’t given as much depth, but each has moments to shine. All of the monsters include their iconic designs, looking like they came right out of one of the boys’ comic books. The creatures and an excellent mid-bat transformation of Dracula were designed by special effects legend Stan Winston.
Black’s style of writing characters is to make them incredibly sarcastic, speaking almost entirely in action movie one-liners. Impressively, the kids deliver this conversational flare while still sounding like kids who happen to curse a lot. It’s magical. Like many films written by Black, there are entertaining characters and witty dialogue interwoven with real human issues like Sean’s parents' failing marriage due to his mother's (Mary Ellen Trainor) feelings of neglect. His father (Stephen Macht) is a detective that always puts his job before his responsibilities at home. For a family-friendly film, it has dramatic weight constructing a feeling of detachment between Sean and his parents. This could be the reason behind Sean’s interest in monster movies—they are a means of escapism from his tough home life and why he spends most of his time with his friends in his treehouse. It’s like Stand By Me (1986) with monsters.
The Monster Squad is a delightful and hilarious film that’s perfect for watching on Halloween. There are plenty of significant monster effects and creepy imagery, including Dracula’s wives. It's an all-around adventure movie made by people who love Universal Classic Monsters. It also boasts one of the most epic thumbs-up scenes in cinematic history that's enough to make Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) envious.
The Monster Squad is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.