I am the first millennial. I'm calling it. Nobody really wants to be part of this generation, unintentionally fragmented by the introduction of humans to the personal home computer, but I'm owning it. I got here right at the beginning of 1981, slightly before the rest of you, which makes me one of the “elder” millennials or “Goonies,” as we prefer to be called. I have a slightly different perspective than the kids born in the 90's. When I'm old, I'll be like one of the people who remembers before there were cars or television or whatever, but it'll be computers and the internet.
It was a magical time to be a white kid growing up in suburban America, right at the end of the cold war. The music got weird, the clothes got weird, the movies got weird and we just thought that shit was normal. Few films capture what it was really like to be a kid in those times the way Monster Squad does. It's like a 79-minute-long commercial for Burger King circa August 1987 with monsters, and I mean that with the utmost adulation.
As a kid growing up in Maine, the scariest of all states, I was obsessed with horror movies, monsters and Stephen King. My good Catholic parents' penchant for trying to shelter me from these things only made me more determined to get my hands on them. I could rent all the old Dracula movies I wanted at the video store (an old-timey repository for movies on big black tapes,) because they were unrated and a lot of them were in black and white. The library (an old-timey repository for books made of paper) was used to calling my folks to make sure they were ok with a first-grader reading things like Pet Sematary. Everyone was just so glad I was reading at such an adult level.
When Monster Squad came out I was primed. All my favorite classic monsters in one place and it was rated PG-13, which meant there was a chance my parents would allow it in the house once it was on VHS (up to that point Gremlins was the scariest modern horror flick I had managed to view.) This movie was a gateway to real horror for kids that grew up watching The Goonies, and it's a perfect snapshot of it's setting and time.
For those of you unfamiliar with the plot of director Fred Dekker's modern masterpiece, I'll recap:
Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, the Mummy and Gill-man (really the Creature from the Black Lagoon,) get together in Florida (maybe?) in 1987 to take over the world with the powers of darkness. Somehow the only people who notice are a rag-tag group of misfit kids who have a club devoted to monsters that meets in a treehouse.
Sean, the leader of this Monster Squad (wink,) ends up with Abraham Van Helsing's diary when his mom finds it at a random garage sale on her way home from the grocery store. With the help of a holocaust survivor that lives down the street, the gang translates the diary and discovers that the only way to defeat the monsters for good is by finding a magic amulet and having a virgin recite a spell (at midnight the very next day) that opens up a green-screen-tastic wormhole to limbo.
Conveniently the amulet is buried in the basement of the big scary house in the local swamp where Dracula and his friends are staying. Dracula sends Frankenstein to kill the kids and steal Van Helsing's diary, but he ends up becoming friends with them instead.
Our heroes and their new friend Frank break into the monster house, kick wolfman in the nards, hit Dracula in the face with pizza and escape with the amulet. The kids then race to the center of town where they unravel the mummy, blow up the wolfman, shoot Gill-man in the face, stab a bunch of vampires and open up a worm-hole outside Burger King that sucks all the bad guys to hell or limbo or whatever. Then the army shows up and everybody high-fives.
This film would never have been green-lit now, which is part of it's charm. The foul-mouthed protagonists talked just like my friends and I did in real-life. The slightly-older member of the squad, Rudy (Portrayed by Ryan Lambert from Kids Incorporated,) smokes incessantly and at one point, he blackmails his friend Patrick's older sister with naked photos taken from their treehouse by a clumsy Frankenstein. Dracula screams in a toddler's face and calls her a bitch. The list of reasons this movie should never have been marketed to children goes on and on, yet here I am extolling it's virtues years later.
Part of the reason I love this movie so much is it's use of practical effects and make-up designed by the late-great Stan Winston (Terminator 2, Aliens.) The results are mixed, ranging from super cheesy to down right impressive. The bats in Dracula's castle right in the beginning of the film look like they were shooting on their day off from Sesame Street, however then you have scenes like the one when a disembowled wolfman slides back together after being blown-up with dynamite. The monsters themselves look amazing, especially the Gill-man. Somehow it all works together to create a believable universe... by 1987 horror movie standards anyway.
The mean-spirited dialogue and one-liners are another couple of reasons to love this movie. The opening where we meet Sean and Patrick in the School Principal's office and he declares, “I think Science is cool... I dig it man!” The moment where detective Del (Sean's father) says that “2000-year-old dead guys don't get up and walk away by themselves,” right before the cut-away to the Mummy limping down the street... classic. Dracula dropping, “Meeting adjourned,” as he blows up the treehouse (Dracula loves dynamite, by the way) is inspired. Of course “Wolfman's got nards,” definitely takes the cake for most memorable line. Everyone is sarcastic AF in this movie, and the actors are all so committed that it works even in the corniest moments.
I'm not ashamed to admit that I still cry at the end, when Frankenstein gets slowly sucked into the vortex while little Phoebe cries “Don't go,” and throws him her stuffed puppy. I cry until I laugh at how ridiculous it is to be crying over this movie, and then I cry again because it's so absurd that it's art, and it's beautiful. That stuffed puppy is gonna remind Frankenstein of his friends and comfort him as he spends eternity in hell. Aw.
Monster Squad is a gem of a movie. If you're my age and you didn't grow up watching it, there are enough nostalgia tickling moments to keep you engaged while you laugh at the plot holes and bad effects. There's even a classic 80's-style montage, where the kids build weapons, make silver bullets and print Monster Squad business cards. Everything you thirst for when watching this kind of film is there, and more. It's very unique and certainly worth revisiting. This one gets five out of five severed heads... or whatever. Is that what we're using? That's what I'm using.