Netflix has dumped quite a few 80s classics in our midst this September. After sorting through all the options, I was drawn to the Fred Dekker’s sophomore film, The Monster Squad, which he co-wrote with Shane Black.
Sean (Andre Gower) and Patrick (Robby Patrick) are best buds, in large part due to their shared love for monsters. Sean heads their club, the Monster Squad, which also includes the often-ridiculed Horace (Brent Chalem) and the diminutive Eugene (Michael Faustino). The members routinely discriminate against Sean’s younger sister, Phoebe (Ashley Bank), because a little girl couldn’t possibly know anything about monsters. The boys invite the older, cooler Rudy (Ryan Lambert) into their club after he stands up for one of theirs against the school bullies.
After Sean’s mother (Mary Ellen Trainor) acquires an old diary written by Van Helsing, the Squad must brave meeting the town’s Scary German Guy (Leonardo Cimino) to decipher its contents. The boys learn of an amulet that can eliminate the threat of monsters from the world. What they don’t know is Count Dracula (Duncan Regehr) has assembled his cadre of creatures; the Wolfman (Carl Thibault, Jon Gries), the Mummy (Michael MacKay), Gillman (Tom Woodruff Jr.), and Frankenstein’s Monster (Tom Noonan); to seek out the amulet now hidden in Sean’s small town. Dracula has waited nearly a century to destroy the amulet. In just a few short days, the amulet will be vulnerable, and it’s a race against time between the Monster Squad and a squad of monsters to locate the amulet and alter the fate of the world forever.
I never watched The Monster Squad in my youth and it’s truly a shame. My younger self would love have eaten up the kids versus monsters concept presented by Fred Dekker. As an adult who’s watched way too many movies in his life, it’s harder to look beyond the studio settings and simple story. At one point, I was fairly certain the kids were crossing Labyrinth‘s Bog of Eternal Stench or at least traversing a “wooded area” I’ve seen numerous times in other 80’s films. It probably doesn’t help either that I now enjoy my monsters dripping with blood, and while the Squad has its share of violence, it is far from gore-filled.
That’s because the oozing, blood-drenched beasts of adult nightmares have no place in The Monster Squad. This is a film to connect children with the classic monster mythos; vampires before they sparkled, the undead when they were still wrapped in bandages, werewolves when they were more worried about the full moon than a pop quiz. Menacing monsters that’d make “normal” kids (and some adults) sleep with the lights on is what Dekker aimed for and Stan Winston created.
When Dracula and his force tower over our would-be heroes, they don’t turn and run, they pick up arms and face them because it’s what heroes do. Sean’s sister recruits Frankenstein’s monster into the squad because as we all know, Frank isn’t a monster, he’s just misunderstood. I personally loved Noonan’s Frank the best; he and the Wolfman are the most memorable and well-developed of the monsters with Dracula being little more than a pale-faced bully.
The Monster Squad has that same sort of campiness that made his Night of the Creeps so enjoyable. It’s an anthemic film for the outcasts, people deemed weird for their interest in fantastical things like monsters. For that alone, it’s worth eighty-two minutes of your time.