Welcome to our brand new monster movie column, Monstrous Memories! Here at ScienceFiction we’re huge monster movie fans, so now in each new Monstrous Memories post, we’re going to take a look at a different monster movie and talk about what works, what doesn’t work, and whether it’s worth your time to watch it! Monstrous Memories is open to monster movies both new and old, so as long as a monster shows up on screen it’s eligible for a look. So what movie are we digging into first? Well, seeing as this is posting just in time for Halloween, we’re going to kick this thing off right with a look back at the first movie that brought all of the big bads of yesteryear together in one place, ‘Monster Squad’!
‘Monster Squad’, released in 1987 from director Fred Dekker (‘Night of The Creeps’, ‘Robocop 3’) and writer Shane Black (‘Iron Man 3’, the ‘Lethal Weapon’ franchise), gives us the tale of a group of ordinary children fighting to save the world from Dracula and his small force of evil minions that is comprised entirely of the classic Universal Studios monsters! Working alongside Dracula are The Mummy, The Wolfman, The Creature From The Black Lagoon (aka The Gillman), and Frankenstein’s Monster! Will the children be able to defeat Dracula’s forces and save the day? Oh, totally. That’s how movies work isn’t it?
As far as the story goes, this film is fairly brilliant in it’s execution. Dekker and Black were very creative in how they managed to work all of these classic monsters into one story. The children are all written well, and feel like very real children you would experience in the 1980’s (and in most other 80’s teen adventure movies). What stands out the most to me is how fleshed out some of the monsters truly are, with Dracula being purely evil and wanting to rule the world, while The Mummy and The Gillman are both mute simple minded minions who have no real need for personality. Both The Wolfman and Frankenstein’s Monster are very reluctant to be involved in Dracula’s plans, but are forced into action against their own wishes by Dracula’s evil powers. Frankenstein’s Monster is a difficult character to nail down, but this script hits this particular nail right on the head by making The Monster less of a villain and more of a hero in the end. The Wolfman is an especially tragic character, as the man who becomes The Wolfman has no say as to what he does in wolf-form, and wants to do everything he can to stop himself from committing any further evil acts (although he ultimately fails at this).
If a monster makes a movie worthwhile, this film is worth it all! Rightfully so, the best part about ‘Monster Squad’ are the monsters themselves, and that’s all credited to the actors and the special effects department on this film that brought them to life! Because this movie was made in the late 80’s, all of the effects are practical, so we’ve got five guys running around in full monster make up and prosthetics! Dracula is the only one who is truly basic and bare bones, considering he’s a guy in a suit and a cape with fangs, but he’s played masterfully with grace by Duncan Regehr (‘V’, ‘Blood Surf’) who manages to make Dracula absolutely terrifying! The Mummy, played by Michael MacKay (‘X-Men 2’, ‘Batman & Robin’), is rail thin and just as creepy as you’d expect a shambling Mummy to be. The Wolfman and Gillman’s performances are hidden within their full body prosthetics of their creature suits, and that’s a huge part of what makes them work so well. This particular version is probably (in my humble opinion) the coolest on screen take ever done of this creature! He’s massive, muscular, and looks like he could take on anything you throw at home. The same could be said of the Wolfman, who has an animatronic face with way more expression than we see in most 80’s flicks. This take on the Wolfman is bulky and powerful with lightning speed, so you know he isn’t messing around when he comes at you. Wolfman has “got nards” for sure. It helps that when he is in human form he’s portrayed by Jon Gries (’Unicorn City’, ’Napoleon Dynamite’), who is literally always a pleasure when he’s on screen in just about anything) Saving the best for last, there is nothing not to love about Tom Noonan’s (‘Robocop 2’, ‘The Last Action Hero’) wonderful take on Frankenstein’s Monster. While you may immediately think it’s going to be one of the kids (or the ‘Scary German Guy’), Noonan’s Frankenstein is the heart at the center of this film. His relationship with the children in the actual ‘Monster Squad’ is heartwarming, and you really do feel pity for him by the time the credits roll. Did we mention that all of these monsters were designed by the team at the legendary Stan Winston Studios? Because holy crap it shows! These are Stan Winston’s takes on the original Universal Studios monsters, and he has given us pretty easily definitive takes on each one.
Past the monsters themselves, the cast here is made up of a ton of child actors who unfortunately didn’t do a heck of a lot else in their acting careers post-’Monster Squad’, as well as a few familiar 80’s “oh that guy” faces as the children’s parents, and of course veteran actor Leonardo Cimino (‘Dune’, ‘Waterworld’) as ‘The Scary German Guy’ (seriously, that’s who he is credited as on IMDB). None of the lead cast outside of the monsters really shines or stands out too much, save for maybe ‘Fat Kid’ who is a poor mans take on ‘Chunk’ from ‘The Goonies’ (Chunk-Lite, of the non-tuna variety). Actually, many people view ‘Monster Squad’ as a knock-off of ‘The Goonies’ in general, but when you look at it objectively they have very little in common, and not for nothing, but ‘Monster Squad’ is arguably the better film.
Overall, at the end of the day, Monster Squad is one of the single most classic 80’s films of the ‘spooky’ variety. It is by no means actually scary in any way, but it really doesn’t have to be. It’s simple, and it’s fun, and it hits all the right notes that come to mind when you think of an 80’s family-friendly adventure movie. While ‘Monstrous Memories’ will usually be taking a look at films that are a bit more strictly horror fair, ‘Monster Squad’ is most definitely a monster filled movie that we will always look back upon fondly. If you haven’t seen ‘Monster Squad’ before, what are you even doing with your life? Go buy it!