The Monster Squad: 20th Anniversary Edition – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Director:

Fred Dekker

Cast:

Andre Gower .Sean Crenshaw
Robby Kiger .Patrick
Stephen Macht Del Crenshaw
Duncan Regehr .Dracula
Tom Noonan Frankenstein
Brent Chalem .Horace
Ryan Lambert .Rudy
Ashley Bank .Phoebe Crenshaw
Michael Faustino .Eugene
Mary Ellen Trainor .Emily Crenshaw
Leonardo Cimino .Scary German Guy

Taft Entertainment Pictures/Keith Barish Productions presents through Tri-Star Pictures The Monster Squad. Written by Shane Black and Fred Dekker. Rated PG-13. Running time: 82 minutes. Originally released in theaters on August 14, 1987. Available on DVD: July 24, 2007.


The Movie

My history with The Monster Squad makes for a fun stroll down memory lane. During the heyday of VCRs and premium cable my parents taped this gem of a monster movie when it aired on HBO. Recurring viewings in front of the boob tube made it a staple of my childhood. But then I grew up and found I really didn’t need the recording anymore. Big mistake, I know I know. Luckily I ventured into a Mom and Pop video store that was closing shop. There, I snatched up a copy of Airborne, a rollerblading movie featuring a young Seth Green and Jack Black. While waiting to checkout I spotted Squad out of the corner of my eye. And then all those childhood memories came rushing back at me like wooden stake to the chest.

I would revisit the movie from time to time even as my DVD collection started to grow; it was one of the few videocassettes that I would not relinquish. But what about a DVD, would it ever surface? Years passed, and as other family-friendly comedies from the eighties were getting the digital upgrade — Gremlins, The Goonies, Ghostbusters, the list goes on — Fred Dekker’s cult masterpiece remained nonexistent.

Dekker urged the film’s fans to start a write-in campaign and address the holders of the copyright. No clue if the campaign was as massive as trying to rescue Star Trek from the depths of TV purgatory, but the strong, hand-written support must have worked as Lionsgate has exclusivity of what was once a Columbia Tri-Star release. And, as the twentieth anniversary slowly approaches, its home entertainment division has “blown a hole in limbo” (in this case DVD Hell) and delivered the cult classic with a monster hunter’s worth of extra material.

Stan Winston’s (The Terminator, Aliens) creature effects, Shane Black’s (Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang) pen and Fred Dekker’s direction help highlight this teenage creature feature. Full of dated references — with Robotech pajamas, My Pet Monster dolls and mentions of Rambo — it shows its age quite a bit. But it was the eighties; everyone needs a clichéd music montage every once in a while. Because you never know when you might need to rock until you drop, especially when monsters are skulking about.

The premise is quite simple: The classic Universal Monsters (Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein, the Mummy, and the Gill Man — that Black Lagoon guy) leave the studio lot and decide they want to experience small town Americana. Uh, not exactly. Actually, they are after a mysterious amulet that is powerful enough to shift the power of Good and Evil. The problem is that their chance to obtain the amulet comes only once every hundred years. The last time Van Helsing – here looking nothing like Hugh Jackman – made a mess of things and spoiled their chances at creating Hell on Earth. Flash forward to the 1980’s and now it is up to a group of kids to save the day. It’s easy to pick out the leader; he’s the one sporting the “Stephen King Rules” T-shirt. Then there’s his best friend, the funny sidekick; the slick-haired bad-ass who is a shepherd to the nerdlings; the friend with a bit of a glandular problem — okay, he’s fat; the little kid and his dog companion; and the nosy little sister of the squad’s leader who gets no admittance for being a girl. Different personalities, their only connection is that they love monsters, monster movies, and are positive that monsters are real. When monsters do indeed show up in their small town, they get assistance from the old hermit of the neighborhood, often referred to as “Scary German Guy.” Shrugging off the stereotypes, he serves the boys pie and gives them pointers on how to send Dracula and his buddies back to where they belong: in limbo for all eternity.

It’s easy to pigeonhole The Monster Squad as being a poor man’s interpretation of The Goonies. But when you are matched up against a film that had Steven Spielberg attached as an executive producer, any movie with similar subject matter would seem small by comparison. Dekker’s film is so much fun it is able to overcome any similarities to a group whose mantra is “never say die.” His film is an amalgamation of The Little Rascals and Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, anyways. As a child I knew of neither, all I saw was a group of kids who hung out in a clubhouse and talked about monsters. Then there’s the insults and playful ribbing which create some of the best moments of the movie. There’s no shortage of memorable lines. A feature like this, “Wolfman’s got nards!” is as omnipresent as “Rosebud,” or even better, “I’ll be back!” Such a good line, you’d have to be made of stone to not crack a smile.

Got to love eighties cheese. It’s high on nostalgia, and about as nutritious as a bowl of Mr. T’s cereal. As such, pity the fools who don’t like The Monster Squad!


The DVD

Before getting to my interpretations of the audio and video quality I must address the packaging of The Monster Squad DVD. The artwork is atrocious. Unlike my original VHS copy, with original poster art of the Monster Squad, this cover looks like something that was released directly to DVD. If a bad thing isn’t broke, why tamper? At least the producers were kind enough to include an insert that has a foreword written by Fred Dekker on one side and reproduction of the poster on the other.

A/V QUALITY CONTROL

Considering its age and the fan base The Monster Squad has, Lionsgate spared no expense when it came to enhancing the video and audio quality. For its debut on DVD, it comes with a newly mastered 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. Bradford May’s cinematography and his color palette are spot-on. The reds and blacks, colors that are staples to most horror pictures, are solid, and very representative — from the opening titles to the “Stephen King Rules” T-shirt. As far as audio, we get four audio options: a new 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, the original 2.0 stereo, and two tracks reserved for commentaries. While the 2.0 track is a nostalgic trip, the 5.1 is a better alternative, despite not making great use of the surrounding speakers.

THE EXTRAS

Again, Lionsgate does not shortchange the fans. Spread across two discs, there’s plenty of supplements to keep you entertained for hours on end. The largest extra is a five-part documentary entitled Monster Squad Forever! Just shy of 88 minutes overall, the retrospective is informative but it loses steam at certain points. It overviews the director Fred Dekker; the special effects artistry of the monsters; the monsters and the squad members; the production and fallout; and finally its resurgence as a cult favorite. The documentary incorporates video taken from behind the scenes, photos and new interviews with the surviving cast and crew. (It’s surviving, because Brent Chalem, who played Horace the fat kid, died of pneumonia in 1997. And like star Andre Gower, I pretty much discovered his passing in the same manner, while searching on the Internet.) Lots of good trivia, like Fred Dekker’s roommate Ethan Wiley revising one of his script ideas called House — which by the way is my earliest horror viewing experience. Another icebreaker at parties is revealing that Liam Neeson had read for the part of Dracula, but then he went on to do another project. Of all the segments though, “Monster Mania” has the greatest resonance. Maybe it’s because we get to hear from some of the fans and how The Monster Squad made an indelible impression during their youth. We also see how two sold out screenings in 2006 at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, help set into motion the eventual DVD release.

If watching the movie once wasn’t enough, try it again with a pair of audio commentaries. The first features Dekker and “Squad Members” Andre Gower (the leader), Ryan Lambert (the bad-ass), and Ashley Bank (the leader’s stubborn little sister). Lively and outgoing, these four share stories of the cast — like bringing up a certain so-and-so’s filmography — and comment on bad eighties fashions: It was a decade where nothing fit. Also funny is learning that Dustin Diamond, the actor to forever be remembered as Screech from Saved by the Bell was in a sequence that was later trimmed.

The other commentary is not as lively but way more informative. Dekker and his Director of Photography, Bradford May, are unrestrained as they discuss the production. This includes Dekker’s constantly butting heads with producer Peter Hyams. Nothing too serious, just enough to unnerve Hyams. Technophiles will get a kick out of their comments on anamorphic and pan-and-scan. Even better is Dekker’s revelation that he can’t bare witness to the film’s montage sequence after seeing Team America: World Police.

Beyond documentaries and commentaries, the twentieth anniversary release has the original theatrical trailer and TV spot (both of which include the song “Number One” by Chaz Jankel; it is a song that appears in a music montage for the Val Kilmer comedy Real Genius). Not only that, but there’s an animated storyboard sequence and photo gallery, deleted scenes — most of which add nothing to the story — and a vintage interview with Frankenstein (Tom Noonan in character) recorded in 1986 in the final weeks of shooting The Monster Squad. Very tongue-in-cheek.

THE INSIDE PULSE

Before you clicked on the link to this review you either had it in your mind that you would buy The Monster Squad, or knew nothing about this twenty-year-old movie about middle-schoolers who idolize monster movies. With an ever-increasing fan base this is a movie that many have fond recollections of, myself included. It is every bit as good as The Goonies and is not a cheap imitation. The jury is still out on which one has better quotables, though. As far as this DVD, it is a fitting tribute of a movie that seemed destined to decay in a state of copyright entanglements. Plenty of extras, good audio and video, and of course the movie. Do yourself a favor and pick up this DVD for a “monster-ous good time.”

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for The Monster Squad
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

9
THE VIDEO

7.5
THE AUDIO

7.5
THE EXTRAS

8.5
REPLAY VALUE

9
OVERALL
9
(NOT AN AVERAGE)