AUGUST 21 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : MONSTER SQUAD
The battle between the forces of good and evil has always been a popular theme in film, and the underlying message in most movies is that good will always triumph over evil. (Where's the fun in that?!) I almost feel bad for all of cinema's villains. Sure they may want to destroy lives and ruin hope, but dang it, they just never seem to get a fair shake in the end. Case in point, Fred Dekker's The Monster Squad. This tale about the struggle between good and evil begins in Transylvania, a full century in the past.
The film opens with the invasion of Dracula's castle, circa the late 1880's. Abrahim Van Helsing and his band of freedom fighters armed with guns, dynamite, and crossbows, barge into Dracula's castle uninvited, and begin a ritual that will open an interdimensional portal that should theoretically suck Dracula and his devilish minions into limbo. At first, things seem to be as planned for the rash heroes, until the ground beneath them begins to quake and spew forth an army of zombies! Despite the undead attack, Van Helsing manages to finish the ritual and tosses an odd-looking crystal into the air, which creates a huge portal.
As it turns out, Van Helsing has royally screwed up and soon finds himself taking a one-way trip to limbo. (Dracula however was nowhere near the portal and continued to live on! DOH!) A hundred years pass and the film jumps to the "Present Day" (1987?) at a high school where two kids, named Sean and Patrick are in the principal's office for "disturbing class." (i.e. They were ignoring their boring teacher and drawing pictures of monsters to decorate their clubhouse! Right on guys! Rage against the machine!) After they escape the principal's office, they walk home and meet up with the rest of their crew: Horace, the fat kid of the group, Sean's little sister, Phoebe, their buddy Eugene, and Rudy, the local tough guy/cool kid. In the meantime, an old World War II bomber happens to be flying over the kids' hometown with some interesting cargo from Transylvania!
It turns out that Dracula hitched a ride in said plane, and gets dropped off with his luggage after assaulting the pilot. Coincidentally, Drac has arrived in the exact place he wanted to be and soon finds himself a creepy Southern plantation-style home to reside in. And since he found such a ritzy house to live in temporarily, he decides to get himself a few roommates, including a Mummy from the town's museum, a Wolfman, a (rarely seen) Gillman, and the mildly retarded Frankenstein Monster. Dracula is in search for the crystal that Van Helsing used in the opening of the film because it is an all powerful amulet that becomes breakable every hundred years. The amulet is concentrated good and if it's destroyed, the forces of darkness will reign supreme in our world!
However, if a certain ritual is carried out by the forces of good (which includes the recitation of a German language incantation by a virgin girl), all evil will be sucked into limbo for eternity. While he searches for the amulet, Dracula sends out Frankenstein's Monster to retrieve Van Helsing's notebook, which is now in the possession of Sean Crenshaw! (His mother got him the book from someone that ransacked Drac's pad before he moved in. It's amazing what you can find at a yard sale eh?) Since the notebook is completely written in German, Sean and his friends seek the help of a mysterious neighbor that is known only as the "Scary German Guy." (This book is in German, let's ask our German neighbor for help! Hahaha! There's an amazing number of coincidences in this flick, isn't there?)
Eventually Sean gathers together some evidence and talks his friends into forming their "Monster Club" into the "Monster Squad" in order to combat the monsters that have been terrorizing the town. After a montage of their preparations (set to the uber-catchy song "Rock Until You Drop"), the time comes for the young group of heroes to set out against Dracula. Sean, Horace, Eugene, (his dog, Pete), and Frankenstein's Monster (who was befriended by Sean's little sister, Phoebe) head to Drac's manor at night to find the amulet spoken of in Van Helsing's diary. In the meantime, Rudy and Patrick set out to find themselves a virgin. (Tough to find in the 80s, and impossible to find these days!) Sean and his team manage to find the amulet (though they lose Frankie along the way) and barely escape the clutches of Dracula and his monsters. Had it not been for a kick to the nuts ("Wolfman's got nards!") and a piece of garlic pizza, these kids would've been toast. (Way to go Fat Kid!)
Meanwhile, Rudy and Patrick are still out virgin-hunting and end up blackmailing Patrick's sister to fill the position. With the amulet, Van Helsing diary, and "virgin" knocked off their checklist, the entire monster squad meets up at their rendezvous point. After comparing notes they all hop into Scary German Guy's jeep and head for the church in the town square. Along the way, they have a brief encounter with the Mummy, but things are quickly "wrapped up" thanks to Rudy. (The Mummy hops onto the back of the jeep and feebly attempts to latch on to anyone it can. Rudy takes one of the Mummy's loose bandages, attaches it to an arrow, and shoots it into a nearby tree. As the jeep continues to drive on, the Mummy is slowly unraveled until all that's left is its skull!)
After that brief incursion, the squad arrives at their destination, but the church is locked! Mere seconds later, Dracula's forces begin to arrive and the young heroes must hold their own. However, the weird happenings, missing bodies, and rising death toll in the town have not gone unnoticed. Del Crenshaw, Sean and Phoebe's dad, is a local cop and has been on Dracula's trail for some time. After Drac attacks the monster squad's clubhouse ("Meeting adjourned.") and burns it to the ground, Del chases the vengeful vamp into town. (Drac turned into a bat and flew off and Del follows in his car, but not before he grabs some TNT out of the back of Dracula's nifty hearse-mobile!) Back in town, the besieged monster squad holds their own. While Scary German Guy helps Pat's sister recite the passages from Van Helsing's diary, Rudy takes some initiative and kills a trio of vampire brides.
Del arrives on the scene moments later and blasts the Drac-bat out of the sky with a handgun. Drac crashes through the window of a nearby building and Del runs inside to finish the job. Once upstairs, Del sees Dracula in mid-transformation and lights up a stick of dynamite. But before Del can blow up his supernatural foe, he's attacked by the Wolfman! The vicious lycanthrope starts beating up Del, but fails to notice that Sean has crept into the room with a baseball bat. Sean distracts the Wolfman long enough for Del to shove his furry foe out the window, but not before he puts the aforementioned stick of dynamite into Wolfie's pants! As the Wolfman tumbles out of the window he blows up (!!), but he's not finished yet. The man-beast literally pulls itself back together (and somehow even manages to repair and clean his tattered clothes) and comes back for round two!
At this point, cops start pouring into town (Did Del called for backup?) and start throwing down with the Wolfman. Naturally the cops and their weapons are useless, so it's up to Rudy and his trusty silver bullet (that he made during the montage earlier in the film) to save the day. Rudy fires his single shot and it hits home, ending the Wolfman's short reign of terror. But before anyone has time to celebrate this small victory, a nearby manhole cover pops open, and the Gillman crawls out and Horace has the terrible luck of being the closest available victim for the man-fish. But Horace is braver than anyone could have imagined! After failing to get his big ole butt to safety, Horace picks up a dead cop's shotgun and blasts the poor Gillman into oblivion. (Sheesh, the Creature from the Black Lagoon's cousin gets barely five minutes of screen time before dying! Where's the justice in that?!)
With his army of monsters depleted, Dracula arrives on the scene and proves to be damn near unstoppable. A half dozen cops are quickly exterminated by the powerful vamp, allowing Dracula to easily march up to young Phoebe Crenshaw (the new virgin for the ritual, as Patrick's sister was apparently "dorked"). Drac gently grabs her chin and lifts her off the ground before baring his fangs and threatening the young child for the amulet. Before any harm can come to Phoebe, help comes unexpectedly in the form of Frankenstein's Monster! "Frankie" ends up impaling Dracula on the spiked fence that surrounds the church, allowing Phoebe and Scary German guy to successfully open the gates to limbo. Once fully opened, the portal begins sucking in everything and anything, including, we assume, Dracula. But the arch-vampire isn't down and out yet!
That crafty vamp somehow hauled himself up off the fence and, despite the powerful sucking power of the portal, manages to grab a hold of Sean. Dracula attempts to drag the youngster into limbo but Sean manages to find one of Rudy's wooden stakes and drives it deep into Dracula's chest! The surprised vampire lets go of Sean (who is dragged to safety by his friends) and is suddenly put into a headlock and dragged into limbo by... Abrahim Van Helsing?! Meanwhile, not far from the others, Frankenstein's Monster is fighting a losing battle as he desperately tries to crawl towards Phoebe. Eventually, the vortex gets the best of the gentle giant and Frankie soon finds himself floating away. Phoebe throws her departing friend her teddy bear and they exchange tearful good-byes until the portal closes. (Damn, that's a tear-jerker if I've ever seen one.)
With ultimate evil defeated, everyone breathes a sigh of relief, but their celebration is cut short when a tank rolls into the town square, followed by a large group of soldiers. Earlier in the film, Eugene sent a letter to the Army, requesting help because "there are monsters!" Apparently the letter made it to someone in the U.S. Armed Forces and was deemed urgent enough to send out a small company of troops. (Yeah the movie's believability drops to nothing at this point, but that's ok, because its nearly over!) A military General approaches the group and inquires: "Where are they? Where are the monsters?!" After Eugene fails to answer the General's question, Sean steps in with business card in hand to tell the confused General the whole story. ("We're the Monster Squad.")
So in the end, good once again triumphs over evil, but we'll see who has the last laugh when the next century comes around. Dracula is currently out of the game, but what other legendary monsters will arise to destroy the amulet and throw our world into eternal darkness? I guess we'll have to wait until 2087 to find out! (Here's hoping for a giant monster of Godzillian-stature and power! That'd be too damned cool!)
Film Review: The Monster Squad is a very special movie to me. It's one of the main flicks my parents would rent weekly from the neighborhood video store (Electric City Video, sadly forever gone) and I still couldn't get enough of it! (The same applied to Q: The Winged Serpent, a movie I still defend to this day!) The Monster Squad is an extremely fun movie and has a lot to be proud of. The film was written and directed by Fred Dekker, a rather imaginative film maker who jumped into this project after completing his first feature film, Night of the Creeps, which has since become a much sought after cult classic. Dekker is definitely a talented film maker and came up with some excellent concepts for this film.
The main thing that is enjoyable about The Monster Squad is that the characters are all believable and they all interact extremely well. The kids in the film talk and act like kids normally would; they all act naturally and that's something that can't always be pulled off when shooting a movie! And the main stars of the film, namely Dracula and his gang of monsters, aren't cute and cuddly in the least, which is a major plus. Sometimes kid-oriented horror flicks try to tone things down, but not in this flick! Dracula is truly a menacing villain in this film (thanks to some excellent character acting by actor Duncan Regehr) and exudes an even balance of charm and disdain (for us human cattle) whenever he's on the screen.
In comparison, the other monsters in the film aren't nearly as evil as their master. In fact, aside from the Wolfman, the rest of the monsters are fairly useless and see little screen time. (A shame because the Mummy and Gillman both looked really cool!) Then there's Frankenstein's Monster (played by Tom Noonan) that serves as Drac's foil in the film. "Frankie" is a loveable lunk with all the innocence of a child. He's sent to kill the "monster squad" and retrieve Van Helsing's notebook, but "Frankie" easily has a change of heart and soon becomes one of the good guys. And the final scene where poor "Frankie" is sucked into limbo while holding Phoebe's teddy bear is actually moving. I admittedly get a bit choked up every time I see this scene, and have had that same reaction since my first viewing of the film so many years ago. (Laugh if you will, but I guarantee you that this is one of the saddest moments in monster cinema!)
And speaking of the monsters, they were all designed by the legendary Stan Winston! His designs stayed fairly close to the classic Universal monsters, but he changed them all enough to be presentable to modern audiences (and to avoid lawsuits from Universal Studios). And in my humble opinion, Stan's creature designs for this film still have yet to be topped by any recent film. (Don't even mention that piece-of-crap Van Helsing movie!) Along with great creature effects and an awesome cast (of mostly unknowns), The Monster Squad also boasts an awesome soundtrack with original music done by composer Bruce Broughton, plus some rockin' 80s tunes! (Said tunes include the cheesy "Monster Squad Rap" as well as the extremely catchy song "Rock Until You Drop.")
Being a film reviewer, I probably should take some time to talk about this movie's faults, but in my eyes, The Monster Squad is perfect! This film manages to successfully balance all of its horror and comedy elements, and delivers a satisfactory ending at the finale. It has many likeable characters, and even manages to flesh some of them out, even though the film only runs at a brisk eighty-two minutes! I can watch this movie repeatedly and never get tired of it, and I genuinely admire the imagination and hard work that was put into this flick. I love the The Monster Squad completely and utterly and I can't recommend it enough! See this movie!