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MMYIF: The Monster Squad

My Misspent Youth In Films...

The Monster Squad
Directed by: Fred Dekker
Starring: Andre Bower, Robby Kiger, Stephen Macht
Released: August 14, 1987

A young group of monster fanatics attempt to save their hometown from Count Dracula and his monsters.

What I Thought Then

This was a fun, edgy, kid-centric horror movie with some comic element and a few iconic lines of dialogue.

What I Think Now

Good grief... Some of these movies I revisit knowing that they're not going to hold up well on re-watch. Some of them pleasantly surprise me; most are exactly what I expect them to be. But this one... I didn't expect it to be good, but I had no idea how bad it was. This feels like it was made for twelve-year-olds by twelve-year-olds. There's a profound lack of story, character development, or even basic narrative cohesiveness. This is a film with an important character named "Scary German Guy". This is a movie in which a seven-year-old successfully calls in the military by mailing them a letter written in crayon. This is a movie that throws around a lot of adult language (for a children's film) but refers to having sex as "getting dorked". A movie where the final beat of character development for one of our heroes is getting a "thumbs up" from Abraham Van Helsing. There's a pivotal plot turn that relies on Frankenstein's monster accidentally taking a picture of one of the character's older sister who happened to be standing at the window topless. There's even a rap song at the end that summarizes the plot. It's as if someone liquified a batch of concentrated juvenalia, shot into the director's veins and hit "Go" on the camera.

Which is kind of a shame, because it's not a terrible premise. Universal movie monsters are coming to life and the only people able to stop it are a group of kids united by their love of classic monster movies because they're a) knowledgeable enough to deal with the threat and b) young enough and imaginative enough to accept that, yes, Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Wolfman, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon are invading the suburbs. I'm not saying it's a Pulitzer-winning pitch or anything, but there's a story there that you could build an engaging film around. But this film is not that film. Instead, it's a shameless ripoff of The Goonies, but one in which everyone thinks that they're Corey Feldman.

The plot centers around Sean, whose parents (played by Stephen Macht and Mary Ellen Trainor in exactly the kind of roles you hire those two to play) are going through a rough patch. He's joined by Patrick, the mouth, Rudy, the tough who wears a leather jacket and a cigarette tucked behind his ear and feels wildly out of place in this gang, and Horace, the fat one who, despite him making a big deal about his name being Horace, literally everyone just calls "Fat Kid". Don't feel too bad for Horace, though, because he's got the most memorable lines in the film. They're also joined by Sean's little sister Phoebe and another kid named Eugene, who looks seven-ish and is trailed by his dog Pete. And that's as much character development as you're going to get. Mostly they just sit around and make whatever passes in a twelve-year-old's brain for wisecracks. Amusingly, Shane Black is credited as one of the writers, and you can feel his acerbic wit in a few of these lines, but none of the associated charm.

Instead we get a couple of real zingers from Horace. At the end he kills the Creature from the Black Lagoon with a shotgun and defends a couple of boys who had bullied him earlier, one of whom is played by John Hervey (Oh, hey, John Hervey is in this!) doing an early version of Wayne from The Wonder Years. After not-yet-Wayne thanks "Fat Kid", Horace turns and says dramatically "My name... is Horace", which he punctuates by cocking the shotgun. And of course, there's the most iconic line in the movie. When confronted by Wolfman, Horace is told to "Kick him in the nards" but is hesitant, fearing that Wolfman might not have any. He finally relents and kicks, causing Wolfman to double over in pain, prompting Horace to say in amazed perplexity: "Wolfman's got nards." Did we quote this line over and over on the playground? You bet your ass we did. This line would also go on to be the title of a documentary about the film.

Apart from the witty repartee (he says sarcastically), the film hasn't aged terribly well. For those of you tracking representation, there is exactly one non-white speaking role in the film. He's a sidekick and he dies in Act II. The effects are fine for their era, but the casting and design mostly feel off. Tom Noonan is Frankenstein. Is that... is that supposed to be funny? Duncan Regehr's Dracula is utterly without charm or gravitas. He isn't helped by the costume, which is the height of centuries-old stereotypical Transylvanian evening wear, complete with high collar, cape, red accents, and a ruffled ascot. And he's clearly vamping (ahem) for the camera. Some of the kids are decent actors, especially Ashley Bank as Phoebe, but they aren't given much to do except look at something scary and scream. Frankly, that's most of what the adults do too. As for the story... I dunno, I'm hesitant to go on. In writing this post up, I feel like I've put more thought into this movie than the filmmakers did.

Recommendation?

Hard pass, although at 90 minutes it's a good length for a hate-watch.

Tune in next week for fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles...

In My Misspent Youth In Films, Kurt is going through the movies he grew up on. Read the explainer or see more posts.

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