Release Date(s)1987 (November 24, 2009)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A-
I dearly miss the good old days of my childhood, when it was acceptable for kids to see movies that scared them. There’s just something so right about letting a child know early in life that there are monsters out there and that they’re coming for them. Ok, maybe not Dracula, but just the true horrors of reality. In a way, horror films help prepare them for a future filled with news of terrorists, serial killers, kidnappers, rapists and politicians. That’s one of the reasons why The Monster Squad is so damn charming.
This is a film about kids who lived their lives without laptops, cell phones, videogame consoles or any other modern day vices or devices (and long before parents starting meddling in what their kids were doing when they weren’t around). Simple things like hanging out in clubhouses, riding bicycles and watching movies were as good as it got for kids, and it was great. In The Monster Squad, you get to visit that mid-eighties, middle-America, idyllic childhood, except that the monsters that these kids obsess over and talk about in their clubhouse actually come to town and run amuck. But nothing to fear, The Monster Squad is here! The kids, using their monster knowledge and the help of an old man, take monsters head-on and destroy them once and for all. Sounds pretty cheesy, huh? Fortunately, director Fred Dekker doesn’t disappoint.
Dekker first hit the scene with the independent cult classic Night of the Creeps a couple of years earlier. While the film didn’t make much of an impact at the time, it was impressive enough to the right people (including producer Peter Hyams) to allow Dekker to go forward on the project he had been working on prior to Creeps’ production. But while Creeps paid tribute to the B-movies of the 1950’s, The Monster Squad paid a call on classic Universal monster territory and, for the most part, the monsters on display here out-perform their Universal counterparts in nearly every capacity. Even though I believe Lugosi’s Dracula and Karloff’s Frankenstein’s Monster will never be rivaled, they are certainly given a run for their money here. The trio of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Wolfman and The Mummy are, for me, the best iterations of the three characters ever put on screen, in no small part thanks to the magic of the late Stan Winston.
As for the kids themselves, they’re all wonderful and, I’ll say it, cool. This is a terrific little ensemble for a picture that had every intention of being an edgy 80’s horror film while simultaneously paying homage to the greats that came before it. Despite being dated by 80’s look and lingo, the film still holds up well. Even the score is exceedingly awesome, and the fact that there are some pure 80’s cheese-rock songs in there makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I firmly admit that the film is a childhood favorite and a lot of my love for it is therefore biased in nature. There are aspects about it that certainly would turn off modern viewers, I suppose. That’s okay though, because this movie was made for true fans of the genre and just anyone looking to have a good time. And trust me, you can’t go wrong with The Monster Squad.
As for the Blu-ray presentation, it’s notable that this movie even gets a high definition release at all. It basically came and went without making much money at the box office, so it’s great to see it finally get the love and attention it deserves. The real shame though is that the transfer is not as impressive as it could be. Overall, it lacks image detail and grain seems to hide in the softness, making it look more pixilated than film-like. On the other hand, color and contrast are very stable and represented well. Even scratches and small deteriorations in the print are left intact. There are moments when the picture appears much clearer toward the center of the frame and less so around the edges, but this is due to the anamorphic lenses used to shoot the picture. Other than those minor flaws, the image is solid and pleasing to the eye, but hardcore enthusiasts might be slightly disappointed. On the audio side of things, you get a couple of options: 5.1 DTS-HD and 2.0 Dolby Digital. While the 2-channel mix is how most of you reading this have experienced the movie over the years, the 5.1 option is a treasure. The subtlest of sounds shine through as does the fantastic, bombastic score. It’s definitely the best option of the two. English and Spanish subtitles are also included for those who might need them.
In the extras department, Lionsgate really put a nice little package together, starting off with two audio commentaries: one by director Fred Dekker and actors Andre Gower, Ryan Lambert and Ashley Bank and the other featuring Dekker again with director of photography Bradford May. Both are fun and informative without getting boring. I wish I could say the same for the five-part documentary Monster Squad Forever! While it’s interesting and talks to a variety of people involved in the production, it tends to drag on a bit. Still, you get a decent documentary on The Monster Squad, so one probably shouldn’t complain too much. Next up is a rather odd piece of behind-the-scenes material, A Conversation with Frankenstein, in which Dekker interviews the monster as played by Tom Noonan. While it’s a little tedious, it’s bound to bring a smile to your face. The deleted scenes, theatrical trailer and TV spot that are also here offer up some nice gems, including an alternate prologue scene where Dracula has been staked, only to have the stake removed, allowing him to rise again. Unfortunately, we’re told up front that the staking footage itself has been lost. Some other deleted and extended pieces give you a vague idea of how the film was shaped into the form it became. Also included is a still gallery and an animated storyboard sequence that’s shown side-by-side with the final scene in the film. All in all, it’s a very impressive set of extras for a film that’s had an underground following only on VHS until recent years.
I love The Monster Squad and I hold it dear to me as a memorable childhood favorite. If you’ve yet to see this classic, do yourself a favor and pick up this inexpensive and extras-packed Blu-ray release of the cult classic.
- Tim Salmons