Judge Eric Profancik wrote this review while camping out for the premiere of Twilight: New Moon. (He's Team Edward).
Our review of The Monster Squad: Two-Disc 20th Anniversary Edition, published July 30th, 2007, is also available.
The End of the World Starts at Midnight
Fred Dekker has had a rough go in his Hollywood career, which has consisted of directing exactly three movies. His first, Night of the Creeps, started off with promise but didn't do well at the box office. Fortunately his second movie was in the works before Creeps petered out. The Monster Squad is Dekker's second movie, and it too missed the mark at the box office. At that point, Mr. Dekker was out of favor in Hollywood and it would take six years for him to get another chance…with Robocop 3. Again, that didn't work out too well for him. I've seen all three of his films and really like one of them. Would it happen to be The Monster Squad?
Facts of the Case
One hundred years ago it was in the hands of Van Helsing to rid the world of the evil monsters led by Dracula. All he had to do was infiltrate Dracula's lair, find the amulet, have a virgin recite the words that would open a vortex into limbo, and get the monsters sucked into it. Simple…but they blew it. Dracula and his monstrous friends escaped.
One hundred years later Sean (André Gower), Patrick, Fat Kid, Rudy (Ryan Lambert), Phoebe (Ashley Bank), and Eugene are a bunch of friends who love monsters. They have formed a club based on that hobby, but they are about to discover that monsters are real. Dracula has come to America, to their town, to find the hidden amulet; and once he does evil will consume the world. But Sean and his Monster Squad have discovered Van Helsing's journal, and they know how to defeat them.
Can a bunch of kids defeat the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, the Mummy, and the Creature?
Is The Monster Squad the one I like? No, it's Night of the Creeps. But since I am a fan of that movie and having recently interviewed Fred about it, I decided I wanted to see what this one had to offer. Both movies follow a similar trajectory of box office dud to slow burn to certifiable cult hit. I was curious if I'd become a member of the cult of Squad. I didn't.
I can readily see the appeal and ambition on the movie. Take the great Universal monsters and put them all into one film, have them work together to take over the world, and have a big climactic battle to save us from evil's rule. It's a great idea that just misses the mark. Why is that? What did the monsters do wrong? Nothing at all. The monsters (no longer legally known as the Universal monsters but bearing a canny resemblance) do their lumbering and scaring quite well. There's not a lick of a problem with any of them; and some are truly fantastic. Take for instance Dracula as portrayed by Duncan Regehr. Over the years he's received many an accolade for a chilling performance, and I would agree. He is often ranked as one of the greatest Dracula's ever. I don't know about that, but his performance has a mesmerizing blend of true fright and a little camp. Frankenstein as portrayed by Tom Noonan (Last Action Hero) may spout too colloquial of words (e.g. bogus), may be a bit hammy, but he brings a surprising depth and warmth to the undead character. You don't fear him like Dracula; you actually end up liking the big lug a bit. Though the Mummy and the Creature (from some dark lagoon) are a bit lacking, the Wolfman is also a strong character; but more so as a human than a wolf. Jonathan Gries (Lost) in just a few minutes brings solid pathos and pain to the man who can't help but be a monster. You feel pity for him, but then he transforms and that sadness evaporates. The monsters do their job well.
The problem is the kids. By bringing children into the fold, it diminishes the power of the story. It has to play to a "less mature" audience, and The Monster Squad would have worked so much better if it were young adults or adults doing the fighting. You're lost in no man's land with such strong, scary monsters set off against boys just hitting their teens. The odd melding doesn't gel, and you feel unsettled watching this. You want more power and punch but it's all too toned down, campy, even a bit too silly. That silliness pervades the presentation with goofy dialogue (there's "bogus" again), childish situations, and potty humor. None of that is necessarily wrong and can work in the right situation, but The Monster Squad is trying to be the best of both worlds and doesn't quite fit in either.
Yet The Monster Squad is a cult hit. It's not in that niche because it's so bad that it's good. It's there because the movie does have a lot of great ingredients that people enjoy. I believe that had I watched this when I was younger, when it came out in 1987, then I would have liked it and would probably be a cult fan today.
Being my first viewing, I don't know what The Monster Squad used to look like on VHS or DVD. The 2.35:1, 1080p, presentation on this Blu-ray disc has colors that are generally lifelike and accurate; details are a bit mixed, but are acceptably crisp. We do have a bit of a problem with the blacks; and they vary a bit too much, sometimes getting a touch murky and ill defined in the many night and dark, spooky scenes. And in the murkiness we lose a bit of detail as well. Audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that sounded a bit thin and tinny to my ears. In this front-heavy mix, dialogue is clean and understandable from the center, surrounds get some use—mostly in the vortex sequences—and bass rarely gets a chance to shine.
Where the disc excels is with its bonus materials. You get an excellent lineup of featurettes that treat fans and newbies to a nice history on the film. It's a solid lineup, especially in light of the film's age.
• Audio Commentary with Fred Dekker, André Gower, Ryan
Lambert, and Ashley Bank
• Audio Commentary with Fred Dekker and Bradford May (Director of
• "Monster Squad Forever"
• "A Conversation with Frankenstein"
• Deleted Scenes
Also included is an animated storyboard sequence, some photo galleries, and the original trailer and TV spot.
While I do commend the diverse, quality lineup, I found myself oddly divested from the material. I enjoyed the technical, behind-the-scenes information but didn't care much about the rest. Sorry.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Just to be a persnickety nitpicker, allow me a moment to inquire about the status of this "20th Anniversary Edition." It is 2009 and the movie was released in 1987, and the difference is not twenty. I know 20th anniversary flows better than 22nd anniversary but…
This is a tale of two reviews. First, for the uninitiated, newbie to The Monster Squad, this film is at best a rental. It's cute, it has potential, it has great acting, and it has great homages to the classic Universal monsters; but it all fails to come together to create a compelling and satisfying movie. Second, for the initiated, cult fan who's known this movie for decades, then this Blu-ray is a definite buy. Granted the transfers are a bit underwhelming, but they're not hideous and don't significantly mar the presentation. (Admittedly, there are a few nice shots, like the group walking into the sunset with Frankenstein.) Better than that are the bonus materials, which are diverse and offer great insight into the movie. Fans will delight in this release!
The Monster Squad is hereby found guilty of forgetting to bring wooden
stakes to the party.
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