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The Monster Squad (1987)


Director: Fred Dekker

Starring: Andre Gower, Duncan Regehr, Tom Noonan

“The Creature stole my Twinkie.” (Eugene, The Monster Squad)

Kids’ films in the 1980s were much better than they are today. They had an edge to them, a realism that most of today’s films are too scared to address. You only need to look at Spielberg’s 2002 re-release of ET, in which he digitally removed the guns being held by the agents and replaced them with walkie-talkies. In short, today’s children’s movies are for pussies.

Anyone who’s recently watched The Goonies will know exactly what I mean. The kids in that film acted realistically, they had an attitude, they got into nasty scrapes, they wanted to see women’s boobs, they make fun of the fat kid, and every now and then they’ll swear to sound tough (but only in each other’s company, mind, never when an adult’s around). It felt real. Ditto, then, with The Monster Squad, a similar film of that era which for some odd reason never gained the same cult following as that other much-loved “group of kids go on an adventure” movie. 

It'll never work, the age gap's too large

The Monster Squad gathers some of the greatest Universal monsters (albeit visually redesigned versions so as to not piss off Universal, this being a Tristar film and all) and dumps them in a small American suburb. Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolfman, the Mummy and the Creature From The Black Lagoon are all in town to find a special, indestructible amulet which is said to maintain the balance between good and evil. Once every hundred years the amulet loses its invulnerability for a short time, at which point it can be destroyed and evil can rule the world, and as luck would have it that time is about to occur.

"...and the final person going through to the X Factor live finals is..."

Meanwhile, a secret club of kids who love talking about monsters and call themselves The Monster Squad get hold of an ancient book written by Professor Van Helsing in which he documents what happened 100 years prior when the amulet was nearly broken, and they realise that it’s set to happen again. They decide to team up and use their monster knowledge to stop the fearsome fivesome from taking over the world.

The Monster Squad is genuinely funny at times, and shares the same realistic childlike sense of humour The Goonies is famed for having. When the kids are together talking about monsters in their treehouse you’re transported back to a time when you used to have similar conversations with your friends about such ridiculous things – did the Wolfman have balls so you could kick him in them? Can you buy silver bullets at K-Mart? And does the scary German guy across the road really want to kill children? (Incidentally, it turns out he doesn’t – and the film cleverly changes the audience’s perception of him at one point with one poignant shot).

"Bastards. Don't worry lads, we'll just have to tighten our harmonies and audition again next year"

The monsters themselves, meanwhile, range in effectiveness. It’s a shame Universal passed on the story, because the film could have done with a little extra authenticity. Instead, Stan Winston (the late effects maestro behind the likes of Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park) does his best job at reimagining these famous freaks, and while some are impressive – the animatronic Creature From The Black Lagoon head is brilliant and the Mummy is creepy to watch – others aren’t so remarkable. Dracula looks like a bit of a drip, for example, and the Wolfman doesn’t look quite as scary as he has in other films.

The Monster Squad is recommended viewing for anyone who loved The Goonies. It’s funny, it’s got great action, it’s imaginative and while the final 30 minutes lose the magic a little it’s still a great slice of ‘80s childhood joy.

The Monster Squad is currently unavailable in the UK, but the Blu-ray recently released in the US has no region coding and will work on British players (it’s what I used for this review). Some UK-based sellers on Amazon UK sell it fairly cheap so check it out by clicking here to see what it’s going for. In the US you have the choice of the Blu-ray edition or a two-disc DVD.

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