What would you get if you added Dracula, the Frankenstein monster, and the Wolfman to The Goonies? Well, you would get a film that is not at all like The Goonies and merely features scenes of kids engaged in violence and bizarre one liners. In other words, you would get a film that is almost, but not quite, like The Monster Squad.
The Monster Squad has become one of those beloved cult classics (mostly due to the fact that Shane Black wrote it and Fred Dekker directed it) that went absolutely nowhere when it was first released. Of course, now there are people who claim it is better than The Goonies, who claim that the version of Dracula presented here outshines all other interpretations of the character, and is essentially one of the greatest films of the 1980s and that we were all missing out.
Those people are (mostly) wrong. It is not that this is a bad film. What it is is pretentious. This film is clearly trying to make people have those sort of thoughts, so I guess on that level it is a success. But for the rest, the film is an adequate adventure film that does little to really advance adventure films. We have The Goonies for that.
The titular Monster Squad is a group of kids who are obsessed with the Universal movie monsters of old. They are chastised for this hobby; the first sequence involving them has a science teacher complaining that that is how they spend all of their time. The kids end up having the last laugh, when those very monsters that they are obsessed with start showing up in town looking for an ancient amulet that can send them to limbo. The kids find a book written by Van Helsing (in German…although many think he is actually Dutch) and enlist the help of a reclusive neighbor the translate the book and send the monsters back to the hell from whence they came. And that is pretty much it.
Now, the problems with the film are present from the beginning. Remember how the kids are introduced in a teacher’s office for defying authority? Such an item has been cliched since children were first put into films. Besides, this introduction makes little sense. The kids do live in a fantasy world, but so does every other child. Besides, considering their fantasy has come true, why chastise the children?
I know, it is meant to show the kids as nonconformists who will end up saving the society that has disregarded them (abandoning them would be putting it too strongly). But there are so many ways to do represent such a quality; ones that we have not seen.
And that, basically, is the film. We are shown a lot of cliched items redressed in slightly different packaging. It is competently done, but it is not (and this is important) new. The portrayal of the Dracula character is fine for the story, but is far from the best portrayal. He is pretty much reduced to the level of comic book villain – going around harassing the children demanding the amulet. Thomas Noonan’s portrayal of The Monster (aka Frankenstein) is a highlight but is not really different from Karloff’s interpretation (or Peter Boyle’s). The kids are the standard 80s kids – going out, shouting slang, disobeying parents, and the like. It’s fine, but not new.
And that is basically the film in a nutshell; it is adequate, but does nothing new (especially considering the fact it does combine all of the monsters of old) and is actually quite forgettable. I was actually debating whether or not to review the film, and then I realized what a cult film is supposed to be. It is meant to be a film that was rejected by the mass audiences but then embraced by a select group for those very qualities that made the average multiplex movie goer run away with fear. This certainly fulfills the first criteria, but I am having trouble figuring out what qualities made it stick out to that small select group. And do not tell me it is because of the monsters; Abbot and Costello already did that. I guess if you are a fan, you have been for years and frequently have dreams in which you kick the Wolfman in the genitals so what I say is probably going to have no effect whatsoever. If you are not, go ahead and skip it. There are much better films to be found.