'80s Movie Review: Fred Dekker's "The Monster Squad"
Updated: Jan 11, 2022
If you love the Universal Studios monster films of the '30s, the undeniable greatness of the '80s, or both, you won't be sorry you watched Fred Dekker's The Monster Squad. Unleashed on August 14, 1987 by Tri-Star Pictures, this masterpiece combines fantasy adventure elements ala The Goonies with classic horror fare, including convincing werewolf transformation sequences. This review will contain mild spoilers, but you should be able to handle it.
The Monster Squad takes its name from a group of misfit kids and their new buddy The Frankenstein Monster, who battle no fewer than four other beasts: The Wolfman, The Mummy, Creature from the Black Lagoon and Dracula himself! There's also a couple of zombies and a bevy of succubi thrown in for good measure. (If you didn't know that succubi are female vampires, you've just upped your monster lingo. There's no tuition at Retro Injection University, and we know how to party.)
This Who's Who of brutes gives The Monster Squad surefire kid appeal, and it's also satisfying viewing for adults, thanks to smart writing and movie references: The kids' tree house is decked out in horror posters, and the film's "Stephen King Rules" shirt has become a pop culture icon in its own right.
I love my super-soft The Monster Squad tee, courtesy of founditemclothing.com. Check them out for a variety of '80s and '90s movie and TV shirts, including Teen Wolf, Saved by the Bell, Miami Vice and Back to the Future.
The Monster Squad was a victim of poor timing. It could have been huge right out of the gate, had it not been overshadowed at the box office by another vampire film, The Lost Boys, which hit theaters two weeks prior. Like many initially-unappreciated greats (including Masters of the Universe, released one week earlier), The Monster Squad gained traction through home video and cable, eventually amassing a loyal following. The other day, I saw a forty-something guy in Sam's Club wearing a jacket adorned with the logo for The Monster Squad. I'd wanted to give him a Retro Injection card, but I'd left them in the car. True story!
The film is fun and surprisingly intense in parts. It's also quite violent, as any good monster movie should be. In today's hyper-sensitive climate, The Monster Squad would not be marketed as a kids movie: It contains impalement scenes, coarse language, underage smoking, sex jokes and fat shaming. But if you were there, you know the '80s didn't coddle.
Of course, a monster flick is nothing without great creatures, and The Monster Squad delivers via the ingenious practical effects and makeup work of the late Stan Winston. This film, like Day of the Dead, is a slap in the face to today's lazy, unconvincing CGI effects. As an interesting side note, the town square which sees the climactic battle was the Universal backlot used as Hill Valley in Back to the Future.
To prevent the end of the world at the hands of Dracula, The Monster Squad must find a powerful amulet before the monsters get to it... and they ain't playin', son. Aiding the kids in their quest is the "Scary German Guy," who is revealed to be a Holocaust survivor: The Monster Squad is surprisingly touching and grounded in reality for what is presumably a popcorn-munching creature feature.
In my opinion, one of the most memorable and dynamic elements of this movie is the heartfelt relationship between the enormous Frankenstein Monster (Tom Noonan) and Phoebe (Ashley Bank), the Monster Squad's smallest member. It totally makes up for the time The Monster threw that little girl in the lake in 1931's Frankenstein!
The Monster Squad stands the test of time with its themes of friendship and clear-cut good versus evil narrative. Everyone in my crew loves The Monster Squad, and this blog officially recommends the cult classic. It resonated with so many fans that in 2018, a documentary titled Wofman's Got Nards was released to celebrate the film's legacy.
Fred Dekker, the writer and director, recently granted us an interview wherein he discusses this and his other films, as well as his television work on Star Trek: Enterprise and Tales From the Crypt. Like all of our celebrity Q&A sessions, it's mandatory reading for any Retro Injection fan... or you!
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