THE MONSTER SQUAD - "Wolfman's Got Nards"
A 1980’s kids movie that ends up being compared to another 1980’s kids movie
The Monster Squad
Realease Date: August 14th, 1987
Date of My First Viewing: May 16th, 2019
It should tell you something that the pull quote for the first entry of “Movies New to Me” category on this site has to do with The Wolfman, indeed, having nards. That line got the biggest laugh out of me when I sat down to watch “The Monster Squad” for the first time, oh, a good 32 years after it was released.
If you are like how I was and haven’t seen “The Monster Squad”, let me do a brief run down. A group of kids in Louisiana (I must have missed this detail, but it explains so much) have a club called “The Monster Squad” where they showcase their fandom of classic movie monsters. Sean is the leader, Patrick is, I guess, the number two, Horace is the designated fat kid, Eugene is a younger member, and Rudy is the older junior high “rebel” that is brought into the club. Sean’s younger sister Phoebe also tags along and tries to get her brother to let her be a part of the club.
The fandom of “The Monster Squad” comes in handy because, what do you know, the classic Universal Monsters such as Dracula, The Wolf-Man, The Gill-Man (Creature from the Black Lagoon), The Mummy, and a reluctant Frankenstein’s Monster also end up in Louisiana. Well, if we’re being specific, Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster are really the only ones who end up in Louisiana. For whatever reason, an army plane is transporting the monster’s body, and Dracula steals it. It’s a kid’s movie so, yeah, just go with it. The Gill-Man is apparently already hanging out in the nearby swamps, which makes total sense for Louisiana. The Wolf-Man is also already there along with The Mummy.
Dracula and his “Monster Squad” are in search of an amulet with ties to Abraham Van Helsing. How the amulet, along with Van Helsing’s diary, ended up in Louisiana is not exactly explained, or I might have just missed it. Again… kid’s movie and all that jazz. The kids find out about Dracula’s plot through the help of a kind German man, who they mistake for a monster but does have past dealings with monsters of a very different sort. A lot of 1980’s kids movie mayhem ensues, complete with hilariously appropriate levels of swearing, insults, and off-color jokes courtesy of a script by Shane Black and Fred Dekker, who is also the film’s director.
A review of “The Monster Squad” in 2019, especially on this site, cannot be done without viewing it in the context of a film that predates it by 2 years. Hey… you… guys, I’m talking about “The Goonies”. It is legit one of my all-time favorite movies, and you’re going to be getting a piece detailing why on this site later in the summer. I can’t speak for the production history or intentions of Black and Dekker (Oh… I get it), but I can speak for a film that cribs from “The Goonies” in a lot of ways.
In both films, you have a group of similarly aged friends, who are outcasts and misfits. They also both share a fondness for swearing and teasing the group’s fat kid, until he does something brave and heroic. He also gets the line about The Wolfman’s junk so more power to him. They also feature the group of kids doing something incredibly outlandish in the context of a normal and mundane suburban setting. Oh yeah… Frankenstein’s Monster is Sloth, and I dare you to say otherwise. This is all before the most direct reference to “The Goonies”, which is Mary Ellen Trainor, Mrs. Walsh herself, playing the mom in this movie.
Where “The Monster Squad” differs from “The Goonies”, though, is that it feels a bit rougher and courser. The insults are heavier, and, well, kind of cringe worthy in 2019. I literally wrote “No punches pulled on dialogue from kids”. There is also a whole subplot involving spying on an older sister and using the photos as friendly blackmail. Nothing like a little proto-revenge porn in a kid’s movie. The 1980’s were a wild time.
Beyond all that, though, I do feel that the explanation of the plot in “The Monster Squad” lacks in comparison to “The Goonies”. In “The Goonies”, the entire sequence in Mikey’s attic lays out the history of One-Eyed Willie, the map, and the potential of the treasure. It’s done in the style of a kid recounting a story he’s been told. “The Monster Squad” tries to do the same when the kids visit the old German man, but it’s just him translating a diary. It felt a bit flat to me, especially considering there was exposition text and a Van Helsing sequence to start the film. Is it fair to compare the two films like this? Probably not, but I know I’m not the first to do so.
There are also what seems to be large gaps in the film in terms of explaining basic plot points. That’s my way of saying this film has crazy huge plot holes. With an 82-minute run time, the movie could have easily used and benefited from sequences fleshing out what exactly was happening. I know this is a kid’s movie, but there were moments when it seemed like a scene ended in the middle of things instead of going the fully required distance.
Those criticisms aside, I did find a lot to enjoy. Black’s script is peppered with his comedic style, and any film that features Dracula armed with dynamite is going to get praise from me. I did also enjoy the practical effects for the time, which shouldn’t be a surprise since Stan Winston was involved. The entire town being a studio backlot set also connected me with as you really see that much anymore in the world of CGI films. The hazy and sunny daytime cinematography from Bradford May also stood out in a film about monsters and creatures of the night. Oh yeah… there’s an 80’s training montage and an 80’s closing credits rap song tha just explains the movie back to everyone. Fantastic.
Overall, I did enjoy “The Monster Squad”, but I’ll always be a Goonie. Always. I don’t know why I had never really heard about this film until very recently. When I made frequent trips to the video store, this was never a selection or even in consideration. I don’t recall it being on cable TV much, but maybe I just ignored it for something else. Like a lot of films I’ll be reviewing for this section of “Cinematic Musings”, it just slipped through the cracks. After all these years, it is good to know that “Wolfman’s got nards”.