Monday, November 8, 2010


Director: Fred Dekker
Lionsgate Films

A homage to the Universal monster romps of the 1940s, Fred Dekker’s THE MONSTER SQUAD introduced the classic creatures to a fresh, new audience in the late 1980s. Although it bombed in its initial release in that summer of 1987, the film has amassed a reputable following due to video rentals and endless airings on cable TV, and more recently, there's been an outcry from fans on the internet campaigning to finally get it released on DVD. Just in time for its 20th anniversary (can it really be that long ago?) Lionsgate has stepped up to the plate with this 2-disc special edition that will no doubt have longtime fans foaming at the mouth like the Wolfman (who does in fact have nards).

A group of adolescents, Sean Crenshaw (Andre Gower), best friend Patrick (Robby Kiger) and “fat kid” Horace (Brent Chalem), are dedicated monster movie fans who form a club in honor of their love for fantastic creatures. They are joined by cool kid Rudy (Ryan Lambert), little Eugene (Michael Faustino) and Sean’s baby sister Phoebe (Ashley Bank). A seemingly crazed man claiming to be a werewolf and an ancient mummy disappearing from an exhibit are the results of the dirty work of Count Dracula (Duncan Regehr), who also has a slimy Gillman (inspired by the Creature from the Black Lagoon) by his side. Dracula has also revived Frankenstein’s monster (Tom Noonan), and sends him on a mission to destroy the meddling tykes who call themselves “The Monster Squad,” but the monster’s heart is won over by Phoebe and he befriends the rest of the bunch as well. Dracula plans to take over the world, so the kids enlist the help of the “Scary German Guy” (Leonardo Cimino) to summon the Vortex which will rid the world of monsters once and for all.

Obviously a huge fan of the genre, Fred Dekker was a UCLA graduate and director of the previous year’s NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, and the screenplay he concocted with Shane Black (LETHAL WEAPON) is a real hodgepodge of classic monster clichés, Spielbergesque suburban backdrops, politically incorrect humor and plot ingredients which are hard to dispend belief for (a mother picks up Van Helsing’s diary at a garage sale!), even for something aimed at kiddies. Although the flaws are apparent, the film is still entertaining, great for children who are not scared off by monsters and 100 times better than that cinematic turd called VAN HELSING (2004), which also mashed the classic universal monsters together, totally insulted their integrity. Created for the most part by Sam Winston, the monster make-up is pretty impressive, and the monsters are played straight for the most part, if you can get past the Frankenstein monster wearing dark sunglasses or shouting “bogus.” The Frankenstein monster himself is played nicely with empathy by lofty Tom Noonan and Duncan Regehr is a very fiendish, if somewhat dapper and theatrical-looking vampire king.

Although director Dekker’s inclusion of the kids as monster hunters was inspired by his love for The Little Rascals comedy shorts, the youthful cast (who actually work very well together) comes off more like THE GOONIES, a then-recent Spielberg-produced effort which unlike this, was a summer blockbuster. For traditional monster movie fans, there’s not only five classic baddies onboard, but also an array of female vampires, a number of gothic trappings which incorporate a flashback with Van Helsing himself, a treehouse adorned with horror movie memorabilia, some truly striking cinematography by Bradford May and a rousing score by Bruce Broughton. Stephen Macht and Mary Ellen Trainor also star as a set of feuding parents, David Proval (MEAN STREETS) can be seen briefly as a pilot and Jason Hervey (“The Wonder Years”) can be seen as an obnoxious schoolyard bully.

Previous VHS and laserdisc releases were presented full frame, panning, scanning and cropping vital picture information. Lionsgate’s new DVD transfer is virtually flawless, preserving the film’s 2.35:1 widescreen photography with anamorphic enhancement. Colors are vivid, detail is sharp and the overall image simply looks fantastic. The audio is presented in a newly mastered 5.1 track, as well as 2.0 mono track, and both are solid with no detectable defects. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are also included.

MONSTER SQUAD fans can rejoice with the abundant amount of extras here, spread across two discs. Disc One includes an audio commentary with writer/director Dekker and "Squad Members" Andre Gower, Ryan Lambert and Ashley Bank. Dekker starts the commentary by saying how he was inspired by the horrors of Universal and Hammer, but the anecdotes are limited, and the participants use most the time to have a few laughs and enjoy viewing the movie. A second audio commentary with Dekker and cinematographer Bradford May is actually more informative, giving some technical background and other facets of the production. The best extra arrives on Disc Two; an excellent five-part retrospect entitled Monster Squad Forever!, produced by Michael Felsher. Running nearly 90 minutes in total, it includes interviews with Dekker, Gower, Lambert, Bank, Regehr, Noonan, May, Tom Woodruff Jr. (who played the Gillman and worked on the special effects) producer Jonathan A. Zimbert, composer Bruce Broughton and others who worked behind-the-scenes. I won’t reveal too much, but some tender moments come when actor Brent Chalem is remembered (he passed away of pneumonia at age 22) by the interviewees and Noonan’s remarks about some of his cast mates are most amusing. Other extras include “A Conversation with Frankenstein,” which is an on-the-set interview with Noonan in full monster make-up and in character, some deleted scenes (mostly extra dialog, but including some failed final demise footage of the Gillman spitting out pond fish), the original theatrical trailer (which uses a reference to GHOSTBUSTERS in its opening), a TV spot (which contains the memorable “Wolfman’s got nards” line) and a nice still gallery. (George R. Reis)

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