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The Lasting Legacy of ‘The Monster Squad’

The Lasting Legacy of ‘The Monster Squad’

When The Monster Squad was released in theaters 30 years ago, on August 14, 1987, it was a flop. Released during peak summer season, the now beloved cult classic earned only $3.7 million during its short theatrical run. All plans for potential merchandising, like a line of Phoebe’s beloved stuffed dog Scraps, was terminated. Luckily, audiences finally took notice of the film’s greatness after a run on cable television, followed by a home release on VHS.  Though inexplicably overlooked upon release, The Monster Squad quickly became a generational classic and its audience now even more passionate 30 years later.

As a kid, my movie choices revolved around one thing: are there monsters in it? With a VHS cover box that featured the classic movie monsters and a bunch of kids closer to my age than your typical horror movie, this made The Monster Squad an easy choice. That the actual film saw a group of relatable misfits who adored monsters as much as I did take on an assembled team of really cool monsters lead by one of the best renditions of Dracula meant that I wore out more than one VHS tape during my childhood. I desperately wanted to be a member of the Monster Squad. I connected with Sean’s (Andre Gower) love of horror and monsters. Rudy (Ryan Lambert) was the cool kid you wanted on your team. Phoebe (Ashley Bank) perhaps was the most relatable as the one most often ignored for being younger and a girl. The best part of the squad, though, was their tree house covered wall to wall in horror posters.

The Monster Squad

More than the team of underdogs and their cool hideout, the best part of the movie were the monsters and special effects brought to life by Stan Winston’s studio. Winston’s assembled team of Steve Wang, Matt Rose, Tom Woodruff Jr., Alec Gillis, Shane Mahan, John Rosengrant, Shannon Shea, and Winston himself crafted the coolest designs for Wolfman, Mummy, Gillman, Frankenstein’s monster, and the big bad Count Dracula. The bat transformation sequences set a trend for future bat inspired vampires in film, and the big set piece at Dracula’s castle during the opening scene sets the tone. In short, the practical effects and timeless design by Winston and crew helped solidify The Monster Squad as an ageless classic.

As an adult, nostalgia drew me back to the film, but I discovered that the story works just as well now as it did during childhood. Shane Black and Fred Dekker’s story has a lot more depth than I could comprehend as a kid, bridging the gap between generations. So absorbed with the monsters and the kids that were brave enough to stop them, I didn’t notice how Del (Stephen Macht) and Emily’s (Mary Ellen Trainor) marriage was on the verge of complete collapse. Sure, the scene in which Sean overhears his parents arguing paints a picture of discord, but it didn’t really occur to me as a child that Emily had packed her bags and planned to leave Del until seeing it from a grown-up perspective. Or that the “scary German guy” that plays a huge role in thwarting Dracula’s plans is a Holocaust survivor. Of anyone in the film, he understands true monsters the most.

The loving homages to the Universal Classic Monsters meant so much more, too. The nods to the armadillos in Dracula’s castle, as they were in the 1931 film, and the plane that carries the monster crates is named Browning, after the original director Tod Browning, are clever. It’s not the only film nods either. So in awe of William Friedkin’s work on The Exorcist, particularly the subliminal aspect, that Dekker drew from that when creating the scene that sees Dracula’s face flash to a creepy skull.

The Monster Squad

The relationship between Phoebe and Frankenstein’s Monster (Tom Noonan) was always the beating heart of the film, but it holds deeper meaning after seeing the 1931 version of Frankenstein.  In it, Frankenstein’s Monster meets a little girl by a lake and they toss flowers in a lake to watch them float. The monster doesn’t really understand, so he tosses in the little girl to watch her float, too, but she drowns instead and Frankenstein’s Monster runs away upset. In a way, The Monster Squad offers Frankenstein’s Monster a redemption for that fatal mistake. As with the 1931 version, he meets a little girl by the water too. Only this time, the little girl warmly welcomes him into the Monster Squad, a group of misfits in which Frankenstein’s Monster humorously fits right in. Her parting gift to him, her beloved Scraps, at the end of the film still chokes me up to this day.

Shane Black and Fred Dekker created the perfect balance of light and dark, scary and campy. Combine their layered story with a talented cast, both young and old alike, and the timeless practical effects by Stan Winston and his brilliant crew, and The Monster Squad becomes the perfect gateway into horror for generations to come. Duncan Regehr’s portrayal as Count Dracula remains one of the most intimidating and terrifying, while Tom Noonan’s rendition of Frankenstein’s Monster is the best counterbalance with his sweet innocence. The Monster Squad endures the test of time and continues to sell out retro screenings in theaters, way more than it did upon release. Here’s to another 30 years of Wolfman nards.

What’s your favorite part of The Monster Squad?



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COMMENTS

22 Comments
  • James

    This movie was excellent and way more dark and adult than I realized when I was a kid. It’s actually going to be playing on the big screen at my theater next month and I can’t wait!

  • Werewolf

    THIS is the direction that Universal should currently be taking. Classic portrayals of the classic monsters as they were MEANT to be.

    But they’re too busy MANGLING it by trying to turn the monsters into LAME ASS occult powered superheroes that aren’t even fit for comic book print.

    • MODOK

      While the Universal Monsters are among the most iconic characters in all of cinema, that cuts both ways. They’re too familiar to be scary. The further adventures of the slow, shambling mummy or the flat-headed, bolt-necked Frankenstein probably wouldn’t draw large audiences in theaters these days.

      Just look at Monster Squad itself. It wasn’t even a Universal movie, it was Tri-Star. They appropriated the monsters, changed them just enough to avoid lawsuits and made them the weak villains of a kids’ movie. That’s the model we’re aiming for?

      As much as I adore the classic Monsters, I’m fine with Universal changing up the looks and trying to tell new stories with them. It certainly wasn’t Sofia Boutella’s version of the mummy that ruined the movie.

      • Werewolf

        You miss my point. It’s more to do with the presentation, atmosphere of sets, style of effects. While you are correct that a few of the supporting character monsters were a bit too weak and TOO grounded in reality (fish aren’t bulletproof…mummies are thin and frail)…their adversaries were children after all.

        BUT the filmmakers also played greatly to the main monsters strengths too.
        By utilizing them in their element. I’ll bet you can’t name a single other werewolf in film history to reconstitute after being blown to bits with a stick of dynamite.

      • Brandon MisterJuicy Alexander

        good work on the modok love 😀

  • Flu-Like Symptoms

    Ah, another childhood fav I must add to my personal MeFlix thumbdrive.

  • SpaceManSpliffz .

    “WOLFMAN’S GOT NAAAAAAARDS”

    best line ever

  • Drakk_Mallor

    I most of all liked pretty much all of Duncan Regehr’s Dracula performance. He was deliciously evil and brought a great, powerful, silent menace to the role. I like to think of it as like the last great Lugosi inspired performance utilizing the classic look of the cape, collar, tux, amulet and slicked down black hair; the last great onscreen Drac until the Coppola movie came out a few years later and changed all the rules about how Vlad can be portrayed onscreen.

    Of course, ‘Wolfman’s got nards’ was great too. The movie is really loaded with iconic moments: The Army actually showing up because the little kid called them, Frankenstein perving on the one kid’s sister thru the window, Frankenstein sacrificing himself to stop Dracula. The dad opening the closet and never looking inside to see the very real Mummy in there, instead just waving his arms and going “oooh, look at the scary monster!” while the kid freaks out and points. Rudy somehow looking like a leather jacket hoodlum from the 50s and not being laughed out of his school. The little girl gossiping that Rudy had killed his own father. The almost gritty portrayal of small town cops who, realistically, don’t believe a damn thing about the monsters until it’s almost too late. The Cop/Dad’s partner laughing his ass off. The candle blowing out. The montage where they make stakes and steal shit. The one kid’s badass “Stephen King Rules” shirt. The Cat Lady. The scene where the dad and his son chill out pirate-listening and binocular-watching a horror movie at a nearby drive in theater while sitting on the roof. Classic 80s movie moments one and all.

    It’s a cosmic shame Fred Dekker didn’t go on to do the bigger budget pictures guys like Robert Zemeckis, Joe Dante and Joe Johnston got to do. Maybe he could have been bigger than them, could’ve been another Spielberg. Then maybe there’s only room for 1 Spielberg in the world.

  • Tan Shearer

    Lol yeah everything that sucked becomes a “beloved cult classic” decades later. Nah it still sucks and always will.

    • Jay Brezzy

      Damn Tan, how do ya really feel about it?

    • Drakk_Mallor

      So Citizen Kane, Wizard of Oz, It’s a Wonderful Life, Blade Runner, Princess Bride, the Firefly TV show, these are all garbage and will always be garbage?

      • Tan Shearer

        Sure

        • Drakk_Mallor

          Troll 🙂

  • Coronerslab

    The tragic portrayal of the wolfman only got more tragic the older I got. He must have gotten control, or figured out a way to keep himself from slaughtering people until Dracula summoned his alter ego. Now he’s kept prisoner until nighttime where he sent to kill. The phone booth scene alone is crushing if you think about it too deeply.

  • Jay Brezzy

    Correct me I’m wrong here…..but doesn’t Dracula call the little girl a bitch? Or am I thinking of another 80’s flick lol..

    • Drakk_Mallor

      Yep. He sure did. Line was: “Give me the amulet, you bitch!” and then he hissed with the fangs out. Shockingly, the Prince of Darkness isn’t kind to children.

    • HalesTales

      I absolutely love that. They’d never let you do that in a movie anymore! I don’t think it’s cool to curse at children, unless they deserve it, but it’s great because the real Dracula wouldn’t give a f*** lol.

  • Shellraiser

    Great article for a great film.

    To speak to the longevity of this film, its cool to see my son loving this movie. Its played quite frequently at home. For at least a few more generations Monster Squad lives on!

  • HalesTales

    I can’t talk enough about The Monster Squad. It’s perfect in every way with horror, humor, and heart. Though, my favorite part always makes me cry: the end when Frankenstein’s Monster is getting pulled into Limbo as he and Phoebe are reaching out to each other and she doesn’t want him to go. I’m honestly choking up writing this that scene is so powerful to me.

  • Killian H Gore

    I love the movie so much that I wrote a quiz book about it! And here it is, pictured with stars of the movie Andre Gower and Ryan Lambert!!! It’s available on Amazon if any wants a copy. Go Monster Squad! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9681458308d18ba0e7dd23fe3e35dc7f77f464e775f6586758f439371ab557b8.jpg

  • Sean Galloway

    An amazing flick. So glad it’s still going strong. iTunes has it available for purchase.

  • Drakk_Mallor

    The scene where Frankenstein finds the Frankenstein Mask up in the treehouse was the really real best part.

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