By Chuck Francisco
October 13, 2012 Source: Mania.com
The sinews of the Internet are ablaze with Universal's Monsters. Rightly so, as the essential Blu-Ray set offers visuals so crisp that we can make out Boris Karloff's individual bandages. This is the perfect time of year to revisit those old friends, who were so inspiration in shaping the modern American Halloween consciousness. Without Karloff's take on the Frankenstein monster or Lugosi's iconic Dracula, who could say for certain what form our cardboard decorations would assume. The Universal roster reads like a checklist of children's Halloween costumes; if you're over thirty, odds are spectacular that you've been at least two of them at some point in your (not so) distant past. The more adventurous among you may have gone door-to-door clad as the Gill Man, but it's absolutely still high five worthy to have been The Wolfman, The Mummy, The Monster, or Dracula himself.
With my nostalgia knob dialed up to eleven, I thought I'd expand in a different direction (since the Universal squad is already being treated to such lavish attention). Today's film is both a loving send up, and a part of my mandatory Halloween viewing portfolio. Like most films that are required witching season watching, this straddles the fence of fun and spooky to blend a perfect concoction of menacing and macabre. I'm referring, of course, to 1987's The Monster Squad, a movie with horror savvy protagonists, detailing the centuries long struggle against ultimate evil. This is one of the few flicks from the criminally underrated Fred Dekker, who also wrote and directed the cult classic Night of the Creeps. These two films' fame today belies their initial box office failures, a colossal shame when you imagine what other horror comedy classics Mr. Dekker could have produced if given the chance. Still, the work we've got from him is nothing short of "classic", so let's give a little Halloween love to The Monster Squad.
The titular group is made up of several kids who were weaned on horror fare. These boys were savvy to the genre rules almost ten years before Scream made it cool. They had everything a boy in the eighties could want: a cool hidden club house (replete with a poster for Fulci's Zombie), easy access to horror films and comics, and the weathered diary of Abraham Van Helsing. Hold on a tick, let's take a century sized step back. It turns out that old Abe fought a pitched battle with his nemesis, Dracula, for the fate of an amulet made of concentrated good. One a century, the otherwise indestructible amulet is vulnerable, and it's destruction would plunge the world into darkness.
As the day approaches in this century, Dracula puts together a crew of iconic monsters to help him secure the amulet. Some, like The Mummy and the Gill Man, serve him willingly and relish the chance to revel in the evil nature. Another, the Wolfman, is as conflicted as Harvey Dent in Men's Warehouse; he serves willingly when wolfed out but is wracked with guilt when in human form. The last, Frankenstein's monster, chooses to defy Dracula and assist the kids instead. Keying on Karloff's masterful performance as the monster, this vision is imbued with a quiet sadness, expressed not with words but facially. Tom Noonan, with many TV credits to his name, also played Cain in Robocop 2, and The Ripper in Last Action Hero, steals the monster show. It's true that Duncan Regehr's performance as the legendary blood sucker is widely considered to be one of the best of all time, but I think that deep down, everyone watching is really rooting The Monster.
The Monster Squad wins a place at the Halloween season table on account of it's ability to pull that which is scary out into the light where, it can be exposed for a laugh. It's a fun lark, which managed to keep one foot firmly planted in the shadows. It's also part of a rare subgenre of children's films, which are flaccid and boring for adults (Super 8 being a rare modern entry). This kind of film is important among a sea of gore, guts, terror, and fright. In allowing us to laugh with the creatures we grew up terrified of, we attach a firmer fondness to them, which forms the root of our wistful nostalgia. Rather than consider this a lampooning of iconic Universal Horror monsters, let's instead look upon this like a companion piece, which never insults the focus of it's fun.
The Monster Squad was released last on Blu-Ray in 2009 by Lion's Gate, which was itself a rerelease of the 2 disc 20th Anniversary edition DVD set from 2007. Make sure to put it into your regular Halloween rotation, and don't forget that the Wolfman's got nards.
Saturday Shock-O-Rama Streaming Suggestions
Want to watch something schlocky right now? Try on a few of these suggestions, available right now from the listed service (most of which are FREE!).
Netflix - Werewolf of London - Horror(1935)
Crackle - Mary Shelley's Frankenstein - Horror (1994)
YouTube - Amityville Horror 2: The Possession - Horror (1982)
Hulu - Atom Age Vampire - Horror (1960)
And if you simply can't get enough horror happenings here on Mania, might I humbly suggest checking out Tuesday Terrors? It's got all the shocking news to keep you current (and possibly help you survive until the credits roll).
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