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1 review, 1 rating

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Monster Squad, The
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by Marc Kandel

"Piss Dracula off and he’ll blow up your goddamn treehouse."
4 stars

“Monster Squad” coasts on late ‘80’s “Goonies” fumes but ends up the most successful monster-mash since “Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein”. It adheres to the formula of the Universal “House of Frankenstein” pictures, embracing the silliness of the concept while keeping the monsters scary and dangerous (easily accomplished by effects grandmaster Stan Winston alongside actors treating their beasts seriously). All done whist juggling a cast of kids making with the funny no less.

Plot: Dracula shows up in a suburb with a pack of iconic monsters in tow, hunting an amulet with the power to banish all evil creatures to limbo. Kids in a local Monster Club (as typical high school clubs would be rather ill-equipped in this instance- imagine “Model United Nations versus the Monsters”- Work for you? Me neither, though I’ll admit to a touch of curiosity…), discover the plot and move to intercept. Somehow, this actually works.

Bucking the odds (no publicity I can recall beyond print, an August theater dump and a product too violent and gory to market as a kids film), director/co-writer Fred Dekker and co-writer Shane Black (heh. Black & Dekker…) balanced everything I loved about the old monster dust-ups against some genuinely funny Little Rascals styled shenanigans, and even manage to throw in a moment of pathos or two (a subtle nod to how monsters come in many forms is provided by a character known as “Scary German Guy”- you do the math). Then they turn the whole film on its ear by providing a spectacularly violent climax that still manages a feel-good ending; this is some whacky good entertainment.

Kid standouts are Andre Gower and Brent Chalem, respectively playing the Bill Denbrough and Ben Hanscom roles to this particular version of “The Losers” group (King fans will note a smidgen of It to be found in the material, though this is far lighter fare). It’s an effective ensemble of children who are amusing, never annoying, and very aware that their antagonists can and will eat them.

Stephen Macht pulls double duty as the obligatory police detective tasked with figuring out what is going on in his town while being a good father to lead kid Gower. Macht sells a believable rapport with his doting son and frustrated wife, and he’s no slouch in the action arena; his brief pistol and dynamite face-off against both the Wolfman and Dracula is more exciting, visceral and interesting than the content of both Van Helsing and Underworld, textbook examples of how not to make monster movies… or any movies for that matter.

Tom Noonan, is simultaneously unnerving and sympathetic as the Frankenstein Monster; his delicate, careful movement gives the feeling that you are truly watching a reanimated corpse, but his eyes show a soul intact within the lumbering body. There’s also a clever if derivative ET/Elliott interplay with young actress Ashley Bank good for a few laughs as it subverts the famous Monster/Little Girl moment from the original James Whale film. The relationship also sets up an eleventh hour save that still makes me break out in gooseflesh to this day.

Duncan Regehr’s Dracula assures attention with his sharp, metallic voice as he glides through the scenery with blunt menace. Frank Langella is my personal favorite king vampire, but I’ll be damned if Regehr’s doesn’t rise near the top. The script calls for campier moments (a “stepping out for a bite” line delivers some fun payoff), but when its time to make with the bad guy stuff, this being is not to be trifled with. Watch Regehr stroll through a pack of policemen brutally dispatching them with minimal effort; the staging of the scene is hypnotic, the man’s presence inarguable.

The old “House of Frankenstein” films never put much thought into getting all their monsters in once place, having them stroll up or unthaw near the thinly sketched protagonist’s gypsy camp, castle or mad scientist emporium (12% off sale on Jacob’s Ladders!); by the 3rd or 4th time this happened, I think the monsters were peddling Amway door to door in Romania and fights were attempts to thin the competition (Lon Chaney Jr. arguably had the best pitch- one bite cures baldness). “Monster Squad’s” magic amulet McGuffin is nigh mathematical poetry in its logic compared to its forebears’ coincidence-laden Eastern Europe. It’s a damn fun movie to boot.

Enthusiasm may vary, but I find this superior to 90% of the monster ensemble films out there, and that includes the original “House of…” pictures.

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originally posted: 12/10/08 14:40:06
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7/02/10 dupadoit woolfman has nards 5 stars
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  14-Aug-1987 (PG-13)

  N/A (15)

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[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Fred Dekker

Written by
  Shane Black
  Fred Dekker

  Andre Gower
  Robby Kiger
  Stephen Macht
  Duncan Regehr
  Tom Noonan
  Brent Chalem

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