Last year I did a series of daily micro blogs going through the history of horror films by year. This was meant to give people an example of the high points of the genre. This year I'll be doing the same thing, but going off the beaten path to provide some films you may not have heard of. These films may not be up your alley, but they're all interesting.
The Monster Squad 1987 Dir. Fred Dekker
I first saw this film on a VHS tape, ripped from HBO in the late 1980s. The promos for other films like LaBamba and Amazing Grace and Chuck were taped before it, so when I think about watching this movie, I think about watching those trailers. This was back when HBO was still airing this promo before premiere movies. I think the film was taped by a friend at the request of my mother, which makes sense because she was the one who kept new horror in the house, my dad was the one who kept me steeped in classic horror. Which was a perfect background for this movie, because watching this film is like watching an amalgam of old and new monster movies.
Regardless, when I finally watched The Monster Squad, I was thrilled to the core and still am, the movie holds up remarkably well.
The beginning of the film is fantastic and follows a group of monster hunters as they storm Dracula's castle. They have an amulet that will destroy evil, unfortunately it opens a portal to limbo and everyone gets sucked into it. Cut to the 1980s. A group of kids have a monsters club and one of them comes into possession of Abraham Van Helsing's diary. Unfortunately the diary is in German, which leads the children to seek out "Scary German Guy", an elderly man all of the children are afraid of, to translate it. Meanwhile Dracula assembles a band of monsters in order to find the amulet so that he can reign terror upon the world.
The Monster Squad is a valentine to the Universal horror films of the 30s and 40s, while being a quintessential 80s film. All of the actors play the film straight, which raises the stakes for the characters giving the entire story a sense of verisimilitude that you wouldn't expect. The creature effects are top notch and all of the greats are back, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Gill Man and The Mummy. Those last two don't have any real purpose or character other than menacing the kids, but they look cool as hell while doing it. The scene at the end featuring the brides of Dracula is a great tension filled scene with an homage to the classic Count from Legosi to Lee. I should also mention that Duncan Regehr creates a magnificent villain in Dracula. The character is one we're all familiar with and could have easily been a cartoon villain as he stalks around in that cape of his, however, Regehr gives the character a reality that is terrifying and believable. Tom Noonan as Frankenstein's monster is the heart of the film, his relationship with Phoebe is sweet and heartwarming and you forget that you're watching a monster and a little girl form a friendship.
The Monster Squad has some genuine terrifying and heartwarming moments, and people are given real relationships. Sean's father, a chain smoking policeman, is having trouble in his marriage, and watching to the two of those characters fight, makes you feel for their relationship. We learn that "Scary German Guy" was held in a concentration camp so he "knows a lot about monsters." These small moments give is a reason to care about and root for these characters as they fight to save the world. The film is also hilarious, balancing the double-take, freakouts of childhood and the adult absurdity of having to fight monsters, we also learn, in a very humorous and menacing way, what happens when a werewolf gets blown up by dynamite. Spoiler: You really need silver bullets.
Director Fred Dekker managed to create another cult classic in Night of the Creeps, before moving on to work in television. It's a shame that these two films didn't find an audience when they first came out, but their cult status gives credence to their lasting appeal. Shelf life trumps box office every time.
Watch the trailer HERE