Every week, the folks at iTunes find a movie they like and make it available to rent for the low, low price of $0.99. I’m here to tell you whether that film is worth your hard-earned dollar.
Ok, the featured $0.99 pick this week is actually a heartfelt, based on a true story drama by the name of Breathe. It looks to feature a pair of winning performances from Claire Foy (The Crown) and Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man, Hacksaw Ridge), and it was directed by motion-capture wizard Andy Serkis. I’m sure it’s a lovely little romantic drama, but I’ve been feeling like we’ve reached a sort of critical mass for weepy, true-life dramas of late, and I really wasn’t interested in sitting through another this week. As luck would have it, I came across a stone-cold ’80s classic just sitting there in the “Movies You Might’ve Missed” section of iTunes Movies, so …
This week, a group of monster obsessed, suburban youngsters go toe-to-toe with real life ghouls in The Monster Squad.
I Think There Are Monsters, Like Real Ones!
After narrowly dodging certain doom at the hands of famed vampire hunter Van Helsing, Count Dracula spends nearly 100 years trying to find a way back to Earth. When he does, the evil Count finds a world ill-equipped to handle the threat of real monsters. With the help of a powerful amulet (not to mention his nefarious cohorts the Wolfman, the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Frankenstein’s Monster), Dracula may finally succeed in securing dominion over mankind. Only one thing stands in his way, a ragtag group of preteen outsiders who call themselves The Monster Squad.
Where the Hell Am I Supposed to Find Silver Bullets?
I hope you’ll excuse the nostalgia trip this week, but The Monster Squad happens to be one of those flicks from my youth that legit made me fall in love with movies. Not so much because it was a great bit of cinema (it hardly breaks new ground in terms of style), but because it’s a film that’s absolutely overflowing with ideas that sort of had no place in silly, family-friendly fantasy/horror flick back in the ’80s. Like many of the best pseudo family-friendly films from the ’80s, The Monster Squad was also unafraid to put a bunch whip-smart kids into complex, even dangerous situations and trust that they were clever enough to find their way out of trouble. In that regard, The Monster Squad has more than a little in common with the likes of decade standard bearers like The Goonies and E.T.
Somehow, the glorious monster movie pastiche that is The Monster Squad has never been as well-regarded as those now iconic titles (that aforementioned lack of style is largely to blame), and that may be because the film pushes its youngsters a little further into adult territory than its counterparts. That’s because The Monster Squad, directed by self-proclaimed monster movie nerd Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps, Robocop 3) and co-written by the great Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nice Guys, the upcoming Predator reboot), dares to raise the stakes of its narrative to nothing more than life and death.
As such, the film’s titular squad (already battling absentee parents and general pre-teen awkwardness) is forced to take up actual arms (guns and wooden stakes and bows and arrows) in defense not only of their very lives but Earth itself. Add in some crude comedy, a few scenes of youngsters smoking, some frank talk about sex, a slew of genuinely frightening moments, and some coarse (but certainly accurate) language, and you’ve got a film targeted at preteens pulling in the dreaded PG-13 rating. Though the film has become a bit of a cult classic over the years, that rating is a big reason The Monster Squad didn’t quite find its audience when it was released back in 1987. Still, the themes and moments that earned that PG-13 are the reason Dekker’s film is still such a blast to watch.
The absolutely brilliant depiction of the film’s villains (all of them former stars of Universal Studio’s monster movie era) is a big part of the fun too. That Dekker and Black so adeptly bring those creatures into a (then) modern setting while remaining faithful to their decidedly old school flair is an astonishing feat. That they have so much damned fun doing it is nothing short of miraculous. Even 30 years after its release, The Monster Squad still sort of feels like a minor miracle. One that may well inspire generations young and old to re-discover the monster movie classics that started it all. At the very least, The Monster Squad will decisively answer the question of whether or not Wolfman has nards.
You bet. More than just a clever premise and a pure jolt of nostalgia, The Monster Squad is actually a beautifully conceived and executed film. One that’s delighted audiences young and old over the years, and one that’s likely to do just that for future generations. If you’ve already seen it, you could do a lot worse than laying down a Washington to revisit this classic. And if you haven’t, get ready to be bowled over by one of the more under-appreciated gems from the ’80s. And just to put it out there, The Monster Squad would also make a killer double feature companion with the likes of Gremlins, The Goonies, or Stand By Me if you’re willing to drop a few extra bucks on the rental. FYI – you should be.