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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Retro Video- The Monster Squad

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Ever since the first time I watched The Monster Squad, I have always held it near and dear to my heart. Maybe it was because it had the classic monsters in it, the fact that I watched it every Friday for a year, or because this is the first horror movie I remember having family movie night with.
Whatever the reason, I believe this to be a true treasure of the 80's. Not campy or cheesy, just a lot of fun. The one thing I have yet to do is see it on the big screen, but I sure hope too one day. And yes, I will freak out like a little fan boy just like I did when I saw Aliens at the drive in.

The Monster Squad is a society of young pre-teens who idolize classic monsters and monster movies. In addition to a clubhouse in a tree, they actually have their own business cards. Club leader Sean (Andre Gower), whose five-year-old sister Phoebe (Ashley Bank) desperately wants to join the club, is given the diary of legendary vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing (Jack Gwillim) - but his excitement is somewhat toned down when he finds it's written in German. Sean, his best friend Patrick (Robby Kiger), and the rest of the Monster Squad get their local "Scary German Guy" (Leonardo Cimino) to translate the diary. (When he is asked how he knows so much, he tells them cryptically that he has "some experience with monsters." When the children leave his home and he closes the front door, a concentration-camp number tattoo is revealed on his forearm.)

The diary describes, in great detail, an amulet that is composed of concentrated good. One day out of every century, as the forces of good and evil reach a balance, the otherwise-indestructible amulet becomes vulnerable to destruction. The next day of balance falls within a couple days, at the stroke of midnight.

The kids realize they must gain possession of the amulet before the day of balance arrives; once they have the amulet, the kids can use it — with an incantation from Van Helsing's diary — to open a hole in the universe and cast the monsters into Limbo. As shown in the prelude, van Helsing had unsuccessfully attempted this one hundred years ago in order to defeat his old adversary Count Dracula; he subsequently hid the amulet in America, where it was out of Dracula's immediate reach. Dracula, meanwhile, must obtain the amulet before the Monster Squad does, so that the Count can take control of the world. To this end he assembles several monstrous allies: Frankenstein's monster, a werewolf (an unwilling participant in his human form), a mummy, and an amphibious gill-man, in addition to three young women (Mary Albee, Joan-Carrol Baron, and Julie Merrill) whom the Count transforms into his vampiric consorts. The next day, Frankenstein's monster is wandering in the forest where he encounters Phoebe. Rather than being afraid, she shows him the kindness he has also sought, and he get acquainted with and becomes a member of the Monster Squad.

The amulet turns out to be buried in a stone room, under a house that Dracula and the other monsters now occupy. The aforementioned room is littered with holy symbols, including crucifixes, which prevent the monsters from simply taking it. However, once removed from its secure location, nothing stands in the way of Dracula taking it. The German Guy informs them that the incantation must be read by a female virgin on holy ground, on which neither Dracula nor any of his minions can set foot. As midnight approaches, the Squad makes their way to a local cathedral -- and in the nick of time, as shortly after they leave, Dracula destroys their clubhouse with a stick of dynamite. This also calls up another helper for the Monster Squad: Sean's father, Police Detective Del, who has been charged to investigate the strange happenings in town off late (as caused by Dracula's cohorts) but has been quite skeptical about their supernatural causes, not to mention Sean's hobby, in the first place.

Unfortunately, the doors to the cathedral are locked, so the incantation must be read on the stoop, leaving them vulnerable. The Monster Squad has the assistance of Sean's father and Patrick's older sister (Lisa Fuller), as she's the only virgin they know who speaks German. Unfortunately, with time winding down, the incantation fails. Lisa reveals that she is not only failing German, but is also no longer a virgin. As Dracula's Brides and the other monsters close in, it is realized that Phoebe, being five, must still be a virgin, and the German Guy attempts to help her read the incantation as the rest of the squad fends off the monsters.

The ending to this film is great, if not a little sad but everything gets tied up nicely. The monster effects were superb thanks to the late great Stan Winston. The acting was actually really good for an 80's film, though I would have liked Tom Atkins in the role as Shawn's Dad. The film was first released by Vestron Video in 1988. It was the film's only VHS release. A 20th Anniversary Reunion of The Monster Squad was held with cast members and Director Fred Dekker in attendance in April 2006 in Austin, Texas at the Alamo Drafthouse. This reunion was put together by the staff at Ain't It Cool News, who were longtime fans of the film and on a whim decided to reach out and try to connect the cast for a special screening. Two shows were held at the theatre; both sold out with lines formed around the block; some audience members flew from as far as California to watch the film. It was at this screening that Dekker had urged any interested fans to write the copyright holders via snail-mail. Ain't It Cool News also broke the news of the DVD release in January, 2007. Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures approached Lionsgate Studios to produce and release the 20th anniversary edition.The Monster Squad two-disc 20th anniversary special edition DVD was released by Lionsgate on July 24, 2007, and contains a wide range of special features including a 5-part 90 minute retrospective documentary, 2 audio commentaries, deleted scenes, the theatrical trailer, a TV spot, animated storyboards, and more. Since the release date of the DVD it has remained on the Amazon.com top seller list as of October 7, 2007. A soundtrack album is available from the Intrada label. The Alamo Drafthouse held 2 sold-out screenings of the Monster Squad on January 9th, 2010 with stars Andrew Gower, Ryan Lambert, and Jon Gries along with writer Shane Black and director Fred Dekker all in attendance. The screenings were celebrated with a limited edition poster by artist Tyler Stout. The special edition DVD also makes a few references to the death of Brent Chalem, who played "Horace", of pneumonia in 1997. Chalem was working as a paralegal at the time of his death. There have been talks of a remake but I hope it never sees the light of day, I would rather have a Fred Dekker sequel.