Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Movie Review: "The Monster Squad" by David Pretty

In the past I've looked at several films that have achieved a significant amount of nostalgic worship.  Some of these movies deserve a place on the pop culture pedestal and some don't.  In an example of the latter, it's totally inexplicable as to why The Monster Squad receives any sort of retro love.  To me, it's nothing more than a cynical pastiche of The Goonies, Lost Boys, and the Universal Monsters, with a little dash of Stand By Me's irreverence thrown in for good measure.

For what it's worth, here's the film's incredibly derivative trailer:

Andre Gower plays Sean, a pushy, obnoxious twelve year old dipshit who, along with his interchangeable cronies, fancy themselves monster enthusiasts. Headquartered in a tree house that looks like it was built by a team of civil engineers, Sean holds court over a host of Our Gang stereotypes: wise-ass Patrick (Robby Kiger), Fat Kid (literally!) Horace (Brent Chalem), chain-smoking (!) bad-ass Rudy (Ryan Lambert), shy Eugene (Michael Faustino) and his precocious little sister Phoebe (Ashley Bank).

This pack of underwritten creeps bone up on their creature-killing trivia while verbally abusing one another a la Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Vern in the infinitely superior Stand By Me.  Meanwhile, in a brain-dead script convenience, Dracula himself (Duncan Ragehr) conspires with his pals the Wolfman (Carl Thibault), Frankenstein's Monster (Tom Noonan), the Mummy (Michael MacKay) and the Gill-Man (Tom Woodruff Jr) to destroy a Macguffin, er...amulet which is comprised of "pure good".

Naturally, once every hundred years this amulet becomes vulnerable to attack and if the monsters succeed in destroying it well, then...ummmm, something BAD'll happen.  I guess.  Oh, and did I mention that this precious talisman just so happens to be sitting in the basement of a spooky house in the very same town where the Monster Squad has their base of operations?  

I had some hope going into this since I kinda liked director Fred Dekker's consistently surprising Night of the Creeps.  Not only that, the effects were provided by Stan Winston and Richard Edlund and the screenplay was drawn up by Shane Black of Lethal Weapon fame.

But when it comes right down to it, The Monster Squad feels like the product of market research, like a test screening checklist.  Kids like monsters, so let's cram four or 'em in there!  Oooo!  OooOoo!!! People liked those precocious brats in The Goonies, so let's stock this flick with a bunch of pale imitations!  Audiences also dig montages set to music like in Lost Boys so let's shoe-horn in one of those!  And, hey, folks got a kick out of kids using salty dialogue in Stand By Me a year ago, so let's have the little larvae use words like "shit", "faggot" and "tits" just for novelty value! 

Honestly it's no surprise that this film sunk into oblivion when it was first released; it had no clear audience.  It was too goofy and childish for adults and too violent and profane for its hypothetical target audience (i.e. kids who were the same age as the characters).  The likely reason it's popular now is because, for an entire generation of young adults, this was the first time they ever saw impalings, gory bits and the word "nards" used in a movie.  But, let's face it folks, breaking these childhood taboos shouldn't automatically qualify the film for nostalgic plaudits.     

Above all the film's biggest transgression is its shamefully lazy screenwriting.  Can anyone think of any other reason why Dracula (or "Alucard", that's never been done before) conveniently calls Sean's house and leaves a message other than to let the kid know that there's a legendary vampire on the loose?  Plus there's no way you can convince me that an older kid like Rudy would ever be caught dead hanging around with the rest of these whiny infants.  

The only reason I'm rating The Monster Squad as high as I am is because some of the special effects are fairly decent. The Mummy and the Gil-Man are well realized, but that's pretty much where my praise ends.  The werewolf design is absolutely terrible.  He looks like one of the John Carl Buechler's Ghoulies after it was hit with a Gamma bomb.  Tom Noonan, so memorable as the killer in Manhunter, actually gives a fairly nuanced performance as Frankenstein's Monster.  Unfortunately he's buried under an avalanche of wretched makeup that makes you pine for Jack Pierce's Karloffian creation from over eighty years ago!

To make matters worse, Duncan Regehr is a shamefully poor Dracula.  Despite the fact that he strangles little Phoebe and calls her a bitch (!), he's about as menacing as your average insurance salesman.  Then, in the cinematic equivalent of giving us a great big paper cut and pouring lemon juice all over it, the film gives us the truly execrable Monster Squad rap theme song over the end credits.

Honestly, this thing is a total failure.  It's a kid's film that I'd personally never watch again and one that I'd actually feel guilty showing to a kid.

        Tilt: down.

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