FEARNET Review - Monster Squad


A funny thing happened on my way to reviewing the long-awaited Special Edition "Monster Squad" DVD: I couldn't find a copy! From Best Buy ("we'll have some copies next week") to Circuit City ("monster what?") to Walmart (gimme a break) I wandered one sweaty Tuesday afternoon, slowly becoming more convinced that the DVD missed its release date. At one store I did see an empty display section with a sticker that said "Mon Squ" next to the sticker price, but no DVDs. Eventually I found a Target that had a few copies, so at least there's a happy ending. Not only did a finally get a copy of this amusing little movie (and all its "special edition" goodies), but I did my part for horror geeks everywhere. Next time something like "Monster Squad" comes up on the order sheets, I bet Best Buy, Circuit City and Walmart snag a few lousy copies. (Oh, but "Hills Have Eyes 2"? You could fill a million landfills with the Hills 2 DVDs I had to wade through on my journey.)

So now. After about twenty years, how does Fred Dekker's cult favorite hold up? Is it actually an entertaining movie -- or has the passage of years contributed to turn a kitschy little curiosity into an overrated "niche" item? Well, after watching the movie for the first time since its theatrical run I can safely say ... it's fun stuff indeed. Clearly low-budget and more than a little outdated in many ways, but still fun stuff. It's like a combination between "Stand By Me," "The Lost Boys," and "The Goonies" that was directed by someone who admires the Joe Dante school of movie-love. And when a movie's this in love with movies in general, that's a pretty tough flick to knock.

The plot is a colorfully simplistic thing: A bunch of small-town, monster-addicted kids get tangled up in a crazy adventure when Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy, The Gill-Man, and Frankenstein's Monster show up looking for a sacred amulet. It's pure pulpy "Hardy Boys" stuff all the way, but the young actors are generally quite amusing, the grown-ups on hand have some fun things to do, the screenplay is broad yet clever, and once we get past a slightly rocky first act, the flick really picks up some steam as it heads toward a very kinetic finalé.

Basically, it's pretty easy to see why a little movie like this has earned a loyal cult following over the years. It's campy and colorful and fun, but beneath the surface there lies a real affection for movie monsters and the people who love them. Once you start getting Fred Dekker's earnest-yet-snarky vibe, you'll be more than willing to overlook some editorial hiccups, some slightly shoddy FX work and a few ripe acting performances.

But give credit where it's due, too. Some of the monster effects (courtesy of no less than Richard Edlund and Stan Winston!) are really quite cool -- and while the young actors all have a decidedly 'raw' edge, most of 'em actually feel like real kids. Dekker's and Shane Black's screenplay packs a few outdated groaners, but it also offers a handful of very amusing quips, too. (Stephen Macht as our young hero's cop-dad is quite good throughout.) Plus the flick closes with a bang, a little touch of goofy sweetness, and shows you the door in less than 85 minutes. Now that's a geek-friendly matinee that knows its business.

And then there's the icing on the cake. You'd think that the hardcore movie nuts would just be thrilled to get this movie on an anamorphic widescreen DVD. Period. If maybe someone tossed an old promo featurette and a theatrical trailer, I guess that'd be good enough. Ha! To say that Fred Dekker and Lionsgate have gone all out on this long-awaited DVD release would be an understatement on par with "Uwe Boll's movies are slightly amusing." Simply put, there's a ton of goodies on this dual-disc set. On the first platter you'll find two feature-length audio commentaries, one with Fred Dekker and "Squad" members Andre ("Sean") Gower, Ryan ("Rudy") Lambert, and Ashley ("Phoebe") Bank -- and the other with Mr. Dekker and cinematographer Bradford May. Having only sampled a bit of the first track, I can say that I look forward to the rest of it. Kinda reminded me of that amusing "Goonies" audio commentary.

Disc 2! We open with a stellar 90-minute documentary called "Monster Squad Forever." I'll leave all the surprises for you to discover, but the sections are broken down like so: The Monster Master, The Monster Makers, The Monsters & The Squad, Lights Cameras Monsters!, and Monster Mania! (I bet you can even figure out what each chapter covers just by the name.) You'll also find a cool reel of deleted scenes, a "conversation with Frankenstein" featurette, an animated storyboard sequence, the original theatrical trailer and one TV spot, and a thorough stills gallery. Whoo!

I'm sure all the "Monster Squad" enthusiasts will be absolutely thrilled with the package Lionsgate has put together here. Every cult classic should be treated this way. Which reminds me ... Fred Dekker also directed another fantastic little delicacy called "Night of the Creeps." (If "Squad" is for the 12-year-olds, then "Creeps" is for the teenagers.) Seeing as how these "Squad" DVDs have been flying off the shelves... Seriously, I really want a 2-disc "Night of the Creeps" DVD. Now please.