Combustible Celluloid
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With: Andre Gower, Robby Kiger, Stephen Macht, Duncan Regehr, Tom Noonan, Brent Chalem, Ryan Lambert, Ashley Bank, Michael Faustino, Mary Ellen Trainor, Leonardo Cimino, Jon Gries, Stan Shaw, Lisa Fuller, Jason Hervey
Written by: Shane Black, Fred Dekker
Directed by: Fred Dekker
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 82
Date: 18/03/2013

The Monster Squad (1987)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Creature Leecher

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I think I missed the boat on this one, by just a bit. I would have just graduated from high school when it came out in the summer of 1987, and it would have seemed like a little kid movie to me. Therefore, I have no nostalgia factor while watching it, and unlike The Goonies, I can see it with fresh eyes. I saw it now, in 2013, for the first time on its new Blu-ray release from Olive Films, and I'm sorry to say that it just doesn't make the grade.

It's very definitely inspired by The Goonies, except in The Monster Squad, a band of dorky, loudmouth kids battle monsters instead of bank robbers. These kids are no longer Shirley Temple; they're allowed to make naïve jokes about sex and to use the occasional kid-friendly dirty word (like "dork").

The kids aren't very memorable, but they include Sean (Andre Gower) and Patrick (Robby Kiger), best friends who get into trouble at school for drawing monsters instead of listening in science class. Sean has a younger sister, Phoebe (Ashley Bank), who wishes to join their monster club, but is shooed away. Eugene (Michael Faustino) is the youngest, Horace (Brent Chalem) is the fat kid, and Rudy (Ryan Lambert) is their tough high school friend who can't ever seem to figure out what he's doing there. (The child character actor Jason Hervey shows up as a bully in one scene.)

Then we have the monsters, all re-imagined for this TriStar production to avoid upsetting the copyrights owned by Universal. Legendary makeup man Stan Winston helped. The biggest success is Frankenstein monster (played by tall, creepy Tom Noonan), who is so simple that he joins forces with the children rather than taking orders from Dracula.

Dracula, as played by Duncan Regehr, has zero charisma compared with Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee, but he's still way ahead of the screen's all-time worst Dracula, which is still Richard Roxburgh in Van Helsing (2004). The Wolf Man (Carl Thibault), The Mummy (Michael MacKay) and The Gill-man (Tom Woodruff Jr.) are blanks. They just look like guys in suits, which is better than digital effects, but not as emotionally powerful as the tragic figures from the Universal originals.

The plot has Sean finding a book by the original vampire hunter Van Helsing (Jack Gwillim), though it's written in German. They decide to visit a neighbor, "Scary German Guy" (Leonardo Cimino), to ask for his help. The ritual to return the monsters back to where they came from involves an incantation read by a virgin; the monster squad recruits pretty teen (Lisa Fuller), hoping she'll do the trick.

The Monster Squad was co-written by Fred Dekker, whose Night of the Creeps was on its way to becoming a cult classic, and Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, etc.), who would shortly become one of the highest-paid screenwriters in history. It seems they cooked up a high-concept idea, but had no idea how to execute it in any meaningful way. It's really not much better than any of Universal's later attempts to drum up money by throwing two or three of the famous monsters into one lazy movie. If three is good, why not five?

It all comes down to unmemorable heroes and blank, flat villains rushing through a scenario full of noise. No little moments are allowed to tingle. It's just a big, empty roar.

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