In honor of the spookiest day of the year, so I thought it would be most appropriate to have a look at a Halloween movie this week. In keeping with the season, I selected the 1987 movie, The Monster Squad. I specifically chose this film because the word on the Internet is that this is a cult classic.
Monster Squad is about a ragtag group of preteens (and one five-year-old girl) who are obsessed with monsters. Together, they have to stop a resurrected Count Dracula and his team of monsters (Frankenstein, The Wolfman, the Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon) from taking over the world with an ancient amulet. Its kind of like The Goonies meets all of Universal’s Monsters. And better still, I had never actually seen it before, so I was excited to experience something new yet nostalgic for the first time.
And … oh boy what can I say? This movie is very much a product of the 80s and it shows. I can see why it’s been so popular. It’s a fun kid adventure story with lots of hilarious pre-teen swearing and the monsters themselves look fantastic for a kids’ movie. But it definitely hasn’t aged well with time. So, let’s break it down and see where Monster Squad went right and where it didn’t deliver.
The 80s kid group line-up
As I said, Monster Squad is very much a stereotypical 80s kids’ film, particularly when you’re dealing with a group of pre-teen boys. The films of the 80s dictated that whenever you had a film about a group of young boys there was an official quota of character traits that had to be filled.
First, you had to have a leader. Then, you have the mouthy best friend. Can’t forget about the rebellious, tough guy. And of course, you have the fat one.
Oof. Now, this is a stereotype that definitely doesn’t age well for 2019.
This is the kid who’s always eating, only thinks about food, and is the hapless target of the local bullies. And often is subject to bullying by his own friends. This is also the kid who normally gets stuck with a derisive nickname (again, often coined by his so-called friends).
The above character’s name is Horace which he is quick to point out to everyone. But what is he called throughout the movie by friends and enemies alike? “Fat Kid.” That’s it. This is the most original nickname that anyone in this town can come up with. Just “Fat Kid.” At least his counterpart in The Goonies got a slightly more creative nickname (“Chunk”). It’s not great, but at a minimum, it shows effort. This just displays a certain contempt that everyone must have for this poor kid that they can’t be bothered to invent an imaginative weight-inspired nickname beyond “Fat Kid.”
I will give Fat Kid this much. Out of all the members of the squad, he’s the most memorable character. He comes with a lot more personality than any of his fellow team members. Half the time I couldn’t even remember the other characters’ names. But I will always remember Fat Kid because he is awesome. Not only does he get some of the best lines, but he demonstrates how to disable a vampire with a slice of pizza (because, garlic).
And of course, he fires off a rifle and takes down the Creature from the Black Lagoon once and for all. You rock, Fat Kid.
Monster Squad features five of Hollywood’s reigning monsters.
You have Frankenstein,
The Creature from the Black Lagoon (or, Gillman as he’s billed to avoid incurring the wrath of Universal’s legal team),
And of course, Count Dracula as the ringleader and mastermind.
I have to say, the monsters here are really well done. They look amazing. Even though this is a comedy, the monsters don’t look goofy; they can look downright scary. And the movie isn’t afraid to make them look grotesque at times.
Except for Frankenstein. He’s not a bad guy. He runs away from Dracula to pal around with the Monster Squad, primarily with the little sister character. Frankenstein isn’t scary, he’s just adorable.
The only gripe I have is with Count Dracula. Don’t get me wrong, he looks great, and he’s definitely intimidating. It’s towards the end of the movie when he loses his edge. Dracula needs to retrieve a magical amulet that the kids have in their possession, so he decides to go on an all-out killing spree. With dynamite.
I never thought I would ever see the immortal Dracula throwing dynamite at people. He just woke up after 100 years, how does he even know what dynamite is and how it works?
Dynamite and Dracula just don’t go together. It’s as if you were watching a Godzilla movie and all of a sudden, Godzilla pulls out a gun. It looks weird, and it’s unnecessary because he’s an all-powerful monster. He already comes equipped with otherworldly powers and abilities, so let him use them to their full potential.
Something Doesn’t Belong Here
You know what really adds that special something to a kid’s comedy movie? Holocaust references!
In one part of the movie, the kids need help translating Van Helsing’s diary which is written entirely in German. They begrudgingly turn to their eerie neighbor, “Scary German Guy.”
The kids soon learn that Scary German Guy (as he’s known for the duration of the film) is actually a very nice man who ends up becoming a huge asset to them when taking on Dracula and the monsters.
After discovering this kindly man’s true nature, Scary German Guy assures the boys that he’s not a monster, but he’s had plenty of experience in dealing with monsters. The camera then zooms in on his arm to reveal what is obviously a concentration camp serial number tattoo.
This is never addressed again.
Yes, it’s meant to be a lesson to kids about not judging others even when they look like creepy mega-freaks. Teachable moments are common in films geared for kids. But Monster Squad is not that movie. Horrific human tragedy thrown into a comedy about kids fighting movie monsters just doesn’t fit. It’s a jarring shift in tone that really takes you out of the movie. And you don’t even have time to reflect on it, because we’re immediately back to the comedy and monster stuff within a few seconds.
Monster Squad is definitely not the film equipped to take on a subject matter as serious as the Holocaust. Especially when it’s regarding a significant character who doesn’t even get his own name.
The weird sexual overtones
There are a lot of references to sex in this movie and not always in a fun way.
We’re introduced to Cool Guy Rudy at the beginning of the film after he rescues Fat Kid from a pair of bullies. He’s older you see; in Junior High, which commands a certain amount of reverence from the others. When Rudy asks the Monster Squad if he can join their club, I was confused. Why would a kid who’s already in Junior High want to hang out with a bunch of young kids who spend all their time in a treehouse drawing monsters?
Well, we soon figured that one out.
Yep, that’s right. Rudy just recently discovered his boner and the kids’ treehouse is parallel to enough masturbation material to hold him until college.
The 80s, everyone!
Later, when the squad is trying to figure out how to stop Dracula, they learn that they need a virgin to read an incantation in order to get rid of all the monsters. This prompts the boys to ask amongst themselves, “Know any virgins?”
That’s literally all of you! All of you are virgins! But no, they have to go to the trouble of hunting down a virgin girl to read the spell. I listened carefully and went back a few times, but I could not find any point where it’s stated that the reader of the spell has to be a female virgin. Just a virgin. When the fate of the world is at stake, I would think even if you’re male, you can afford to suck it up for one night and save the goddamn universe. You guys are twelve; no one is going to judge you for being a virgin.
After trying the spell with a teenage girl who turned out to be decidedly not a virgin, the boys resort at the last minute to using the little sister for the spell. Because of course, a five-year-old girl is going to be a virgin! Seriously, the sister has been there the whole movie, they could have worked that one out a lot earlier if they were so desperate for a girl virgin.
I never thought I would give Hocus Pocus so much credit, but that movie was very open when it came to the virginity clause. The Sanderson Sisters’ spell didn’t give a crap whether you were male or female. As long as you were sexually untainted, you were good to go.
Alright, one thing I can’t skip talking about is the swearing. This was the 80s, and a PG-13 rating was much different back then. This basically means it’s not going to be PC and you’re going to hear a lot more cussing from young kids, some of which can be a little disconcerting. I definitely gave pause at the scene when Dracula grabs the five-year-old girl and calls her a bitch to her face. It’s overly mean-spirited and unnecessary.
But on the flip side, we have the one scene that will never, ever get old. You know what I’m talking about. “Wolfman’s Got Nards.”
Hearing the kids yell “Kick him in the nards!” when fighting the Wolfman is a line that will never fail to make me giggle. Because I am that mature. And of course, our star, Fat Kid, carries out the deed, astonished and wide-eyed, “Wolfman’s got nards!”
Yes, yes he does, Fat Kid. And God bless you for gifting us with this one classic line that will forever define this film.
So, how does Monster Squad measure up? It’s not a cinematic masterpiece by any means. And there are many cringe-worthy moments that don’t translate well to the present day such as homophobic comments, peeping on a girl in her underwear, and later blackmailing the same girl with incriminating photos.
But Monster Squad is by no means terrible. It can be weird, confusing, and pretty stupid at times, but it’s pure ‘80s camp. And if you feel okay with overlooking some of the more non-PC elements, it can be goofy nostalgic fun, especially if you’re a fan of 80s kid adventure films in the same vein as The Goonies.
And remember everyone, should you ever encounter a werewolf, just remember: he does indeed have nards. Take a cue from our hero, Fat Kid, and attack accordingly.
Monster Squad is streaming on Hulu now.