The 1980’s saw a rise in movies starring groups of children. Some of the greatest examples, E.T., The Goonies, and The Lost Boys, became some of the biggest hits of the decade. Usually, the plots are simple. A group of kids embark on the adventure of a lifetime, strengthening the bonds of friendship while learning something about themselves. The stories were relatable for people of all ages, but because of the nostalgia factor, some of the movies had the tendency to veer into schmaltzy territory. Nostalgia was in high demand during the ’80s. People wanted to return to the simpler times of their childhood during the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. Movies provided this escape with classics such as Stand By Me, and Back to the Future. People were trying to revisit their childhood, and for many, that included monsters.
Universal Studios is the home to the most famous monsters in film history. Starting in the ’30s through the ’50s, audiences were introduced to the classic monsters that would continue to live on 80 years later. Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, and Frankenstein’s Monster (for the sake of brevity, let’s just call him Frankenstein) have been seen on screen in various adaptations throughout the years, but some of their most exciting moments occur when two or more of them are teamed up in a movie together. Mostly it was Dracula, the Wolf Man, and Frankenstein that would appear together in films like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, and House of Dracula. The last Universal movie to feature the monster mashup was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The Wolf Man tries to stop Dracula from giving Frankenstein Costello’s brain. Even when appearing with Abbott and Costello, it was proven that the monsters could still provide scares and retain the image that audiences initially fell in love with.
On August 14, 1987, the two genres were smashed together in The Monster Squad. A group of kids, with the help of Frankenstein, must stop the team of Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, and Gillman. With Stan Winston providing the makeup, the monsters are updated just enough from the iconic images of their cinematic debuts to be menacing. Duncan Regehr provides a standout performance as Dracula. While Bela Lugosi will always be the most identifiable Dracula, Regehr creates a take on the character that you can believe has nothing but evil intentions and will do anything to get what he wants.
Tom Noonan brings to life a Frankenstein that is as sympathetic as Karloff. It is a fine line an actor must walk so that the monster does not come off as pathetic, and while no one did it better than Karloff, Noonan never crosses that line from pathos to pitiful. The rest of the monsters are not as well fleshed out as Dracula and Frankenstein. The Wolf Man, in human form is not fully on board with Dracula, and warns the police to no avail, but other than that he is, well, a monster who seeks to do damage alongside the Mummy and the most terrifying Gillman in cinematic history.
The kids are the type that you would expect in a family adventure movie from the ’80s. The fearless leader who rallies the troops, the bland best friend, the fat comic relief kid, the “too cool for everything” kid, and the little sister who is not included in the group, but saves the day. They are all social outcasts, but prove that together they can defeat anything, including monsters. They stand up to the monsters while proving themselves to everyone that has doubted them. The lessons may be hokey, if there are any, but the movie is a lot of fun.
Unfortunately, audiences at the time of release didn’t quite agree. It was not a success and it didn’t help that The Lost Boys was released a few weeks earlier drawing away the audience for The Monster Squad. Thankfully, the movie went on to garner a cult following. I was introduced to the movie just a few years ago and was upset that I missed years of being able to enjoy this adventure. For a classic monster fan it is everything one could want. The characters are shown the respect they deserve and the plot is what you would hope for while moving along at a compelling pace. Despite some wardrobe and slang choices, the movie is timeless and lends itself to multiple viewings. While a remake was rumored a few years ago, it seems that the closest we will get is Universal’s Dark Universe. If those in charge at Universal were smart they would take a look at The Monster Squad, because there are many lessons here and there is still plenty of life in these old monsters.