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The Monster Squad (1987): Vampire, Wolfman, Mummy, green clovers, purple horseshoes, and blue moons!
I think this may be the first film I've ever highlighted that was important to me when I was a kid. By the word "important," I mean "made me wet myself with glee", but you know how it is. The Monster Squad was effectively The Goonies versus the monsters of Universal Studios....which is weird, because none of the kids were in the Goonies and Universal didn't make this flick. The story in a nutshell: A bunch of 5th Graders (and one chain-smoking 8th Grader) end up fighting evil in the form of Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon (henceforth referred to as the Gillman), and even Frankenstein. Holy freaking crap. During the horror movies in the 1980's, most of the flicks were about the NEW horror standards: run up the stairs to get away from the slasher in the mask, ripping off Alien, and well, Jason, Jason, Jason, Jason. This movie brought back all those old-school horror monsters that we hadn't seen in a while (except for people who would change them so much they didn't count. Lost Boys may have had vampires, but Kiefer Sutherland was no Dracula). Keep in mind that neither Hollywood macrohit "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" or "Bram Stoker's Dracula" were out yet...The Monster Squad at least seemed to me at the time to be the first to blatantly just recreate the old-school monsters (in the late 80's). Point is, Monster Squad was my favorite movie until my balls dropped and I started drinking things NOT in a spill-proof cup with Donald Duck on it. Monster Squad is also one of the few films that reintroduces my favorite monster: The Gillman. If you've actually seen The Creature from the Black Lagoon (and its 2 sequels....one of which includes the Gillman getting plastic surgery and walking around in a trenchcoat touching himself...no joke) you'd know that's what they all call the dear sweet fishman. If you've been visiting the site for a while, you're already aware of my deep passion for any type of piscine-human crossbreed by the sheer fact that there's about about a hundred paintings of them in the Strange Art section. For some reason, whenever I stop paying attention, I start drawing fishmen. It's like Stephen King's The Dark Half, only I have a fishman in my brain. Me loves me some Gillman (even if they didn't put him on the poster). In retrospect, my love for all monsters fish-related may have something to do with the design of the Gillman in this movie. Let's move on before I go into total fanboy mode.
Instead of walking you through the film step by step, let's get the set-up out of the way so I can just talk about monsters, because after all, that's why I'm here. The whole movie takes place in the incredibly small town of Plotville. I call it that because, like most movies, it's incredibly lucky that this movie takes place here. You see, Dracula hops onto a cargo plane that's apparently shipping a big box labelled "Bavaria: Frankenstein." For the love of God. Did the UPS guys get paid to NOT ask any question? Is customs concerned when you're transporting giant zombie corpses? Still, having the name of the monster painted in big bold letters on the side of the box isn't too weird in this film because everything's completely over the top and you'd be criminal to look too deep into it. Anyway, the plane's pilot opens the cargo hold dumping Frankenstein's body into the swamp below (pilot must have worked for Northwestern), and Dracula transmogrifies into a rubber bat on a string to chase after it. For the most part, the special effects in this movie aren't bad at all...mainly they got the costumes dead-on for your classic monstrosities. I still can't explain why the director threw in so many rubber bats though. Maybe there's some contractual stipulation stating that if Dracula's in a film then YOU MUST HAVE RUBBER BATS ON STRINGS. I just don't know.
It's also important to keep in mind that this is indeed a kids movie and you're really not going to see much violence or whatever on-screen (or implied off-screen for that matter). Oddly enough there is the implication that Dracula kidnaps some cheerleaders and turns them into his vampiric bimbo/fan-girls....but that's as dark as this flick gets. It's like that Friday the 13th that takes place during a children's summer camp...sure there are kids all over the place but you can't be expecting to see Jason caving in their little skulls with a hammer or anything. Hell, it's not cool to kill kids even if the movies not FOR kids. Hell, when you can only look forward to seeing Dracula being thwarted by a fat kid holding a slice of pizza (with garlic) to his face, you really have to keep your expectations in check. Oh and just so you know I'm not lying:
Please enjoy this picture of Dracula having his face melted off by a fat kid with a slice of pizza. Let's get on with the "plot" shall we?
Dracula summons his "army of darkness" to assist him...The Wolfman, who's already been running around on-screen, shows up in all his hairy glory, quickly followed by the Mummy. Did I say quickly? I mean the Mummy shows up on time because he checked the Bus schedule and left 9 hours early so he'd waddle in like my grandmother on time. I really have no love for mummies, but I'll expand on that later. Point is, Dracula's organizing his MonsterFriends (like the SuperFriends, only less gay). The surprise monster of this movie is, both sadly and with much awesome, the Gillman. The Gillman only gets two scenes in the film, despite the fact that his costume is the by far the show-stealer. He shows up early in the film to lift Frankenstein's box out of the water....and that's about all he does in the film. :sigh: There's more to it, but now's not the time. I will point out how incredibly lucky Dracula is that Frankenstein's corpse landed in a town with an authentic werewolf, Fish-monster, and a 2000-year old Mummy. I can just imagine what help Vlad would have found if he'd landed in Po-Dunk, Kentucky:
Shut up and be grateful I didn't try to draw the Were-Cooter. Oh and if you're from Kentucky I'd love to hear about what kind of local monster legends you have going on.
By the way, you'd have to think that Dracula would be pretty stupid to be reanimating Frankenstein. I mean, did Dracula not read the book? Wasn't the monster there a tragic figure that just wanted to be happy? Nevertheless, Dracula sends Frank out to go kill some kids (and get back Van Helsing's missing diary) and is totally surprised when Frankenstein betrays him and runs off to play in the children's treehouse. Hell, Frankie even joins the kid's "Purge the World of Monsters" squad. Remember: If you must reanimate or enlist the aid of monsters based off classic literature, make sure you actually read the book first. You'd think that an immortal, with all the time in the world, would eventually get around to reading Frankenstein. Bah. I don't want to mention how the monsters all do a total spaz dance when Frankenstein comes to life, but if you ever wanted to see the Mummy try to do "The Robot" then this is the film for you.
The kids are pretty ridiculously lucky as well (besides having Frankenstein join their little social club)...since this movie is, after all, all about entertaining the young kids with monsters that are considered "wholesome" by modern standards. A group of kids in Plotville have a secret club called, very creatively, The Monster Club. With the threat of monster attack escalated to lemon yellow, the club militarizes and renames itself the Monster Squad. You have to watch these small groups sometimes. Next thing they'll be calling themselves The Freeman's Monster Republic of the Proletariat and burning down the Reichstag. The Squad only has two members of note (as the other members are all young, white, and very, very Aryan): there's the token fat kid (no more needs be said) and the latest member of the club: Rudy. All the kids in this club are MAYBE in the 5th grade (or younger), while Rudy is the cigarette-smoking, leather-clad bad boy on a 10-speed of Junior High that still hangs out at elementary schools. I think it's the whole "Big Fish, Small Pond" thing. Since Rudy's the only one with pubic hair, he's undeniably the coolest kid on the K-5th grade block. He also knows how to make bullets which may mean that he's not a total poseur. Who knows.
The real bit of luck the kids have is when Sean's (the main kid who's not that interesting except to say he's the leader) mother picks up Van Helsing's diary for him at a garage sale. Wait...what? 1) Sean's mom is the coolest ever if she's randomly going to garage sales looking for occult texts. 2) At what point did Dracula realize that the diary (which he needs in order to make sure that Evil rules for a 100 years or something) was missing? Did Dracula go to a bunch of garage sales and sift through people's old records and baby clothes looking for the book that could bring about the ultimate domination of all Good in the world? Gah. Anyway, Sean finds out the diary is only in German since the German language is the only true Good and Pure language of the world when it comes to fighting evil. I'm not joking. There's a major plot device that requires the Squad find a virgin who can read German so that Evil can be sucked into an alternate dimension, not of sight or sound, but of crap. But enough of the boring stuff: Let's see how our monsters faired in this kiddie film dedicated to them. In fact, it's time for Prizes! Everyone must have prizes!
Award for STILL being totally totally lame: The Mummy.
I don't care what the recent cinematic remakes show: The traditional Mummy isn't really that scary. In Night of the Living Dead, they point out that you can always run faster than zombies...it's their sheer numbers that get you. But the Mummy? He's one fragile, slow-moving bad guy. Even if you throw in the whole "touch of death" mystique, it's still not that spooky. It seems that anyone we'd see as a protagonist will inherently have the ability to nonchalantly stroll out of danger if a Mummy was involved. Of course, if he was to pick on the elderly, the blind, or sleeping children he might be a bit more successful. Who knows? Even Dracula in this film admits he's pretty lame as he has the Mummy hold his stuff when he doesn't need it. It makes me wonder why the Mummy readily accepts his role as total Vlad bitch. I guess 2,000 years of seniority don't count if you're from Egypt.
The Monster Squad meets the Mummy twice. The first time because he's randomly hiding in one of the youngest member's closet for no reason. Personally, I'd love to have a Mummy in my closet...I think I'd just have trouble remembering to feed and walk it. Later on, the Mummy jumps into the back of their jeep (driven by "Scary German Guy," the only person who speaks German in Plotville). So how do they kill/stop the Mummy? They defeat the mummy by unraveling him (by tying a bandage to an arrow and shooting a tree with it as they drive)...The specifics are unique, but this is just like they do in every cartoon featuring a Mummy I've ever seen. We all know that this is the way to go, because it's common knowledge that Mummies, like rolls of toilet paper, are made up of one long continuous string of paper. On the plus side, the Mummy makes a great "Holy Crap THEY'RE UNRAVELLING MY ASS" face when he realizes what the kids are up to (as pictured to the right.) In the end though, it only reinforces that the Mummy is the Paulie Shore of the Monster universe.
Award for the best cross-dressing: Frankenstein
Yeah, yeah, yeah...I know that Frankenstein is the name of the creator but very few people point out the monster's name is Damian (or Demian, depending). We're going to call him Frankenstein because that's what he is to everyone. That out of the way, there's not a lot to say about dear old Frank in this movie. He's reanimated and immediately befriends the kids. He even takes part in their 80's montage sequence....where he dresses in women's clothing and looks at a naked picture of the girl next door while he's wearing big 1980's sunglasses. All in all, it's kind of cute and reminds you that this is a kids movie. Oh and just in case you're curious:
Dude does NOT look like a lady. He does look like my great aunt Millie, though.
Frankenstein ends up being knocked unconscious whenever he'd be useful and really only saves the day right at the end by doing a vulcan neck squeeze on Dracula. Of course, he's still sent to hell despite being the "good" monster, but more on that later.
Award for the Least Amount of Screen time (despite rocking): The Gillman
Despite my great love for how awesome the Gillman is in this movie, I have to admit he's on the screen for maybe sixty seconds. I think he's the bonus monster of the film because he's the least popular, commercially. To make up for that, they made him so completely hardcore that it's ridiculous. While the wolf man is sort of scary, all the monsters here are the Universal Studios cookie-cutter variety. That is to say, no risks were taken because the director wanted everyone to KNOW these were supposed to be the classic monsters. Since The Creature from the Black Lagoon is sort of the redheaded stepchild of the gang (with the Phantom of the Opera and the Invisible Man being the orphans chained to the radiator in the attic), they figured they could make some improvement. Basically, they made it look less like a rubber diving suit and more like a aquatic monster that wants to feast on your flesh and suck the marrow from your bones. Don't believe me just yet?
Don't tell me that's not hardcore. The best part of the whole thing is that, besides a scary costume, the guy inside really makes it look like the Gillman is freakin' pissed to be out of water...an angry fishman is all the more intimidating. The actor inside the costume is Tom Woodruff, Jr....better known (alright better known to ME) for playing the lead Alien in more than half of the "Alien" movies, Pumpkinhead, and the Metaluna Mutant from the Looney Tunes movie. The guy knows his rubber suits and what makes them tick.
Now you'll notice I haven't mentioned what local law enforcement has been doing with these monsters running around. As usual, they do nothing ....until the last act. Then they show up to effectively do nothing besides get totally wailed on. Speaking of which, if you saw a giant fishman rise out of the sewers, covered in spines, claws, and teeth, would you A) go for your gun or B) try to wrestle it to the ground?
If you answered (B), then you may have what it takes to be a movie cop. The pay's not good, and it's hella dangerous, but you'll have some great stories to tell if you survive. "So Bob, how was work today?" "Well, it was pretty boring until a giant fish-monster popped my skull like a grape....pass the salt?" The cops don't end up going for their weapons...which is weird, because they reach for their guns first the moment that Dracula and the Wolfman show up. Is it because the Fishman's not famous enough to be worried about? Nope. The answer lies in that Dracula & the Wolfman aren't too concerned with bullets. Sadly, the Fishman is NOT a supernatural monster. As such:
Damn. They figured out his only weakness: A shotgun blast to the chest. It's really sad that the token fat kid is the one that kills my scaly friend. None of this "come back from the dead" crap, either. Even if you kill Dracula, his toe will reanimate and find the other parts (thank you, Castlevania). But the Gillman's just a flesh and blood monster that's about as supernatural as my mom. So, yeah. While having a great design and having my favorite monster popping police officers' heads like grapes, this movie can totally bite me for having "Horace the fat kid" kill my boy. On a side note, Horace picked up that gun from the DEAD COP THE GILLMAN HAD KILLED. Makes you wonder what Officer Black was saving his ammunition for?
Gillman, Fishman, Creature from the Black Lagoon: You will be missed.
Award for surviving the most assaults on his genitals: The Wolfman
The Wolfman is pretty much Dracula's main thug in this movie. He's always lurking somewhere near him, growling and generally hopping up and down like his pants are too tight. (It might have something to do with his "wolf dork" as discussed in the film by two members of the Monster Squad.) There's a lot of evidence proving that only a silver bullet can kill a werewolf (as that's what does kill him in the end). The wolfman gets shot before he can transform (he's actually a nice guy who doesn't want to kill people but can't help turning into a furry beast of hell when he sees the full moon)...but that's not what tests the whole "what can kill a werewolf" premise. You see this movie has some sort of OBSESSION with the Wolfman's genitalia. Besides the fact that the kids are talking about his penis while walking down the street, when they're cornered they come up with the best strategy: "Kick him in the Nards!" So the kids escape by kicking the Wolfman in the groin, proving that the wolfman does indeed have balls (as the fat kids exclaims: "Whoa. Wolfman has Nards!"...which is THE most memorable line in the movie.) But the scrotal injury doesn't stop there. The Squad's leader with the help of his father does a little bit of quick thinking and shoves a STICK OF DYNAMITE INTO THE WOLFMAN'S CROTCH. He explodes, of course...but not for long (does he stay exploded....grammar melting....). The Wolfman reforms and jumps up, very angry about having his genitalia ground zero for explosives. Apparently, "crotch-related injuries" tested really well with the film's target demographic. I don't pretend to understand it, but yeah. The Wolfman's genitals are the subject of many a cinematic moment. Lucky him.
Award for......er....being Dracula: Dracula!
Dracula is, well, Dracula. So many people have played the character and in this movie, a kids movie about monsters in movies, the actor playing Dracula (Duncan Regehr) is really just a character playing a character. In other words: It's Dracula in all his cheesy evil Halloween glory. He makes scantily clad vampire women and he bears his fangs (though he doesn't bite anyone on-screen in this movie, since that would be TOO MUCH for kids to see). What's unique of this Dracula is that this has got to be the first Dracula I've ever seen committing arson. Dracula apparently has a big box of dynamite that he uses to blow up the Monster Squad's treehouse (because we all know that destroying the enemy's base is the first step to victory). Besides that, he does a lot of smooth "I'm so very very Vlad" talking and the occassional turning-into-a-rubber-bat-on-a-string. Still, in the end, he does end up hardcore taking a page from the Gillman's book of "How to Deal With Cops, glub glub." As a little girl starts saying the magic German words of good, he nonchalantly walks straight to her, killing three cops one after the other without slowing down. Of course it's all for nothing, since Frankenstein ends up protecting his virginal girlfriend, who succeeds in saying the magic words. The words summon a portal to another dimension (using the same damn special effect from Evil Dead 2) which sucks in both Dracula and Frankenstein. Frankenstein waves a sad goodbye while holding the little girl's teddy bear. Kinda sweet. And kind of convenient. I'd imagine it'd be hard for her to explain to her parents why her boyfriend is 8 feet tall and made of corpse leftovers. Dracula ends up being grabbed by Van Helsing...who was apparently trapped in that dimension or something. That doesn't matter too much. What does matter is what Van Helsing does as he's carrying Vlad off through the black hole...
"Monster Squad, you totally rock"
Of course I'm paraphrasing...he doesn't say anything but just seeing Van Helsing jump through a dimensional portal and as he takes Dracula with him into oblivion giving all the kids a big ol' thumbs up...it boggles my mind. For some reason I'm reminded of Bill & Ted's excellent adventure. Not sure why. The only thing missing here is the congratulatory high-five. Of course that would be dumb, while a thumb from Van Helsing is totally bitching. I only wish more video games went this literally when congratulating you for finishing their game. Hell, I'd play Castlevania more if it'd give me the chance to hear Simon Belmont say: "Jared, you are like the coolest guy I know. Here, man, have two thumbs WAY up!" :sigh: My fantasy world is a spooky and creepy place sometimes.
So the kids have received a thumbs up from Van Helsing, killed Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy, the Gillman, and as well as inadvertently sending Frankenstein and his teddy bear off into another dimension (pictured to the left). I'd have to say that the kids did a pretty good job of totally proving that all the classic monsters are total pussies. My whole monster-based belief system has been shaken. I'm not sure where to go from here. I will say this: Horace, you fat little bastard, if I ever find you and going to get you for killing that dear sweet fishman of mine. I swear.
On a complete side note, I would so wear a t-shirt that said: "I am totally Vlad." I'm THAT much of a dork. On that charming note, I leave you to your own devices until next week.
Copyright 2005, but mostly the paintings and text. The images are from some movie and are used purely for review purposes. So don't sue me. Seriously. Please?
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