Thursday 15 April 2010

Obscurity Files #2 - The Monster Squad

SLACKER Obscurity Files aims to put the spotlight onto a series of films that time and audiences have otherwise forgot. Today it's The Monster Squad.
More after the jump...

The Monster Squad is the 1987 horror/comedy written by Shane Black and Nicholas Hill and directed by Fred Dekker. A reawakened Dracula searches for an amulet that will allow him to shift the balance of good and evil in his favour. He must destroy the amulet before midnight or wait for another hundred years for his next chance. Standing in his way is a group of local outcasts who share a love of monster movies called 'The Monster Squad'.

Although this film has something of a cult following (with rumours of a remake on the way), it is largely unknown outside of the US. And in all honesty i don't know why. This film was released in 1987, in the wake of other boy's own adventure films such as The Goonies and Stand By Me, and although it borrows elements from both of those films heavily, has enough originality and monster movie mayhem to let it stand up as somewhat of a lost classic.

As any horror aficionado will tell you, the quality of a monster movie can be judged by the quality of the monster, and this film has five good ones. Dracula is the leader of this group, giving orders to The Wolfman, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mummy and Frankenstein's Monster. Well, that is until Frankenstein's Monster shows himself to be a bit of a softy and defects to the other side.

These are all Universal Pictures classic monsters and their 1987 incarnations were overseen by Stan Winston, providing the effective make-up and transformation sequences that helped avoid turning this movie into a spoof or parody.

The kids that make up the Monster Squad are easily relatable, and Frankenstein's Monster is a good addition to the Squad, channeling Sloth and Bub the Zombie. It took a while to notice, but under the make-up is Tom Noonan, who has made a career of playing tall weirdos and put this creepiness to good use recently as the Satanic leader in The House of the Devil.

Now the issue of The Goonies must be addressed. I'm unsure as to when this movie was originally written or pitched, but as it arrived in cinemas 2 years after the Goonies, the similarities must be noted. Firstly, the group of loser friends being led by a scrappy young upstart, the lunking idiot man-child powerhouse who befriends one of the group and switches sides, and the chubby wise-cracking sidekick who gets some of the best lines.

As you'd expect from a movie featuring classic characters from other movies, The Monster Squad was always going to be quite referential. Even the posters claim of 'You know who to call when you have ghosts, but who do you call when you have Monsters?' implies a cheeky tone that the filmmakers were quite aware of. With this and the Goonies similarities it's obvious that they knew their market and went for it. Which makes it a surprise that upon release, this film was seen as a flop. A $12 million budget grossing just under $4 million isn't good, but maybe this was meant to work on the rental market better.

As to why it's unfamiliar to audiences outside the US, i just don't know. With the exception of a bit of naughty language, this film could easily be a holiday movie staple. I think i've just found a new film to watch this Halloween after the equally underwatched Trick 'R' Treat.

Save From Obscurity? YES.

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