‘The Monster Squad’ (1987) – A Retrospective On The ’80s Cult Classic

With the recent 32nd anniversary of the iconic film The Monster Squad, I couldn’t help but press play on one of my go to, once a year, must watch films. A perfect mix of Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), and The Goonies (1985), The Monster Squad is just what the doctor ordered for anybody craving that fix of ’80s nostalgia. So hop in the wayback machine with me, and let’s take a look at the phenomena that is The Monster Squad.

Synopsis

The Monster Squad is about a group of pre-teens who idolize classic monster movies. They hold meetings at their clubhouse in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Unfortunately for them, Dracula is real and looking for something hidden in Baton Rouge. The adults in town don’t want to listen to anything the kids have to say, so it is up to The Monster Squad to save the day!

Review

The Monster Squad is a film that means different things to different people, especially if you were in middle school in this corner of the world in the early ’80s. The world back then was a strange and wonderful place to live in. There were no cellphones in every pocket, and the internet was only a plot device in sci-fi flicks like The Terminator (1984). Kids had to be home once the street lights came on, and movies like The Monster Squad were legends that could only be spread by word of mouth.

This film had a short-lived theatrical release in the summer of ‘87, and it only managed to garner a meager $3.7 million, crushing any hopes the creators may have had for a sequel or merchandising deals. With stiff competition, The Monster Squad never had a chance. But this was 1987, the year of The Lost Boys, Predator, RoboCop, Dirty Dancing, Lethal Weapon, The Princess Bride, Spaceballs, Fatal Attraction, Good Morning Vietnam, La Bamba and Full Metal Jacket. Plus, VHS home release was king.

Fortunately for us, word of mouth would spread to the school recess scene, to the playgrounds – and inevitably, the internet of its day, the school bus – which slowly built the film’s lore. The tales of monsters we all knew so well from the golden age of horror made cameos in episodes of The Muppet Babies, and were also made readily available for us to gawk at during the annual Scholastic book fairs. With The Monster Squad, they were all being given a much-needed update.

Once we heard that legendary line, “Wolfman’s got nards!” every single kid was sold. Lethal Weapon’s Shane Black and Frank Dekker (Night of the Creeps 1986) were filmmakers who had their fingers on the pulse of a generation of young audience members who were soon to be the most influential consumers in history.

As soon as word spread about this modernized monster mania of a movie lead by a band of foul-mouthed youngsters ticking off all the cinematic tropes we craved, The Monster Squad’s legacy was born. We would never look at those classic creatures the same way again.

The look of the monsters and subsequent practical effects are nothing more than stunning in this film. The effects work was created by one of the greatest pioneers and masters of special effects the cinematic world has ever known, the late Stan Winston (Terminator 2: Judgement Day 1991). Together with his team, Winston helped shape the contemporary look of Count Dracula, Gillman, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Mummy, and The Wolfman for a whole new generation of horror fans to come.

The production design from Albert Brenner (Backdraft 1991) gave us sets that filled the screen, captured our eye, and made the world of The Monster Squad come to life. His treehouse is a set piece that will forever live in my memories as the hangout I always wished I had.

The casting for this film was spot on. Who could forget the tiny but powerful voice of the stereotypical little sister, Phoebe (Ashley Bank: Monsterpiece Theater Vol.1 2011), and her heartfelt friendship with Frankenstein’s monster (Tom Noonan: The House of the Devil 2011, Manhunter 1986 – read our retro review here). There was also Andre Gower (Baby Frankenstein 2018) who played group leader Sean, who was a familiar face to everyone at that time, showing up in every classic ’80s show from The A-Team to Night Court. They even had Wayne from The Wonder Years exquisitely cast as E.J. the bully.

Holding the whole thing together was, “Don’t call me fat kid! My name is Horace,” played by the late Brent Chalem (Mr. Belvedere TV series, Quantum Leap TV series) who first anatomically affirmed that Wolfman does, indeed, have nards.

Final Thoughts

The Monster Squad is a film that had what audiences of the ’80s didn’t yet know they needed. It touched on subjects that kids had rarely seen on screen at the time, like Sean’s parent’s deteriorating marriage, and a very subtle scene where Scary German Guy (Lorenzo Chimio: The Freshman 1990) is told that he knows a lot about monsters, to which he replies: “Now that you mention it, I suppose I do.” As he closes his door, his sleeve pulls up to reveal a tattoo of a concentration camp number on his forearm.

The film is peppered with these little nuances that audiences have picked up on over the years. I could go on and on with stories about how Liam Neeson was supposed to play Dracula, or how, “Go, Monster Squad!” was spray-painted on a bathroom wall a year earlier in Dekker’s Night of the Creeps, but I will let you explore the rest of those by yourself.

If, after all this, I still haven’t managed to spark your interest in one of my favorite movies from my childhood, this one will really seal the deal…

Jon Gries – Napoleon Dynamite’s Uncle Rico – plays the pre-transformed Wolfman. Let that one sink in.

Before you go, check out our review of The Monster Squad documentary, Wolfman’s Got Nards, right here.

Happy screams, horror fans!      

About Chris Prevost

From the second I knew how to speak, I knew I wanted to write. Every time I touched someone with my words I knew if it was in print I would reach those who would listen. Writer / Film Critic / Contributer at PopHorror.com, Site Manager / Podcaster / Contributer at Minds of the Morbid Podcast, Administrator for All Things Horror Facebook group, Administrator at Horror Haus of Sinistry Facebook Group. Writer / Film Critic / Contributer at filmquirk.com

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