How I discovered the Monster Squad…


By Shawn Robare

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I’m sure most Monster Kids can recall that moment when they were exposed to and ultimately fell head over heels in love with classic horror. That first experience where they stumbled upon an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland, when they caught a glimpse of a Basil Gogos painting, found their first Aurora monster model kit, or tuned into their first local horror host screening a beat up old print of one of the universal classics on a Saturday afternoon. For me, I can pinpoint that moment to an almost exact place, date and time. I had just recently turned ten years-old, it was in Orlando on August 22nd 1987, at the Altamonte Springs Cineplex Odeon theater at roughly 4:00pm. I know that because that was when I attended a screening of Fred Dekker’s The Monster Squad with my childhood friend Bryan and my mind was blown by what transpired on that huge movie screen over the course of the next hour and twenty minutes.

The excitement had been building for a couple weeks prior to that screening. I had about $10 worth of saved birthday money in my black Velcro Jimmy Z wallet that was earmarked for a matinee at my local theater and there were a handful of flicks that I really wanted to see that summer. I wasn’t sure if I should get a ticket to North Shore (I lived in FL and was in the middle of my surfing/BMX/Skateboarding phase), the new live action Masters of the Universe flick (I was in the waning days of my initial love of that cartoon and toy line), or Garbage Pail Kids: The Movie. Then one afternoon I was hanging out with my friend Bryan at another kid’s house that I didn’t know all that well. That kid’s parents were out shopping and we were sitting at the kitchen table flipping through the Orlando Sentinel looking for the comics and movie announcements. We were making a mess of the Arts and Entertainment section, spreading it all over the kitchen trying to find the fun stuff when out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed an ad for a film I hadn’t heard of and the tagline had me diving over Bryan to snatch up the page.

“You know who to call when you have Ghosts. But who do you call when you have Monsters?”

Monster Squad Newspaper Ad August 14 1987 2

I wish the above picture was ripped from the Orlando Sentinel, but unfortunately their archive is mainly text, but pretty much everything else besides the theater location is what I saw that afternoon.  I remember drooling over the artwork in the ad, the iconic painting by Craig Nelson featuring a group of kid monster hunters hanging out on the hood of a hearse underneath a sky literally filled with monsters. It was like the Mt. Rushmore of classic movie monsters, and at that moment I knew exactly where the remainder of my birthday money was going. All thoughts of surfing vacations in Hawaii, Dolph Lundgren as He-Man, or little people in GPK costumes evaporated from my consciousness. In my spastic excitement Bryan and his friend had stopped spreading and paper out and they hovered over my shoulders to get a look at what I was obsessing over. They were hooked too. The Monster Squad sounded amazing to our 10 year-old brains, it was like The Goonies versus Halloween and we all decided that come hell or high water we’d be catching that movie as soon as possible.

Spokane Chronicle Page Spread Aug 14 1987

That afternoon was capped off with some weird drama as Bryan and I got into an argument with his friend about the use of his home phone and our now immediate need to call a 1-900 number to “hear a special monster message”, part of the Monster Squad theatrical advertisement that ran in the August 14th papers across the country (as seen above.) By calling 1-900-660-6666 we could actually talk to a freaking monster! Bryan’s friend was having none of it as he wisely knew that he’d get into huge trouble when the phone bill came and there were a bunch of charges that he’s have a tough time explaining away. No matter how much we needled him, no matter how much we cajoled, or offered a month’s worth of sack lunch Twinkies, he would not budge.  Needless to say we were bummed and in a fit of childhood stupidity Bryan and I stormed out of his house and sped away on our bikes in a huff. That little row lasted the entire week and on that next Saturday it was just Bryan and I packed into the rear-facing, fold-up station wagon seat en route to catch a screening of a film that would forever change my life.

Twenty Seven years later and I can still feel the visceral pull of needed to call that 900 number.  When I sat down to write this my mind raced.  Dare I dial it?  Would that recording still be ready to play, sitting on an aging cassette tape in some call center switchboard, just waiting for me to finally be brave enough (and financially stable enough) to accept the charges and hear a real live (er…recorded) monster tell me some juicy tidbits about their life, or my Horror-scope, or whatever cheesy message was in store?  I had some Skype-Out credit sitting in my account so I decided what the hell, what’s the worst that can happen?  Well, it’s my sad duty to report that the number is no longer in service.  Sigh.  That doesn’t mean my research stopped there.  I dug into the internet archives hoping someone else had written about, or hopefully recorded that original message.  No dice.  Well, not exactly.  Thankfully someone on youtube managed to rip an old 1-900-660-6666 commercial from a VHS tape and upload it, though for the final nail of my despair coffin the commercial was Christmas themed.  Apparently whoever held that number changed it out seasonally.  Still, kinda neat that my detective skills were unable to unlock that tidbit I guess.

So in place of the actual Call a Monster message, here’s asimilar horror-themed 900 hotline from back in the day.  I’m particularly fond of it as it was pimped by Al Lewis, Grandpa Munster himself and called the Jr. Vampires of America Club!

Also, this first post is just the taste of a much longer article that I recently wrote for the premiere issue of Monster Shindig magazine which should be debuting later this month!

Lastly today’s first Monster Squad Trading Card!!!

Monster Squad Wrapper

I made a mini set of 80s Topps-style digital trading cards for my favorite movie of all time, one that unfortunately never had an official set released (or any merchandise for that matter.) So come back each day for Trick or Treats and collect them all!

Today’s card is #10, The Mummy!

10 Mummy F-B

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  • Paxton Holley

    Nice story, Shawn. As you probably know, I love the newspaper movie ad. I don’t specifically remember this movie’s release, I just remember it existing and me going to see it. I look forward to this Month of The Monster Squad with excitement.

  • TheNavigator

    I was late to the party with The Monster Squad and i’ll tell you why but it involves a little bit about UK certificates so bear with me but im sure you will find it interesting. In the UK up to 1989 when Batman came out the certificates were U (anyone can see it) PG (Only with adult) 15 (Only 15 and above) 18 (only 18 and above). When the Monster Squad came out in the UK it was a 15 and I was only 5 so not much chance at the cinema there. When it was on video I still ignored it thinking it was just an 80s horror and I was more an action kid (Chick Norris, Schwarzenegger ETC) but I also loved 80s kids films like DARYL, Spacecamp, Flight Of The Navigator & of coarse Goonies in which I have since discovered this is a perfect companion piece. I first watched it in the late 90s when I was catching up on 80s Horror movies as it was the genre id seen the least and it stood out as one of the best. When Batman came out in 1989 they invented the 12 certificate (only 12 and above) and I tried to go to see it at my local cinema and was turned away being only 7 at the time which was annoying as I had every piece of merchandise for that movie and knew it back to front anyway because of the trading cards. The certificates are still the same now except the 12 is now 12A (if under 12 you need an adult) which would have been perfect in 1989 but as every mainstream blockbuster is a 12A in the UK now I think they knew they had to change it. I found out since that US was a lot more lenient on what you could see as long as you were with an adult it would have blew my mind to see the latest Schwarzenegger or Stallone movie when I was 7 or 8!

    • I do find that very interesting man. Yeah, the US is way more lenient, as I saw Robocop with my mom at age 10. I did get kicked out of a screening of Friday the 13th Part 8 when I tried to sneak in without my parents once though. Yeah, this film is a great hybrid of classic and modern horror, as well as adult and kid fare. It doesn’t speak down to kids in the slightest which is another boon.

      • TheNavigator

        The good thing was about being an 80s kid though was the invention of VHS as I watched every 80s action movie before the age of 10 anyway. And I saw Batman before the end of 1989 as it was one of the first movies to come on VHS in the same year. So the UK certificates were a waste of time anyway! :)

        • lol, yeah, that was a bit of a trickier wicket here in the US. It was harder to rent a higher rated film without my folks doing it for me. Even when I could get a rental card, I had a kid’s card so they wouldn’t let me have horror and stuff. Not until I convinced my parents or sister to rent the stuff for me ;)

  • DUSTINDUSTRIES

    I just watched the whole movie on Youtube in 240p. I am guessing the sponsors were Burger King, Pepsi and Adidas. Frankie was cool and The Swamp Thing seemed a little Predator like, also what was with The Groundhog Day references?

    • Awesome! Seriously, if I only get a couple of people to watch the flick, my mission is acomplished :)

      So, you are right on as far as the sponsors (I have more on the Adidas connection later in the month.) Again, right on the nose with the Gillman. The creature design and effects for the flick were done by Stan Winston Studios right between Aliens and Predator. Artists Matt Rose and Steve Wang did the Gillman, and they would later use it as a starting point of sorts for their Predator design.

      As for Groundhog Day, the movie within a movie, director/writer Fred Dekker and writer Shane Black were less than enthralled with all of the repetitive and gimmicky slasher movies of the 80s, especially the glut of flicks that just took a holiday to wrap their concept around mimicking the landmark John Carpenter Halloween film (April Fools Day, Mother’s Day, Silent Night, Deadly Night, etc.) So the inclusion of the Groundhog Day movie that Sean wants to see is a satire on that. Originally in the script that sequence watching the drive-in screen went longer and the film would have cut directly “into” the Groundhog Day scenes were you would have seen more spoofing of the genre.

    • One of the only buts of Monster Squad product merchandising was this Adidas poster…

      • DUSTINDUSTRIES

        Monsters in Adidas. That is Way Cool, checkout the Wedges on the bottom of Frankies feet. There were piles of Adidas boxes in a store room in one scene and the White Adidas jacket Shawn wears.

        • Yup. Also, as a side note, in the script, instead of Burger King it referred to the Bob’s Big Boy hamburger chain, when eventually lead up to a joke about one of their figural signs getting sucked into limbo!

  • universalrobots

    I love seeing people’s origin stories. These cards are a great idea. That first one is really well designed. I can’t wait to see the rest.

    • Ha, yeah, I guess this is sort of my origin ;) And thanks for the kind words on the cards, I had a lot of fun designing them. Wanted them to look as accurate as possible…

  • Kirk Demarais

    I enjoyed your tale! (And great header too!) Interesting that the printed ad was your introduction and not a trailer, yet you were still that enthralled. I guess it left a lot of room for your imagination, not unlike a comic book mail-order ad. (Sheesh, I can’t even write a simple comment on a blog without mentioning them.)

    I saw the trailer first, and truth be told the ‘nards’ line concerned me because I thought they were going to make a farce out of the beloved classic monsters. Of course that didn’t stop me from seeing it in the theater. I was glad that the monsters turned out to be genuinely fearsome. It also scratched an itch that the Goonies didn’t. Before seeing it I thought the Goonies were going to be some monsters and not the name of the kids.

    Looking forward to the rest!

    • Thanks Kirk, and you’re totally right! As a kid it was all about print ads for me, whether it was the comic ads announcing crossovers in my favorite comics, or those “Sell Grit” and get a chance to be rewarded with all sorts of neat toys, those kinds of ads enthralled me. I think the only time I payed much attention to trailers was in the theater because I was captive ;)

  • Oh my gosh I love you so much. I mean THIS. I love THIS so much. Monster Squad was a formative film for me too. It was just scary enough but bearable as a kid, and seeing the Goonies fight the Universal Monsters is never a bad thing.

    And while some of the dialogue and wardrobe feels a little dated… I’m amazed by how well it still holds up. Especially that Creature!

    • I know, that Creature was so good. Believe it or not, that design by Rose and Wang revolutionized full body creature suits too. Not only was it the base that the Predator design was made of, but they’re technique to shave down the inside of the suit so that it fit super tight to the actor to a point where you could see the actor breathing was amazing. they also found a unique way to hide the zipper. You wouldn;t have a Hellboy Abe Sapien without the Creature…

  • This was so wonderfully written, Shawn. It’s so relatable that I felt pangs of nostalgia. Aside from the funnies, the movie ads in the newspaper were the only other thing worth looking for in the paper. I completely forgot that allusion to Ghostbusters in the ad. “If you liked Ghostbusters, you’ll love Monster Squad!” No false advertisement there.

    • Thanks Todd! Yeah, the decision to go with the Ghostbusters advertising was both cool and unfortunate. On the one hand I like the idea of a Monsterbusters group of kids, but I think it set people up for expecting something they didn’t quite get. Advertising is such a fickle weird beast…

  • Oh, I think the Ghostbusters allusion worked for me. It didn’t dissapoint.

    • Oh cool, they totally carried this through all of their marketing, including their direct to video store sales ads too…

  • Great memories of Monster Squad and I’m loving your virtual trading cards! I first saw MS back when it was first released with my pal Vlad at our local Wehrenberg theater. I was 17 and was heavily into learning about monster make-up effects at the time. So Monster Squad was right up my alley!

    • Awesome Todd! It’s a great film to emulate the SPFX of considering a lot of that work was kinda groundbreaking. The Gillman suit alone changed full body monster suits forever…

  • What a fun read! Nearly peed myself at, “I offered a month’s worth of sack lunch Twinkies.” I vividly remember moments like that – pressuring friends for a heap of adolescent treasures.

    PS – I really wanna collect all these cards you crafted.

    • Thanks! Yeah, I was a total lunch wheeler/dealer :)

  • Randomly found this entry googling “1-900-660-6666” in search of more info about who ran that number. Apparently the owners switched it out to wildly different things; I remember it as Woody Woodpecker’s number, from an ad for a phone line where Woody apparently talked about dinosaurs. The exact sound of Woody Woodpecker reading the phone number out over and over, and thereby the phone number itself, is permanently etched in my aging brain.

    • Oh cool! That explains the whole Christmas angle. That’s also wild that it was associated with Woody Woodpecker. I used to watch that every morning (and Chilly Willy) before I’d go to middle school…