One of the things I was looking forward to investigating about The Monster Squad was why it seemed to fail to capture the theater audience when it was originally released in mid-August, 1987. I mean I saw it in the theater and LOVED every single frame, so it confused me years later when it seemed like no one even knew the film existed. Certainly there were other kids like me who really dug the crap out of it, I mean so many of the other things I loved from the decade are kind of universally praised (Goonies, the Exlporers, The Last Star Fighter, Labyrinth, etc.) Since 2007 it seems like long-time fans have been coming out of the woodwork, which is awesome, but where was this love in 1987?
The first place I decided to look was in various newspaper archives for at-the-time reviews of the movie and what I found is pretty revealing. I’m not sure if folks were taking more stock in critics back in the day, but if they did I think I know why the movie tanked; everyone who reviewed the movie was apparently a jaded 70 year-old guy who could have easily played the part of the junior high vice principal in the Movie. In fact, I think this first review was actually written BY Mr. Metzger!
Actually it was written by Richard Freedman of the Spokane Chronicle, but the critic literally embraces a love for the vice principal (played by Gwill Richards), and goes on to say that he’s reasonable for declaring that “Science is Real, monsters are not.” The review is written from the perspective of someone who thinks monster movies are merit-less (unless they’re the original Universal flicks). He totally misses the point of practically everything in the film, and again sides with Horace’s lament that the kids should have joined the Math Club instead of battling monsters. In fact, he lobs a grenade at the film for having the audacity to be a story about kids told from a kid’s perspective saying that the movie is “Hollywood’s conception of kid’s conception of monsters.” But that is actually the beauty of this film, the fact that Fred Dekker didn’t speak down to kids, but instead had enough of a connection to his inner child that he could make a movie that speaks the truth of the adolescent. That’s rare. It’s why Spielberg was so successful with E.T. or Richard Donner with the Goonies. Those movies are tapping into the imagination and thoughts that kids have. What if monsters really existed and we had to stop them? That is literally a thought I had as a kid the The Monster Squad answers that pondering on a pitch perfect note.
Similarly, the Washington Post’s review by Hal Hinson both misses the point and has little respect for the creature show work of Stan Winston’s studio…
“The Monster Squad, a horror comedy spoof about an unspecified town that breaks out in a rash of old movie monsters, was written by Shane Black and Fred Dekker. And I can just hear the story conference jokes now. They’d go something like: “We’ve got a script here from Black and Dekker.” “What is this, a studio or a hardware store?” Or, “You guys are great. When you’re finished with rewrites could you come over and sand my floors?” Actually, given what’s on the screen, this little fact may explain a great deal — the movie plays like it was written with a power tool.
The film’s basic premise is that the forces of darkness — represented by the Mummy, the Frankenstein monster, Werewolf, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and, last but not least, Dracula — are threatening to filch an amulet upon which depends the balance of good and evil and forever cast the world in shadow. This crystal, which is concentrated “good,” is located in an abandoned house on the outskirts of town (don’t ask me why), and the only thing standing in the way of this overwhelming awfulness is a gang of profane little brats who call themselves the Monster Squad. Most of what’s included in this unapologetically scrambled mixture of “Goonies,” Hardy Boys adventures, “Ghostbusters” and Abbott and Costello monster films is bad actors wandering around in bad makeup and rubber masks and two kinds of kids — cute, intolerably noisy, smart-alecky kids and not-so-cute, noisy, smart-alecky kids. I don’t know which kind I liked least. There are parents in the movie, too. The kind you only find in movies. The kind who look soulfully into the eyes of their progeny and say, “Do me a favor, willya? Put your basic lid on it.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the funniest line in the film.”
Seriously, he has the gall to both waste editorial space by mocking Dekker & Black’s surnames and claim that Winston’s crew was creating bad makeup and rubber masks (of the dime store variety I presume.) Again, sounds like someone who dismissed the film before he even saw it, if he did at all.
Another review by Vincent Canby, the New York Times long running Chief Film Critic from 1969-2000, again blasts the monster effects for being cheap and rubbery, and he even goes so far as stating that Dekker has “some nerve” pointing to the idea that Leonardo Cimino’s character was a concentration camp survivor! As if adding depth to a character in a “feature-length commercial for a joke store that sells not-great, rubber monster masks” is tantamount to heresy.
It seems like every review that I track down from 1987 is coming from the typewriter of stodgy old angry men, and if parents were listening closely to them at the time, no wonder they didn’t take their kids to see the flick.
So, onto the card of the day!
Since there was never any MS merchandise produced, specifically a Topps trading card set, I thought it would be fun to make a mini set of 80s-style digital trading cards for my favorite movie of all time. So come back each evening for Trick or Treats and collect them all!
Today’s card is #18, Scary German Guy!