If you were unfamiliar with The Monster Squad then no doubt that line will jar your memory. If it doesn’t, don’t worry—the audience for The Monster Squad was so small when it opened, the box office intake was called “anemic.” In a world after The Goonies and other adventure flicks involving young kids, it’s a wonder that this movie didn’t do better. It certainly is a children’s movie, but there are still charming aspects of the film, even to a first time viewer such as myself.
The Monster Squad is the child of writers Shane Black and Fred Dekker. While Shane Black has gone on to write an array of higher profile Hollywood movies (including the screenplay for one of my most recent favorites, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), Dekker’s resume has been largely kept lower, although he had a twenty episode run on the now defunct Enterprise TV show. Whether or not the two knew it or not when they were writing The Monster Squad, they were scripting something that, while it was a failure at the time, would find its audience nearly twenty years later.
The film follows the adventures of six children who are obsessed with monsters. While the group is harmless enough at first, when Dracula comes to town with Frankenstein, the Mummy, Wolfman and Gill-Man, they quickly realize that with their infinite knowledge of monsters, they are the only ones who will be able to stop Dracula from bringing about the rule of evil on Earth. While the plot sounds hokey, keep in mind the target audience: while it’s a bit edgier than The Goonies with its PG-13 rating, The Monster Squad is almost every bit as fun as the 1985 Spielberg outing.
I honestly had never heard of this film until a friend of mine pointed out the upcoming DVD release and judging by the original audience of the film, it’s no wonder why I’d never heard of it. In recent years the film was discovered, mainly on cable as the home video release had long since been discontinued (bootleg DVDs were swarming around, however), or remembered by those who had seen it when they were younger. When a screening of the film was shown in the Alamo Drafthouse in Texas, the movie was cheered, applauded and laughed at in a crowd full of people who loved the film as well as some new comers who arrived merely to see what the fuss was all about. When all was said and done, two sold out screeners at the Drafthouse prompted more screenings all over the United States that further gave the film the larger audience it so deserved.
There’s no denying that the film is pure popcorn fluff and trying to distinguish it in any other category than “80s film” would be doing it an injustice. True, you could file it under “children’s adventure” or “monster film”, but when all is said and done it’s a product of its era and there’s no denying there is something to be found in the film that will entertain those who watch it. Hokey, corny and filled with dialogue that makes you laugh (and rarely anything else), The Monster Squad is fun to watch even in this day and age—and that’s coming from someone who’d never seen the film prior to this DVD release.
Overall the biggest audience for the film will be the fans that helped get the DVD release in the first place. I doubt anyone but fans of the era of the 80s will be able to appreciate the film for what it’s worth, but those curious to see what all the fuss is about owe it to themselves to at least Rent the film.
Not that you have any other choice in picking this film up in any other format: out of print for years and finally arriving on DVD, the 20th Anniversary Edition is the only (legal) edition of The Monster Squad you’ll readily find.
Arriving in a two disc amaray case with a foil reflective slipcover and insert with a message from writer/director Fred Dekker (with the original poster art on the flipside), The Monster Squad gives little idea to those interested in the film what the disc might contain. While the rear description is eye catching and the special features list is loaded, the new cover art features a kid loaded with bullets and knives that I don’t think was even in the film to begin with. Still, it’s eye catching and if it brings in a few new members to the already expanding audience, than Lionsgate did their job well, although I think the original cover art would have given the DVD a larger push for those nostalgic about the 80s era films.
Before tackling the large amount of special features on this release we’ll cover the video and audio presentation first. The video is a beautiful transfer, although there is combing and ghosting to be seen in it, it’s nothing that will distract too much. Considering its age, the print looks remarkably well in the anamorphic 2.35:1 format. The audio transfer, coming in 5.1 as well s the original 2.0 Dolby Stereo is…well, disappointing. I switched back and forth between the 5.1 and 2.0 tracks multiple times in the film; my PC as well as my surround sound setup and I found no real noticeable difference. Both audio transfers sound like an unrefined tin can audio track and I’m surprised that with such a release they didn’t try to make it sound clearer. Everything is focused in the front channels and even the excessive amount of thunder and lightning in the film doesn’t get any surround play. It’s a shame as I would’ve enjoyed the film more if it didn’t sound like I was watching a VHS tape (sans warbling audio anyway). Granted, the film is still relatively unknown so investing too much in an audio cleanup would be costly, but with the new cover art, fair video transfer and load of extras you would’ve thought the “Newly Mastered 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio” would have sounded better.
Moving onto the special features, we get a nice bit up front on the first disc. Aside from the film itself which fans have been waiting years for, we get two commentary tracks as well. While the Fred Dekker and Bradford May (director of photography) track is interesting to listen to, the highlight is the track with Dekker and the “Squad Members” (Andre Gower, Ryan Lambert and Ashley Bank). Perhaps because I like to hear the actors babble about the set and how much fun they had making it (rather than the more technical aspects) is the reason I prefer this track to the Dekker/May commentary. Either way you cut it though, fans are going to want to listen to both as they’re full of nuggets of information, some repeated on the other special features and some not, that they’ll want to hear after only having the film itself to look over after all these years.
After the commentaries is a near hour and a half documentary on the film, from conception to theatrical release to the fan uprising in the early ‘00s. This documentary is loaded with interviews from cast and crew and is ton of fun to watch. On top of hearing from some of the Squad Members, we hear a lot from Duncan Regehr (Dracula) and Tom Noonan (Frankenstein) as well. For some reason Noonan seems to be a bit of a jerk on the disc as he seems to point out the things he didn’t enjoy on the set, but I can’t tell if he’s just joking or being serious. Noonan aside, the featurette is a lot of fun to watch (even though it oddly excludes covering The Mummy, but goes into detail about all the other monsters) and made me appreciate the film even more.
“A Conversation with Frankenstein” is next and is an interview with Noonan in character (kind of) as Frankenstein on the set of The Monster Squad. This one is a lot of fun to watch and gives you an idea of just how much fun the set of the film must have been. On top of this we have deleted scenes that are a neat to see (although not all are included—just the ones Dekker still had in his private collection), as well as the original trailer and TV spot . A still gallery is given as well, which is in video form (no individual cycling) and after some trailers for other Lionsgate releases, the special features on this two-disc 20th anniversary set come to a close.
There’s some fandom that scares me when it comes to getting their favorite shows or movies released on DVD (Gargoyles, I’m looking at you), but The Monster Squad fans seem to want nothing more than to have a clean and clear copy of it to view and add to their collections. They either grew up with it or it was recommended to them by an older sibling (who grew up with it) or they saw it on cable—either way, this DVD release will satiate an appetite the fans have had for years and the featurettes are going to be the desert after the main course.
Overall if you enjoy the film this DVD comes Highly Recommended. As I said before, the film is going to need to be rented to see if you really want to own it, as it’s an acquired taste that won’t have much replay value unless you enjoy these types of kids’ films. Regardless if you do or not, you cannot deny that The Monster Squad is fun to watch and it’s nice to see that it can finally arrive on DVD for the fans that have been waiting for years.
The Monster Squad arrives on DVD on July 24th.