Monday, June 28, 2010

The Monster Squad

| by Allan Stackhouse |

Watching childhood classics at an adult age is a rather precarious thing. Elements of the film can either translate or not, making the majority of them hit or miss. A miss for me, something I know I may get flack for, is The Dark Crystal. Among all of my female friends, the film brings up fond memories of watching it at each other's house over a slumber party talking about boys. I watched it a month or two ago and was thankful that it was on Instant on Netflix rather than having it tie up my DVD queue. A hit for me was writer and director Fred Dekker's 1987 hit The Monster Squad.

Recently, I decided to rent this movie after having it recommended by a friend. Its release to Blu-ray late last year was also a very good indicator that the film was worth watching, as you should all know from my insistence on good films getting Blu-ray releases (see my pleas to George Lucas for Star Wars to be released on Blu-ray). For some reason, I walked into the film slightly biased because of its age. It must had been on my TV stand for almost 2 weeks, waiting to be watched. My preconceptions could not have been anymore wrong. The Monster Squad turned out to be a very adventurous tale of rag tag group of misfits with an obsession for monsters. The monsters in their storybooks find their to the kids' front door and it's up to them to save the world from Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein, and the Mummy.

Watching the film on Sunday morning was a pleasant return to adventurous live-action movies targeted at a younger audience without a ton of CGI but with a solid story. The relationships that take place in the film are rewarding in the fashion that only '80s films can be: a grittier look on film with a perspective that comes from younger eyes without being totally childish. The special effects that did take place in the film, good as though they may have been at the time, were still quite entertaining to watch. A standout moment for me was when the Wolfman was blown up with an actual explosive device. You just don't see anymore good old fashioned explosions like that anymore. I don't know if it's the spelling of the word 'dynamite,' the sparkling fuse, the anticipation of the explosion, or the possibility of being able to stem the fuse but there's just something about dynamite that I'll always be attracted to.

I believe the majority of the appeal with this film lies in the fact that children were the main cast. Actual children. Not 23 year olds playing teenagers but actual grade school children. We were all children once with friends (I hope). Children, at this age, without the assistance of adults simply does something magical for cinema. It conveys the idea to children that they can accomplish things beyond their imagination. This child-lead dynamic can also be found in The Goonies and I believe it is the same reason it is also a well-remembered '80s film. I was wondering if there was a recent film that had this and the only one I could come up with is Harry Potter. Maybe these types of films can't stand on their own today (I doubt it) but I think somewhere along the line some studio exec decided that these films were no longer going to be able to turn a profit and that mentality spread to the point these kinds of films are now fond relics. Perhaps this is a generational thing but I steadfastly believe the '80s kids will proudly hold bragging rights over '90s and millennium kids having been able to grow up with films like The Monster Squad and The Goonies over my nephews and nieces who have the three Spider-Man movies. My poor nephews and nieces.

The friendships and bonds made in childhood are ones that you carry on throughout your life. Whether you like it or not, they provide the foundation for how you build your next friendships and relationships. It's life lessons like these that I wish were still in use in features and even television. I may not watch as much of it as I used to but I find today's live-action children's programming to be severely lacking in teaching children life skills, which they so sorely need in this digital age. One of the worst results of this comes in the form of e-bullying where some children have killed themselves. If more high-quality media was around to teach children the meaning of what it means to have friends, determination, and imagination, perhaps more American children would be asking for tree houses to have friends over instead of asking for iPhones, PSPs, or you name it device that teaches our children to prefer solitary forms of entertainment rather than group.

Another highly enjoyable element of the film were the villains. The development in Frankenstein's character was an adorably unexpected surprise. The film got away with more violence than would be likely be passable today but it was still appropriate for the purposes of the film. In fact, I enjoyed when Dracula blew up the police car Detective Sapir was in. It narratively raised the stakes of the film at a point when it could have easily relied on the fact that it was nearing the end of the film.

If you haven't seen The Monster Squad, you should check it out. As a reformed skeptic, I enthusiastically encourage anyone who's looking for a little '80s style adventure to see this. And if you haven't seen it in a while, rent or buy it. You'll be doing yourself a favor for those times you want to escape into an era whose films are so poignantly connected to their generation.

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