Mon
Oct 24 2011 4:30pm

“You’re Not A Virgin, Are You?” The Monster Squad

A brief note about 80s nostalgia, as specifically pertains to movies, before we begin. Each generation gets nostalgic for the stuff they liked when they were kids — some individuals are immune, sure, I’m talking in general — and it’s always fun for younger people to make fun of older people about the stupid stuff they get all weepy over, because that’s a big part of what old people are there for, and it’s also hilarious to watch said old person try and explain “no, but this is why what I’m talking about is different.” This is why I’m writing this while imagining a bunch of wiseass kids the approximate age of the protagonists in 1987’s The Monster Squad reading this and smirking about “look at gramps and his elliptical exegesis of the 1980s as the sunset era of the B-movie, ridden with logical fallacies and ultimately a more perfect illustration of his lack of objectivity about the history of cinema than even any we can construct.”

To those kids I say, get off my lawn. The Monster Squad belongs to a distinctly historical era in movies, and is a love letter to a kind of picture they don’t make anymore, and barely even still made at the time of its release. And, to further counter the charges of nostalgic subjectivity leveled at me by my straw brats (who have PhDs in philosophy for some reason), I can say, I only heard of The Monster Squad a couple days before writing this.

Watching one of the more beloved cult movies of the 80s from this perspective was interesting, and the fact that after about twenty minutes I felt like I had grown up with it even more so. The Monster Squad is the straightforward, very funny story of a group of kids, ranging in age from about 5 up to teenage, bonded by their love for monster movies and monster lore who end up having to defend their town from Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolfman, and the Mummy, and Gill Man. The group consists of a variety of familiar types, but either done well or with a bit of a twist, as in the case of Rudy, the cool older kid who smokes cigarettes and wears a leather jacket and scares bullies and is interested in girls and stuff but who at heart is just as big a nerd as the rest of them. There is a bit of tired, been-here-done-that fun made at the fat kid’s expense, as he’s presented as not terribly bright and a bit of a coward, though he does eventually redeem himself and engage in some of the movie’s more impressive and resourceful heroics.

Really, though, the stars of The Monster Squad are the monsters. They’re the unifying element that brings a widely disparate group of kids together, and then over the course of the movie that connect the kids to the grownups who initially think them a bit odd. Director Fred Dekker and co-writer Shane Black illustrate a number of different reasons people love movie monsters, one embodied in each monster. There’s the evil unstoppable one, the silly incompetent one, the gross one, the tragic reluctant one, and even the one who reveals himself to be an ally and friend to the heroes. It’s not this academic, the way Dekker and Black lay it out, it’s just matter of fact, and whether or not you’re analyzing things or just enjoying them, you come to the same result.

With that in mind, there’s not much more substantive one can say about The Monster Squad than, it’s fun. I don’t know if I could recommend it to anyone under the age of about 27 without a crash course on 80s genre cinema, but as a friend of mine said in flabbergasted disbelief when I told him I’d never seen the movie before, “Weren’t you a kid? Say, in the 80s?” And that’s the point of The Monster Squad. Anyone who was a kid (of any age) in the 80s is going to understand this picture instantly and love it, if they don’t already. It’s one of the rare pictures where the intellectual, film theory approach [7500 word digression about the semiotics of nostalgia redacted at Stubby the Rocket’s exasperated request] and the emotional, subjective geek approach yield the same conclusion: the movie’s just fun. That’s all. It’s fun, and it’ll make you feel like a kid again, if you were a kid then. 


Danny Bowes is a playwright, filmmaker and blogger. He is also a contributor to nytheatre.com and Premiere.com.

This article is part of Monster Mash on Tor.com: ‹ previous | index | next ›
7 comments
Yenvious
1. Yenvious
Thank you for the reminder! I remember this was the movie we got to watch after school one day around this time in... I think '92? I was 9, I think... Couldn't have been much earlier. Clearly the after school teacher was a fan, and I recall being entranced by ALL OF THE monsters. I'm a big fan of archetypes and this was probably an early reinforcement of that love. Now to the Queue to stream this!
Yenvious
2. Steve Boyett
A lot of people forget that Stand By Me caused a sea change in the depiction of kids in movies -- they became more realistic, more grounded, and more gross and slang-filled. It's a natural trajectory from Stand By Me to Superbad.

Monster Squad was very much a response to Stand By Me and owed it a great deal. I loved the thing. It had wit and it was chock full o' great lines ("Creature stole my Twinkie.")

As I recall it didn't do much box office because they blew a wad (for a low-budget production, anyhow) on the FX-heavy ending. I'm glad it's out again.

I also hadn't realized Shane Black co-wrote it. I highly recommend his Kiss Kiss Bang Bang for great dialogue and a spot-on savaging of Los Angeles.
Joseph Kingsmill
3. JFKingsmill16
I didn't realize that half of the movies Shane Black has written take place at Christmas time.


"The Wolfman's got nards!"
Jack Flynn
4. JackofMidworld
As a kid from the 80s, I'm just glad that Monster Squad finally became available on DVD. By the time my kids were old enough to understand it, it had all but disappeared (I'm sure there were VHS copies at the local farmer's market but I couldn't find them). Definitely something to crowd around the DVD player and watch, especially around Halloween.

Personally, I get a kick out of just dropping one-liners from it when I'm hanging out with friends and seeing who gets it.
Yenvious
5. SeeingI
"Boys, your time is running out...last chance for pie!"
Yenvious
6. Tyler Jacobson
That awesome poster was painted by Craig Nelson. A professor at Academy of Art University, my old school.
Adam Shaeffer
7. ashaef
I was actually thinking about this movie just last week. How timely! Now to see if it's available as a Netflix instant watch . . . or maybe Hulu Plus . . .

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