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The Monster Squad(1987)
A small town is disrupted with the arrival of Dracula to retrieve an amulet controlling the balance between good and evil.
For more about The Monster Squad and the The Monster Squad Blu-ray release, see the The Monster Squad Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on December 8, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Tom Noonan, Robby Kiger, Jack Gwillim, Jon Gries, Stan Shaw, Leonardo Cimino
Director: Fred Dekker
» See full cast & crew
The Monster Squad Blu-ray Review
“2,000 year old dead guys do not get up and walk away by themselves.”
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, December 8, 2009
While we anxiously await the release of Goonies on Blu-ray, Lionsgate made the wise move to dig through their catalog and give us something else to feel nostalgic about. Monster Squad admittedly failed to achieve the same level of undying admiration I had for such films as Goonies or Stand by Me, but that never stopped my friends and I from staying up late watching my buddy's tattered VHS copy of the film (a television broadcast recording on a tape that barely survived 100 prior recordings of other programs). Revisiting the film as an adult, I'm reminded just how fun and whimsical the monstrous adventure can be. I'll try to approach this review from an unbiased standpoint, but it can be difficult to not let personal feelings of nostalgia creep in from time to time. If you've never seen the film, consider yourself forewarned.
Every 100 years, the creatures of the night are allowed to roam among the living, in search of an ancient amulet with the power to seal them in another dimension. Following Abraham Van Helsing's battle with Dracula, he completed a diary foretelling the next appearance of the fanged vampire and his group of minions (also stressing the importance of obtaining the amulet before the monsters get their paws on it). Flash forward to the present day, and we're introduced to a group of middle-schoolers with a monster club that aspires to know everything there is to know about Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, and any other creatures that pose a threat to humanity. When Sean (Andre Gower), the leader of the group is given Van Helsing's diary (conveniently obtained from a local garage sale), he discovers Dracula's return is imminent and organizes an emergency club meeting to spread the news. Joining forces with a spooky old German guy, the boys begin their crusade against a collection of the worst villains imaginable and strike up an unlikely friendship with a monster who possesses a heart of gold. They might not be big burly warriors, but the Monster Squad is society's last hope for survival.
Despite my adoration for Monster Squad, the film consistently struggles with its own identity. Writer/director Fred Dekker set out to deliver an adventure that creatively melds the Little Rascals with the iconic horror classics of the 1930's. As good as that might sound on paper, it becomes far more difficult to execute in the transition to the screen. Any long-time horror fan who grew up adoring the genre classics will feel some level of attachment to the villainous characters, but it becomes a more delicate marketing prospect when you involve 12-year-old children (or younger) and place them in entirely adult scenarios. The film retains the campy style that should allow parents to be lenient in allowing their children to watch the film, but when you have a sweet little girl yelling profanities, or Dracula calling the same little girl the "B" word, some eyebrows will rise. Looking back on Monster Squad, it's easy to understand why the film had a tough time attracting a wide audience, since older viewers likely found it too juvenile, while younger viewers would be too frightened and immature to appreciate the adult aspects of the production. If you look at present day films, studios are doing a much better job of gearing their product toward a wide audience, which naturally boosts the box office success of any genre.
Despite Monster Squad's lack of success back in 1987, the film has garnered a growing cult following over the years, allowing a new generation of 12-year-olds the opportunity envision themselves fighting the menacing creatures of the night. I could rattle off a laundry list of reasons why I like the film, but all you need to know is there's plenty of fun to keep you coming back for more. The acting by the young cast is spot on, the creature effects by the legendary Stan Winston are horrifying, and the quotable one-liners will win you dirty looks from your parents or spouse (depending on what age range you fall into). I won't give away a key aspect of the story (for those who haven't seen Monster Squad before), but I especially like the way one of the monsters is humanized, and becomes the most endearing character in the film. Even after all these years, I still remember wishing I had a monster as a friend.
The Monster Squad Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 35Mbps), Monster Squad offers a surprisingly proficient visual experience on Blu-ray. I've grown accustomed to the weak offerings of cable television over the years, so watching Monster Squad in high definition seemed like a revelatory experience in comparison. Fine object detail is afforded a substantial upgrade over prior versions, with a tremendous boost in clarity during all but a handful of scenes. I was initially concerned about the improvements in quality throughout the opening title sequence, but by the time Frankenstein's crate plunged into the pond, I recognized just how impressive the experience could be. Adding to the strength of the visuals, the color spectrum absolutely pops off the screen, and contrast rarely exhibits a shred of weakness. Unfortunately, one occasional flaw rears its ugly head on several occasions. The effect I'm referring to are sections or bands of blurring across the top or bottom of the picture. The first obvious example occurs at the 19:48 mark, as Sean's father stands by the open front door. His face almost appears as if two images are superimposed upon one another, but offset enough to obscure the clarity of the image. The same effect occurs again at the 29:32 mark, where a different father mistakenly misses a mummy in his son's closet. Thankfully, the problem doesn't occur frequently enough to downgrade the overall experience, but it's worth pointing out as a flaw on an otherwise impressive presentation.
The Monster Squad Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Given the age of the film I didn't expect an overly bombastic audio experience, but the lossless mix still retains the original cheesy feel of the source material, while managing to up the ante a notch or two. To clarify, you'll notice the same front-heavy directionality of prior releases, but a noticeable step up in the clarity of the various elements in the mix. Dialogue is well-defined, environmental effects are crisp, and the classic 80's soundtrack is afforded a subtle boost in dynamics. Present-day films have naturally achieved a higher standard of sound design, but there's something nostalgic about revisiting a film that never intended to take itself seriously in the first place. Out of the various elements in the lossless track, the one disappointment that stands out is the lack of muscle in the LFE segment. There's no shortage of opportunity for the bass elements to shine, but I rarely noticed a great deal of activity emanating from my subwoofer. Anyone expecting demo-worthy material from Monster Squad might find themselves slightly disappointed, but long-time fans will have little to complain about in the audio presentation on the disc.
The Monster Squad Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Easily the most valuable portion of the supplemental package is a present-day behind-the-scenes documentary covering many aspects of the film's production. I've separated each section below, but you have the option of playing the entire feature from start to finish (1080p, Dolby Digital 2.0).
Part 1 (9:04 min): The Monster Master: Director Fred Dekker gives a present day interview where he reflects on his film career leading up to Monster Squad, and reveals some of his early influences.
Part 2 (17:06 min): The Monster Makers: The make-up and effects crew discuss the experience of working with legendary creature effects expert Stan Winston, and reveal the techniques they used to bring the monsters to life.
Part 3 (19:50 min): The Monsters and the Squad: Fred Dekker and the main cast members individually discuss the casting choices and their experiences working with one another. At the end of this section, there's a heartwarming reflection on Brent Chalem (Horace), who passed away in 1997.
Part 4 (20:12 min): Lights, Camera, Monsters: The same group of individuals interviewed in the prior segment are joined by cinematographer Bradford May and composer Bruce Broughton, to discuss the visual effects in several scenes and the themes they were striving for at different points in the storyline.
Part 5 (10:01): Monster Mania: filmed on location at the 2007 Monster Mania Convention in Cherry Hill, NJ, the initial portion of this segment includes interviews with avid fans of the film, before transitioning into the interview setting with the cast and crew as they discuss the growing cult status over the years.
A Conversation with Frankenstein (1080p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 8:39 min): This vintage interview was conducted back in 1986 with an in-character Tom Noonan discussing the film career of Frankenstein. This is a fantastic inclusion and a great job by Noonan.
Deleted Scenes (1080p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 14:00 min): Presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, this collection of rough deleted/extended scenes were taken from Fred Dekker's archives and prior television broadcast versions. Although the scenes are encoded in high-definition, this is entirely standard definition material.
Animated Storyboard Sequence (1080p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 1:40 min): The fight sequence between the mummy and a carload of monster-fighting youngsters is presented side-by-side with a series of storyboards drawn in preparation for the completion of the scene.
Lastly, we have a still gallery, two high-definition trailers, and dual audio commentary tracks. The first commentary involves writer director Fred Dekker, Andre Gower (Sean), Ryan Lambert (Rudy), and Ashley Bank (Phoebe). The second track is a bit more technical, with a greater emphasis on the cinematography and effects (courtesy of Fred Dekker and cinematographer Bradford May).
The Monster Squad Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I have zero qualms about giving this release a whole-hearted recommendation, but need to offer a note of caution to parents who might be considering the film as a Christmas or Birthday present for their youngster. Monster Squad contains several scenes that will surely seem disturbing to viewers under the age of 10-12, and the potty-mouthed children in the film might give your kids the impression that foul language is cool (speaking from personal experience). I'm certainly not one to give parenting advice, but it seems necessary to point out situations where my recommendation might sway someone toward a blind purchase they'll regret. Now that I have that out of the way, I believe Monster Squad deserves a place among the growing list of films from my childhood capable of withstanding the test of time. After all, we know monsters won't ever disappear from the silver screen, so betting on the Monsters Squad is a safe decision.
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