Welcome back to 80s Bits, the weekly column in which we explore the best and worst of the Decade of Shame. With guest writers, hidden gems and more, it’s truly, truly, truly outrageous.
With this year’s Super 8, there has been a bit of a revival of the “boys own adventures” that characterised the 1980s, including such cult hits as The Goonies and Stand By Me. However, as sure as Wolfman has nards, The Monster Squad remains a sometimes overlooked gem of the decade. Director Frank Dekker had already established himself as a lover of B-Grade retro horror with zombie-fest Night of the Creeps in 1986, but with this follow-up he combined decades worth of love for the genre in what may be the ultimate monster mash-up.
The diary of legendary vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing (Jack Gwillim, 1981’s The Clash of the Titans) tells of an amulet made of concentrated good that is susceptible to destruction once every 100 years. At this time, the forces of darkness move to wipe out the amulet, but it also provides the opportunity to open a portal to limbo to cast the monsters into oblivion for good. After Van Helsing fails to do this, it is up to a group of pre-teen monster lovers, lead by Sean (Andre Gower) and with the aid of the local “Scary German Guy” (Leonardo Cimino), to put a stop to this madness once and for all a century later.
Dracula, Wolfman, Frankenstein’s monster and Nazis. Come on: this is the stuff that dreams are made of! Taking a leaf out of the Universal monster pictures of the 1930s and 1940s, The Monster Squad might be set in the (then) modern setting of swinging ’80s, but Dekker transports us back several decades to the retro world of Anytown, USA. Changing the designs of the characters just enough so as not to get sued by Universal, the film was shot in the famous Universal backlot and feels like a comedy riff on those monster classics. Think Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein by way of The Goonies. This kind of ‘everything including the kitchen sink’ approach would be ridiculous for anybody but co-writer Shane Black, the man who introduced us to Lethal Weapon in the same year and would make his directorial debut two decades later with the wonderful Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
The Monster Squad may star kids, but like the best of its kind, it is best enjoyed by an older audience with the same love for cinema that Dekker and Black clearly have. Apart from the plethora of references to the classic monster pictures of yesteryear, debates over why Wolfman wear pants (or has “nards”) wouldn’t be out of place in contemporary meta-fiction. A scene in which a little girl befriends Frankenstein’s Monster is straight out of the original Mary Shelly novel, and every filmed version of the tale, and is indicative of the literary and filmic knowledge of everyone involved in the production. Indeed, two decades before the characters of Pride and Prejudice battled zombies, The Monster Squad wove in more zany fun per square inch than an episode of The Simpsons.