Thursday, October 1, 2015

Sometimes it's Better to Remember Things Fondly...

Happy Halloween!  Shut up.  I know it's only October first, but my local grocery store has had their giant Grim reaper inflatable up since mid-August.  And it's awesome.  As is the huge blow-up cauldron with the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup spider on top.  Love it!  But Halloween is my holiday, so I'm okay with that.  You can rest assured, however, that I will be the first to bitch when, three days before Halloween, that same grocery store starts putting out Christmas decorations.  If that makes me a hypocrite, so be it.  Halloween is FUN.  In spite of the fact that it is merchandised to death in the same way as Christmas, there are just no downsides to it.  It's not a sappy emotional holiday that requires you to socialize with friends and relations.  You can be a hermit in a cave and still enjoy Halloween - provided you have wi-fi.  You don't hear about a drastic increase of suicides around Halloween.  Murders, maybe, but not suicides.  Because Halloween is a good time for everyone - even sociopaths and serial killers!  It's a level playing field kind of holiday.  And that's why it's my favorite.  That and the fact that Halloween provides an excellent excuse to submerge myself in all things horror.  Granted, this is not much different from the rest of the year, but given the season, it feels somehow more special.  So, with that in mind, my goal is to share my seasonal joy and post a new review each day in October - or at least for each day in October (my tech has been having issues, so I am sneaking tech time on the sly whenever I can).

My first post for you this month is currently available on Netflix.  It's an old childhood favorite that I forgot about for a really long time.  I had always wondered why it didn't achieve the same cult status as The Goonies.  In fact, it seemed to disappear off the face of the Earth for a long time.  Then it celebrated an anniversary and was re-released on a special edition DVD, as all movies seem to be lately.  I considered buying it then, but I was really broke at the time and the price of the DVD skyrocketed fast.  I'm kind of glad I didn't waste my money, because this film was definitely better when I was ten.

 This tarnished nugget was given the promising title of The Monster Squad, and it is quite clearly a ripoff of inspired by The Goonies.  You have the fat kid, the older kid that joins because of a girl, and the completely improbable legend that sends the kids on an amazing adventure.  Unfortunately, what you don't have is Steven Spielberg's magic touch.  At least, that would be the kindest explanation, because I'm sure there are many people out there who remember this as I did and still think it's a classic.  The truth is a little harsh, but I've got to give it to you.  There's a reason this movie sank to the bottom of the dust heap.

It sounds like a great premise - a small band of kids obsessed with monsters encounter monsters in real life and  face them in a battle to save the world from eternal darkness.  Awesome, right?  Well, kind of.  This is a movie full of great moments, with some really fantastic monster designs by the legendary Stan Winston - I absolutely love his underutilized swamp creature.  The problem is those moments just never fully gel into a believable whole.  What elevated The Goonies to greatness was, no matter how implausible it actually was, you fully believed in what was happening.  Why couldn't there be a pirate ship full of gold in a hidden cave system, found by a bunch of kids more or less by accident?  That could happen, right?  But Dracula, gathering a band of monsters to find a magic rock and cast the world into darkness?  That requires a bit more suspension of disbelief.  And The Monster Squad just hasn't got the goods to get you there.

The problems?  First off, the script doesn't really make a whole lot of sense.  I know!  It's just a movie, and a movie sort of aimed at kids, no less.  But movies often underestimate the intelligence of children, and even as a kid, I remember thinking the plot here was paper thin at best.  The movie opens with infamous Dracula foil Van Helsing leading a band of soon-to-be-dead-people into Dracula's castle.  There's some nonsense about a stone and a girl reading a book, then vampires start busting through the floor and it's game over.  So, the plot basically hinges on this scene, since we are later told that Van Helsing and company botched up this ritual and it must take place again - correctly this time - one hundred years later, which puts us in present day.  And here is where it all falls apart.  How has this stone come all the way from Transylvania to the US of A?  How the F did Van Helsing's journal wind up in the exact same place - not to mention that the mother of the Monster Squad leader's randomly buys it for her son, even though it's written in freakin' German?!  And furthermore, since we see only vampires in that opening scene, why in the holy hell is Dracula suddenly traveling with Frankenstein?  Did we miss the part where the two became best buds?  Also must have missed the part where they said that magic stone summoned monsters, because the Creature (of Black Lagoon origin, one supposes) appears randomly after Dracula arrives, a mummy wakes up in a museum, and a man turns into a werewolf.  And they all naturally defer to Dracula because...?  Oh, and did I mention how the monsters seem to conveniently randomly pop up in the vicinity of the Monster Squad kids?  The youngest member of the gang - more on that later - has casual run ins with both the Creature, who pops out of the water right outside Monster Squad's clubhouse, and the Mummy, which manages to find its way into this child's closet without ever being detected.  WTF?

I could get past all this.  I really could.  Because the idea of it all is just so damn much fun.  But I can't do it for one simple reason: these kids can't act.  Harsh?  Maybe.  But true.  There is a never ending supply of child actors being churned out of Hollywood like one of those Playdoh Factory noodles.  Most of them are mediocre at best.  But there are some really good ones out there.  Those are the kind of kids that get cast in a Spielberg film.  This bunch would never have made that cut.  To be fair, the lines they're supposed to be delivering aren't the greatest either.  I mean, what child is not going to feel stupid debating whether or not the Wolfman has "nards."  And for those of you that have no idea what nards are, it was the 80s Godammit, and us old folks think your slang is every bit as stupid as ours was.

Don't get me wrong.  The Monster Squad is not a terrible film.  It's watchable, which cannot be said for a lot of the films I loved as a kid.  There are some chuckles scattered throughout, and some moments that might be genuinely scary to a child.  So probably not the best thing to view with the toddler set on Halloween.  But if you've got a bunch of eight year old boys at your house for a sleepover, you are definitely going to be the cool parent introducing them to this.  And for us old folks, it's not so bad either.  The music is pretty sweet.  The relationship between Frankenstein and Phoebe tugs at the heart strings.  And - SPOILER - the scene where the Wolfman blows up and comes back together is pretty damn nifty.  Just don't expect much, and The Monster Squad will surely meet those expectations.

My one word of warning - this is a movie that dates itself pretty quickly in an early fight scene.  If, like me, you're someone that cringes at ignorance, you may want to be forewarned that the word "fag" gets thrown around a few times more than it should.  But, like Bing Crosby's blackface routine in Holiday Inn, it was part of the times.  Doesn't make it right, just makes us look stupid.  But then again, you knew that.  ;)

The Monster Squad

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