Saturday, October 3, 2009

Horror Fest '09: The Monster Squad

Fred Dekker’s The Monster Squad (1987) comes across as if a 10 year-old was asked to write down their idea of a perfect horror film. While that might sound like an insult, I really mean it in the best way possible. The film captures a spirit of adolescent adventure, the kind of fantastical story that reminds you of your own childhood imaginings. It’s like The Goonies (1985), only for the horror set.

Our story centers on a small group of kids who obsess over monsters, even forming their own club dedicated to discussing all things creepy. Meanwhile, strange occurrences begin taking place around their small town. As it turns out, Dracula, along with several other classic monsters, are plotting to take over the world. Since no adults believe that monsters are on the loose, the kids must put their knowledge of monsters to the test and stand up as a last line of defense to save the world.

If that plot synopsis seems overly simple and generic, it probably is. The biggest problems I found with this film mostly come from the running time. At 82 minutes, the story feels rushed, leaving many aspects of the film coming off as underdeveloped. We are introduced to these kids, but never really get to know them that well. And the evil plot of the monsters, involving the retrieval of an ancient amulet, is paper thin. At times, it feels as if scenes have been removed in order to pick up the pace (which could very well be the situation). Fortunately, details like these don’t completely derail the film as its charms outweigh these issues.

What The Monster Squad really has going for it is the filmmaker’s obvious love for the material. Fred Dekker clearly relished the opportunity to pay homage to old-school horror films, blending them with his own sense of humor. While this may appear to be a kids film, a noticeable adult sensibility permeates throughout the proceedings. For example, one of the kids who is new to the Monster Squad inexplicably dresses like a 1950’s greaser, clearly a reference to the B-movies of the 50’s for which this film owes a great debt. While adults may understand such a reference, it would go right over kid’s heads. Many other references are scattered all over the film, with a considerable amount of fun coming from each viewer’s knowledge of horror genre conventions and watching how they are handled.

While The Monster Squad may not attain the heights of the films it affectionately sends-up, it sure is a fun time. The movie is filled with the conversations and questions that many kids have regarding monsters – some of which are played out with hilarious results (Can you really only kill a werewolf with a silver bullet?). And with its sly nods to films past, both adults and children can find something to enjoy. The overriding spirit of the movie, along with its sense of humor, sets it apart from the average scare-fest, announcing its presence as a cult-favorite.

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