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15 September, 2007

DVD Review: THE MONSTER SQUAD 20th Anniversary Edition

THE MOVIE

Some movies take time to find their audience. They start out slowly, then build as word of mouth spreads. Fred Dekker’s THE MONSTER SQUAD, released in 1987, took nearly two decades to find its audience, but now that it has, it’s easily one of the most popular cult films ever.

Derided by critics and largely ignored by moviegoers in 1987, it began to find a cult following in video stores and repeat cable showings throughout the ‘90’s. Generations of MonsterKids found it easy to connect to the characters in the film, having spent their own childhoods fantasizing about doing battle with the great monsters of the movies.

The story is simple and endearing. A group of young monster-movie fans comes into possession of the diary of Abraham Van Helsing, and discovers that their small town has been invaded by the great monsters, the monsters they’ve spent their lives watching… Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolf-Man, the Mummy, and the Creature. With help from “Scary German Guy”, they translate the diary, and find that the monsters are there to bring about the end of the world… unless a group of pre-teen monster hunters can stop them in time.

Dekker’s direction is sharp and clear, perfectly balancing the comedic and dramatic elements of the script, especially the scenes involving the interaction of the monsters and the children. While most of the monsters are played mostly for laughs, he and actor Duncan Regehr wisely kept humor out of Dracula’s character. And Tom Noonan’s portrayal of the Monster is easily one of the most sympathetic ever, approaching even the pathos with which Karloff imbued the character.

The rest of the cast performs well, meshing together perfectly, bringing out the best of the ensemble. Particularly good are Ashley Bank, who plays Phoebe, the five-year old who forms a bond with Frankenstein’s Monster, and Stephen Macht, as the stressed-out cop who’s father to Phoebe and Sean, the leader of the Monster Squad. The creature designs are superb, evoking the Universal monsters without infringing upon them… always important when dealing with Universal. Designed by FX legend Stan Winston and Tom Woodruff, they tread a fine line between classic and camp, and do a spectacular job of it. The Creature is especially well-done, as is the Wolf-Man.

Overall, this is one of the best family-friendly horror films ever made, and it’s nice to see it receive the attention it deserves.


THE DISC

Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment has developed a very good reputation for their DVD releases, and the 20th Anniversary Edition of THE MONSTER SQUAD is certainly no exception. This movie has been in my collection in one form or another for many years; never has it looked so good. Details lost on tired old VHS tapes and 3rd generation DVD-R’s explode into clarity on this fully remastered disc, and the anamorphic widescreen presentation is simply beautiful.
Likewise, the audio quality, a problem on my VHS copy, is crystal clear, at least on the English-language track. There is also a Spanish-language track, as well as subtitles.
In short, this is a beautiful set, one that was a long time coming.



THE SPECIAL FEATURES

For a twenty-year-old film that was essentially a Box-Office flop, this set is loaded with special features.

The first, and the best, of these is the feature-length documentary MONSTER SQUAD FOREVER! Featuring interviews with most of the cast and crew and behind-the-scenes footage, it provides a wealth of information about the making of this film and its growth as a cult phenomenon.

Also interesting is an interview, taped in 1986 during the filming of the movie, with Noonan in character as Frankenstein’s Monster. Quirky and unusual, it’s a refreshing take on the celebrity interview.

There are deleted scenes; not many, but a text page describes each, and explains that very little of the cut material survived. What does exists, all of it, is contained on the disc.

When you label a DVD as a “20th Anniversary Edition”, you’re fairly compelled to provide more content than just the movie itself. Lion’s Gate has done that… in Spades.



IN CONCLUSION

If you’re of a certain age, and a fan of the Monsters, then chances are good that you spent your childhood much as Sean, Patrick, Fat Kid, Eugene, and Phoebe spend theirs… at least, at the start of the movie. For this Unimonster, watching this movie never fails to unleash a flood of nostalgia that carries me back to 1974, when my Monster Club was in full swing. If it touches a similar chord with you, then this is one DVD you must have in your collection.

The list price of $19.95 is cheap enough for a definite Buy recommendation from me, but mine came from BestBuy, and was priced at a bargain rate of $14.99. No matter, as I would’ve gladly paid the list price. A cheap ticket for a trip back to my own childhood.


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