The Monster Squad – An Introduction

 

This past Friday 26th August saw the arrival of THE MONSTER SQUAD at Fright Club, as the movie monster team up played out on QUAD screens in Derby. Regular Fright Club host and Cult Film HIstorian Darrell Buxton introduced the film, represented here for your reading pleasure.

Next up on Fright Club is the Duelling Introduction to THEATRE OF BLOOD with regular host Darrell Buxton welcoming on stage Ben Spiller, Director of 1623 Theatre Company for an intro that strides between Shakespeare and Horror!

Welcome once again to Fright Club, QUAD’s regular horror movie night, and our screening this evening which brings you 1987’s THE MONSTER SQUAD.

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The latest hit Netflix box set has been ‘Stranger Things’, unleashed mere weeks ago and already proving a substantial success. The eight-episode show is a supernatural fantasy drama which, much like the 2011 JJ Abrams’ movie SUPER 8, is inspired by and attempts to recapture the spirit of productions from the 1980s. Bear in mind that the kids who were 12 years old when ET was first released will now be in their mid-forties  – and some of them have enthusiastically worked their way up to find themselves calling the shots in the world of entertainment. So it’s only natural that they should want to recreate the type of material they used to watch as they grew up.

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Now this particular generation may well have been taken along by mum and dad to see the likes of ET, POLTERGEIST, and BACK TO THE FUTURE at the cinema – and so that peculiar suburban Spielbergian filmland may well have seeped into their collective consciousness. But consider that they were also the VHS generation, the first bunch of viewers to be able to see new movies at home. And it was within that arena that the lower-budget movie companies saw an opportunity, locating an audience for their less-well-known items and ensuring that titles such as CRITTERS, PUPPETMASTER, TRANCERS and so on caught the attention of people eager for product of a fantastic, horrific, or science-fictional nature.

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As I’ve mentioned many times previously during these introductions, the horror film was going through a difficult patch during the mid 80s – neutered and nullified by censorship, guts and gore were a no-no and much of what was on offer was of a more diluted nature. As is often the case, however, the long-term effect has been far from what the authorities at the time might have wished or expected  – what actually occurred is that parents were perhaps keener to allow their offspring access to the family-friendly fright fare, which as things have turned out appears to have instilled a love of this type of stuff in a whole new set of horror-loving kids – and as pointed out earlier, many of those have gotten older and have followed their dreams of emulating the George Romeros, John Carpenters, and Sam Raimis of the world, resulting in today’s screens overflowing with ‘Walking Dead’ here and ‘Game of Thrones’ there!

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Our presentation tonight, THE MONSTER SQUAD, is a perfect example of the type of movie that teenagers and younger siblings may well have encountered  – and loved  – on video at the time of its original release. Amusingly, THE MONSTER SQUAD was the product of Black & Dekker  – nothing to do with power tools, Mrs. Whitehouse would have breathed a sigh of relief to hear, but in fact scriptwriter Shane Black and director Fred Dekker. Black was at the start of a career that was to see him become one of the most lucrative screen scribes in Hollywood, eventually becoming an action specialist with items like LETHAL WEAPON, THE LAST BOY SCOUT, THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT and IRON MAN 3 (which he also directed) on his CV; Dekker went on to helm ROBOCOP 3 but was previously responsible for NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, a well-received and wonderfully gloopy zombie romp with alien parasites infecting human victims by crawling into their heads via the mouth. THE MONSTER SQUAD, aimed at a more juvenile audience but one that may well have sneaked a peek at Fred’s earlier movie, seemed an ideal follow-up.

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THE MONSTER SQUAD pits a bunch of treehouse-dwelling schoolkids against a batch of the classic horror creations  – the impressive line-up includes Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, a werewolf, an Egyptian mummy, and the Gill-Man a.k.a. the Creature From The Black Lagoon, with a trio of vampire brides thrown in as a bonus.

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In assembling its fearsome roster, the movie appears years ahead of its time, effortlessly pulling off that now-fashionable ‘shared universe’ concept decades before the idea occurred to Marvel or DC  – but it owes its own debts, mainly to what were known as the ‘monster rallies’, Universal Studios’ productions from the 1940s which pitted together their famous horror stars Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., Boris Karloff, John Carradine, Glenn Strange and others in various combinations for the films FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, HOUSE OF DRACULA and ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN.

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The trend continued during the 1960s, on TV with ‘The Munsters’ and ‘the Addams Family’ and via the British comedies on a macabre theme, THE HORROR OF IT ALL and CARRY ON SCREAMING! A pre-MONSTER SQUAD kid-orientated spin on ganging up the famous monsters was the terrific animated film from 1967, MAD MONSTER PARTY? The tag-teaming carried on into the seventies and beyond  – quite literally in Mexico, where masked wrestlers Santo and Blue Demon were pitted against various solo or multiple monsters in and out of the ring in a popular film series – and 1985’s FRIGHT NIGHT, adding a wisecracking werewolf into its otherwise well-crafted and sinister vampire tale, forming a duo reminiscent of 1943’s RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE, set the ground for THE MONSTER SQUAD to follow.

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I have to say that Duncan Regehr’s imposing, elegant, yet cruel and ruthless vampire count in THE MONSTER SQUAD might just be the best Dracula of the 1980s, and Tom Noonan certainly takes the prize as the decade’s premier lumbering Frankensteinian creation in an affecting, touching performance loaded with pathos. The Mummy is probably the second-best of the 80s  – I’d place the chilling bandaged menace from 1988’s WAXWORK top, and items like DAWN OF THE MUMMY and TIME WALKER have their admirers, but the dusty old museum piece we’ll be seeing tonight makes quite an impact too. The Wolf Man is definitely not the greatest 80s werewolf, although of course the shape-shifting competition at the time was pretty tough to beat. As for the Gill-Man, well, how privileged we are to even get a glimpse of this elusive aquatic abnormality  – throughout the 80s rumours had been rife that John Landis, or other names in the frame, might direct a remake of the 1953 classic THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, but nothing transpired then or since, so the Creature’s guest spot here is one to be savoured – and he may well just about steal the whole show.

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Listen out, too, for the title of the fake slasher movie franchise of which our young hero Sean, played by Andre Gower, is a devoted fan, keen as anything to get to the drive-in to see the newly-released part 12 of the series. It’s a title that became very familiar five or six years later, in a non-horror capacity…

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So, I’d advise you to revert back in your minds to the days when you were eleven or twelve years old to get maximum enjoyment from this one  – it’s lots of fun, with no slow spots, a brisk 80-odd minute running time, heaps of quotable dialogue, more monsters than you can shake a stake or rattle a handful of silver bullets at, and a few surprises and shocks along the way. Enjoy THE MONSTER SQUAD!

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