31 Days to Scare ~ The Monster Squad (1987)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A small town is disrupted with the arrival of Dracula to retrieve an amulet controlling the balance between good and evil.

Stars: André Gower, Robby Kiger, Brent Chalem, Tom Noonan, Duncan Regehr, Ryan Lambert, Stephen Macht, Mary Ellen Trainor, Jack Gwillim, Jon Gries, Stan Shaw, Leonardo Cimino

Director: Fred Dekker

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 82 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Few films bring up such rich retro memories for me than 1987’s The Monster Squad.  I can still see it now.  I’m nervously biting my lip standing next to my dad at Home Video, our local rental haunt.  He’s holding the box for a movie he and my mom are checking out and I’m clutching the cardboard case (stuffed with a perfectly fitted Styrofoam rectangle) for The Monster Squad. I’m 10, it’s PG-13…I’m anxious.  I’d already asked about getting this and my dad agreed…but would he change his mind?  Will I get to take this home and see what looks like a rad flick filled with monsters, cool kids, and, best of all, Dracula?  Or will I be denied at the last minute and wind up empty-handed?  My dad turns to me, looks at the VHS and says to the clerk, “And my son is joining The Monster Squad.”  Score.

Aside from being a great memory of my dad and I, this evokes the kind of excitement that came with physically going to a store and renting movies which has become a lost art.  Being able to browse just the boxes of numerous movies without access to IMDb.com or watching the trailers on YouTube was the chance to create your own narrative as to what you thought the movie was going to be about.  With The Monster Squad, what you see on the box is definitely what you get.

Taking place in a small town that suggests mid-America (actually filmed on the back lot of Universal Studios…look for the Back to the Future clock tower in certain scenes), The Monster Squad doesn’t waste an iota of its short running time.  After an establishing prologue in Transylvania where we are introduced to a powerful amulet that Van Helsing desperately wants to use to send monsters into a black hole, we jump forward a hundred years to meet Sean (André Gower) and Patrick (Robby Kiger).  Typical high school teens, they just want to be able to talk monsters and not worry about silly things like school and chores.

At the same time, a plane carrying the remains of Frankenstein’s monster is hijacked by Count Dracula and winds up in the pond behind Sean and Patrick’s clubhouse.  When Count Dracula uses his power to resuscitate Frankenstein it also awakens The Mummy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and The Wolfman.  Dracula is after the same amulet we see at the beginning of the film which he hopes to use to unleash hell on earth.  The only problem is that he needs Van Helsing’s diary to locate the stone and unlucky for Sean, his mom just picked it up for him at a garage sale.  It’s up to Sean and his gang to vanquish the evil without getting picked off in the process.  So begins a battle between monsters and teens.

Co-screenwriter Shane Black would go on to become one of the highest paid scribes in the business (he wrote Lethal Weapon and was behind the recent reboot of The Predator) and his writing partner Fred Dekker sat behind the camera.  You can tell the two of them had a ball writing this and, though a lower-budgeted film, they make the whole thing look like a high class affair.  It has a ton of fun inside jokes that any classic monster fan will eat up and since most of the special effects are practical and not shoddy computer generated (thank you, Stan Winston), it has aged gracefully.  Admittedly, while the film has stood the test of time visually, it does have a few cringe inducing homophobic phrases that are hard to excuse away even in the most charitable sense.

I love that during the Halloween season instead of pulling the film back from free steaming services someone has allowed The Monster Squad to be readily available to any and all that want to revisit their childhood memories or introduce their kids to the fun.  Though nowhere near a hit when it was first released, it has rightfully gained a cult status over the last three decades.  It’s a bit scary for younger kids but instead of a few off-color potty mouth moments and the aforementioned regressive dialogue it’s fairly family friendly.

31 Days to Scare ~ Fright Night Part 2

The Facts:

Synopsis: Three years after killing the vampire in the original, Charley Brewster has started to believe it was all his imagination and starts to forget that vampires truly exist – until four strangers arrive at Peter Vincent’s house and starts to have an unhealthy interest in Charley, Peter and Charley’s new girlfriend.

Stars: William Ragsdale, Roddy McDowall, Traci Lind, Julie Carmen, Jon Gries, Brian Thompson, Russell Clark, Ernie Sabella

Director: Tommy Lee Wallace

Rated: R

Running Length: 103 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: After 1985’s Fright Night became a schlocky fun hit, it’s not a shocker that a sequel was greenlit and found its way to theaters. What is surprising, however, is that it took nearly three years for it to arrive. Remember, this was a time when every year a new Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street came out because there was big money in quickly churning out a sequel, not to mention a whole host of like-minded horror films that wanted their own franchise to materialize. The extra years likely helped the overall satisfaction level of Fright Night Part 2, even though it didn’t make nearly as big of an impact on the box office as its predecessor.

Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) has spent the last three years putting the frightening events that took place in his otherwise quiet neighborhood out of his mind. With the help of his psychologist (Ernie Sabella) he’s even managed to convince himself that he dreamed his neighbor was a vampire preying on young women and eventually went after Charley once the high-school student started investigating the deaths. Aided by campy late night TV host and former C-Movie actor Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), the two vanquished the vamp and things went back to normal.

Now a college student with a new girlfriend (Traci Lind), Charley continues to make a new life for himself but while visiting Peter’s new apartment he catches a glimpse of a new tenant, Regine (Julie Carmen), and her entourage. Strangely drawn to the beauty, Charley soon falls under the spell of another vampire who’s out for more than just blood…she wants an eternity of revenge. It’s up to Peter and Charley’s gal-pal to fend off vampires, werewolves, and one bug-eating macho man and save him from falling victim to the vampy vixen.

While it is admittedly a carbon copy of the original operating on a slightly smaller budget, this is a fine looking film that manages to make sense from scene to scene. Directed by horror veteran Tommy Lee Wallace (Amityville II: The Possession, Halloween III: Season of the Witch and TV’s IT) who was also the production designer on the original Halloween, the movie has a real moody ambiance that blends nicely with its surprisingly wacky asides. McDowall hams it up again with panache while Ragsdale and Lind have more brother-sister chemistry than any true actual heat. Carmen dives head first into her killer seductress and sports some hysterically ‘80s hair and clothing in the process. Special mention to Russell Clark as an ahead of his time trans vampire who not only makes his roller-skating bloodsucker quite menacing but looks damn good in the process.

So many sequels can’t manage to get out from under the shadow of their previous installments and the same is true with Fright Night Part 2. While it’s a sequel that’s not quite an equal, it’s a noble effort with ideas that work far more often than they fail. A word of caution, it’s hard as heck to find this movie on DVD without paying a fortune, might I point you toward the YouTube link below instead?