31 Days to Scare ~ Wolfman’s Got Nards: A Documentary

The Facts:

Synopsis: This heartfelt documentary explores the power of cult film told through the lens of the 1987 classic The Monster Squad and the impact it has on fans, cast and crew, and the industry.

Director: André Gower

Rated: NR

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  After horror, if there’s one genre that I just can’t get enough of it has got to be documentary features.  There’s something about that reality of interviewing real people or hearing a true life tale recounted that produces a similar charge within that I get from watching a movie meant to send chills up my spine.  So a documentary about a favorite horror film from my youth?  I’m SO there.  Most often, these documentaries are relegated to a bonus feature on whatever special edition DVD/BluRay has been produced from a long-lost classic finally making its debut in a restored print. That’s cool and all, but on the rare occasion a behind the scenes insight into a film’s genesis and staying power is created for distribution in cinemas…well now, that’s an event to be celebrated.

In the past several years, documentaries on beloved horror/cult classics have upped their ante with lengthy explorations on the Friday the 13th (Crystal Lake Memories) and Nightmare on Elm Street (Never Sleep Again) series prime examples of those that have exhaustively covered the work.  What makes a documentary like Wolfman’s Got Nards so unique is that in 91 minutes it manages to amply cover the highlights of the making of 1987’s The Monster Squad while also exploring it’s unexpected resurgence as a cult classic taught in college curriculum and as a touchstone for numerous genre aficionados from the heartland to Hollywood.

By all accounts, when it debuted two weeks after The Lost Boys in August of 1987, The Monster Squad was a total bomb.  Mis-marketed and poorly reviewed, it likely should have been held back a bit longer and built on the success of screenwriter Shane Black’s (Iron Man 3) current project Lethal Weapon, which had been released the previous March.  Fading from theaters and the minds of most people shortly thereafter, a core group of hardcore fans held the movie close to their hearts for years.  I vividly remember renting the movie numerous times from my local video store; after all, I was the target audience for a PG-13 rated film surrounding pre-teens doing battle against a horde of monsters out to rule the world.

It wasn’t until 2006 when a longtime fan partnered with the Alamo Dratfhouse in Austin, TX to hold an anniversary screening that the film started getting the long lost love it richly deserved.  Surprising the cast and director Fred Dekker more than anyone, it kicked off a whirlwind of press and promotion that resulted in the movie making its much heralded debut on DVD and numerous screenings over the last decade.  It also inspired star André Gower to team up with Henry Darrow McComas to produce this documentary about the film, how it’s reputation changed over time, and what that shift meant to those involved.

This is one of the best documentaries made about a movie I’ve seen in quite some time.  Obviously, with Gower involved there’s going to be some sort of level of reverence to the piece, but even if the original film has flaws that’s not what we’re sitting down and watching this for.  It’s also not a straight making-of documentary either.  At my screening, Gower and McComas were present to introduce the film and they mentioned it wasn’t a behind-the-scenes or where-are-they-now film and they’re right.  While it covers the elements of making the movie (which I was grateful for) and includes tidbits not found on the DVD making of doc, it’s more interested in committing to film interviews with fans and supporters who have championed the movie over time and can pinpoint exactly what about the experience of the film is so important to them.

I was surprised at how unexpectedly emotional it was on top of everything else.  One of the most loved characters in the movie is Horace (aka Fat Kid) and the actor who played him, Brent Chalem, sadly died at 22.  Many fans, including myself, only found this out when the collectors edition DVD came out and it’s been a sensitive subject ever since.  This documentary interviews three family friends who give us a bit more information on Brent as the person while several of the film stars get choked up thinking about what he would have thought about all this newfound popularity of his character.  Sitting in the theater watching this sequence, I found myself shedding a tear or two – definitely didn’t think that was going to happen.  While it would have been nice for the doc to acknowledge the several key cast members that are also no longer with us (including the brilliant Mary Ellen Trainor, who played Gower’s mom), I do get why Brent/Horace got his own special shout-out.

Handsomely produced with little padding to extend its running time to 91 minutes, this is a blueprint for how to produce a movie doc that’s not just about how the script came together and why the director cast the actors.  The interviews with the technicians that worked on the film are fascinating and the amount of fan interviews featuring people from all walks of life was astounding.  These types of serious-minded reflections can only happen decades on and I’m glad Gower and company were moved to take the approach they did with this look back on a popular title that continues to gain new fans.  I even stayed after and re-watched The Monster Squad for the first time in a theater and was reminded what a fun watch it was…so is this documentary.

 

Check out my original review of The Monster Squad right here:

 

 

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.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Predator

Synopsis: When a young boy accidentally triggers the universe’s most lethal hunters return to Earth, only a ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and a disgruntled science teacher can prevent the end of the human race.

Release Date: September 14, 2018

Thoughts: The original Predator celebrated its 30th birthday last year and remains a sci-fi genre classic.  While the alien hunter has shown up in several sequels and a two crossovers with the Alien franchise, he hasn’t had a real strong showing since his first outing.  This first look at 2018’s The Predator hints of a retro-tinged early Fall frolic and I’m all for it.  Writer/director Shane Black (Iron Man 3) usually does well in balancing tone with large scale action sequence and there’s been good buzz building for The Predator during its long production phase.  Featuring a strong cast including Jacob Tremblay (Room), Sterling K. Brown (Black Panther), Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse), Boyd Holbrook (Logan), and Keegan-Michael Key (Tomorrowland) this holds more than a little promise of being the fun sequel this franchise has been sorely needing.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ The Nice Guys

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Synopsis: A private eye investigates the apparent suicide of a fading porn star in 1970s Los Angeles and uncovers a conspiracy.

Release Date: May 20, 2016

Thoughts: Nearly twenty years since they appeared together in the Los Angeles set noir classic, L.A. Confidential, Russell Crowe and Kim Basinger (who nabbed an Oscar for her work) are back on screen for another mystery set in the famed city.  Looking like a wise-ass mix of L.A. Confidential and (gulp) 2014’s Inherent Vice, The Nice Guys might be the shot of adrenaline Crowe needs after a string of badly reviewed performances/movies (his singing in Les Miserables, Winter’s Tale, Noah, and my worst film of 2015, The Water Diviner).  Teamed with the always interesting Ryan Gosling (The Big Short), Crowe looks pretty perfect for the gruff tough guy tasked with finding Basinger’s daughter whose disappearance might be related to a murder private-eye Gosling is investigating.  From Shane Black (Iron Man 3), I’m pulling for this early summer release to be dark fun in the California sun.

Movie Review ~ Iron Man 3

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When Tony Stark’s world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, Jon Favreau, Ben Kingsley, Wang Xuequi, Ty Simpkins

Director: Shane Black

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 130 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Last May, Marvel’s The Avengers roared onto screens around the world becoming the crown jewel of a tent pole franchise that Marvel Studios has been carefully planning for quite some time.  If everyone’s being totally honest the thanks should go to Iron Man and Iron Man 2, films which bore the weight of lofty expectations while other Avengers-themed material got underway.  Though subsequent films like Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor did solid box office, they couldn’t hold a candle to the kind of money that the Iron Man films brought in.  Of course, when Marvel’s The Avengers was released it set box office records a blaze, becoming the first film to gross over 200 million dollars in its opening weekend.

Now it’s a year later and Phase II of Marvel’s film series begins with Iron Man 3 and if this is any indication on what’s to come with Thor: The Dark World releasing in November and Captain America: The Winter Soldier releasing in 2014…it will be nothing but blue skies from now on for fans of these superhero films.

A lot has changed in a year for our Iron Man, aka Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) as he battles nightmares and paranoia brought on by the events that took place in Marvel’s The Avengers.  (This is a case where having some knowledge of the previous films is nearly required to get the most out of the story that Iron Man 3 is putting forth.)  While his relationship with his former assistant now CEO Pepper Potts (Paltrow) has moved forward, he struggles with being vulnerable in the face of protecting the one he clearly loves. 

Opening with a brief flashback to 1999 where we meet Aldrich Killian (Pearce, Lawless) and Maya Hansen (Hall, The Awakening), the film lays a groundwork for a plot of revenge that will take our hero on a difficult journey of redemption as makes a personal mission to take down a terrorist called The Mandarin (Kingsley, The Dictator, in a role that provides several nicely unexpected twists). 

Revealing anything more would spoil some of the surprises that new director/screenwriter Shane Black has in store for audiences.  Working with Drew Pearce, Black skillfully takes everything that we know about Stark from the previous films and gives the character a hefty shove forward into uncomfortable territory – and it works quite well.  Black first came to attention by penning such hardscrabble action films like Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, and The Long Kiss Goodnight (not to mention The Monster Squad) so he feels at home with melding the action-comedy genre to fit Downey Jr’s talents (the two previously worked together on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang).  Like Iron Man 2, having less screenwriters makes the film feel like it’s one voice rather than many that are bringing ideas forth to keep our characters growing and evolving.

What I enjoyed about this film (and all of Iron Man’s appearances on the big screen) is how willing everyone is to let Tony Stark be as irascible as possible.  His relationship with a fatherless boy (Simpkins in one of the better child performances lately) in the films mid-section is refreshingly off-the-cuff and very in line with how Stark would relate to an adult that crossed his path the way this kid does.  That’s what makes Downey Jr. so perfect for this role – he’s able to make an unlikable character very likable without making sacrifices.

Iron Man 3 marks a turning point for Paltrow’s character as well – it appears that someone finally took note that Paltrow can do more than just play the straight-woman to Stark’s childish behavior because her role is amped up here to good effect.  Pearce looks mighty buff in the arms but old in the face and is a nicely smarmy villain. Hall is, unfortunately, typically bland and Cheadle does the most with what is still a sadly underwritten role.  Director of the first two installments, Favreau literally sits this one out as his character (looking like a meatball in a too-small suit) is laid up for most of the film.  Nice turns from James Badge Dale and Stephanie Szostak as fiery henchman top off a decidedly eclectic cast.

What sometimes bothered me about the movie is that we all know by now that Iron Man has some friends in super places yet no one shows up to help him out as he goes through a particularly rough patch (spoiler alert: Samuel L. Jackson doesn’t appear in this one as Nick Fury).  I kept waiting for someone to pop in and lend a hand but as the movie has a theme of isolation it winds up working well that Stark has to go it alone.

Though it can’t match Marvel’s The Avengers for sheer jaw-dropping action sequences, it comes close with a finale set on an abandoned oil dock that seems right out of a Lethal Weapon movie.  Wildly ambitious and easy to follow, it’s quite overwhelming…especially in 3D which for the rest of the film doesn’t add much to the proceedings or your ticket value.  What it does add is parting excitement as you leave the theater because the way that things are left the movie can go in any number of different ways.  With a Captain American and Thor movie set for release before the next Avengers movie in 2015, who knows if we’ll see Tony Stark again for a few years…but based on the series famous end credits of cameos (this is no exception…please stay until the end) I bet Stark will pop in again soon.